I have had a number of requests for more information on the herb Ginseng: there seems to be quite a bit of confusion as to what it does, and whether it is really as valuable as some people say. It is also interesting that Ginseng causes a form of suppressed amusement in many people, because they think it has aphrodisiac properties. Perhaps this is because when you feel better all over, your mind more lightly turns to thoughts of love!
Ginseng is an adaptogen: this term is used to describe an herb which balances the body, and promotes homeostasis: this would mean raising low blood pressure, normalizing high blood pressure, protecting against low blood sugar, preventing spikes of high blood sugar. Research in 2004 suggests that it may even be protective in early cases of Parkinson’s disease, shielding neurons from damage.
Panax Ginseng was first appreciated widely in Chinese Traditional Medicine, and it grows wild in China, Korea and the United States. Nowadays, of course, much of the Ginseng we purchase is farmed, though some (even more expensive in the market) is still collected from the wild. No Ginseng is considered to be really effective below the age of 6 years, and most of the excellent Ginsengs you find will be labeled as over 6 years old.
You need to make sure the age of the roots is clearly noted on the bottle, because at this stage in their development, they have the highest amount of Ginsenosides present. These are the measure of medicinal activity in the herb, though all Ginseng also contains calcium, iron, vitamins A, B12 & E, mucilage, saponins, gineosides and panaxosides.
Red Ginseng is steamed and dried, and is more concentrated than white. Korean red Ginseng is perhaps the most tightly controlled of all Ginsengs, since all roots have to be sold to a Company from which the Government has first choice. The best Ginseng is then in turn bought from the Korean Government, and is guaranteed by them. With white Ginseng, it is more difficult to be sure of getting the pure product, and a certain informed wariness is recommended here: the problem is that the Company making the capsules may not itself even be aware of the substitution of inferior Ginseng, unless they have the experience needed to tell the difference.
Ginseng is rated medicinally according to whether it is stimulating or relaxing.
The most stimulating is Korean Red, ( Panax Ginseng) the most relaxing is American (Panax Quinquefolium).
In the middle is Siberian Ginseng, (Eleutherococcus Senticosus) which is actually not a Ginseng at all, though it is used for many of the same effects. In fact, just recently the Wisconsin Ginseng Growers persuaded Congress to pass a law which no longer allows Eleutherococcus to be referred to as Ginseng.
The stimulating Ginsengs are recommended for such problems as weakness due to injury, lack of stamina or strength, poor circulation or sluggishness.
The relaxing ones are recommended when your life is under extreme stress, for athletes, fast paced executives, Type A personalities and such.
A species of Ginseng called Panax NotoGinseng, or Tienchi, is classified by Chinese Herbalists as a cardiovascular tonic which reduces cholesterol and blood pressure, & soothes stomach & intestinal inflammation. Recent studies at the U of S. California’s School of Pharmacy also show Tienchi to be a powerful immune system stimulant. A preparation of this herb has also been shown to stop bleeding. (Pharmacotherapy 21(7):773-777, 2001.)
Siberian Ginseng, which is neither exclusively stimulating nor relaxing, has been used to improve lung, heart and rheumatic disorders. It appears to have a balancing effect on many other health problems, tending to normalize blood pressure, balance blood sugar – leading to the positive effect (shared with American Ginseng) it has on AGEs, or age related glycosylation end-products.
It is wise before using Ginseng to check with your Health professional for guidance and advice, since people with a tendency towards insomnia or high blood pressure may find the Panax Ginsengs aggravate the problem. Also, studies have shown that certain species of Ginseng counteract the effects of Warfarin, or Coumadin, a blood thinner.
Overview of Ginseng – http://www.csiginseng.com/