Parts used medicinally: Root.
What is Panax Ginseng?
Panax ginseng is the worlds best-selling and best-known Chinese medicinal plant and is most commonly used for vitality and restoring the body's qi, which translates best as ‘energy’. The word panax derives from the Goddess Panacea, which means ‘all healing’ in Greek. This alludes to the wide range of therapeutic benefits that ginseng boasts and why it has become such a prized possession; there is really no comparable treatment in Western medicine.
Ginseng was the first ever defined adaptogen in the 1950's. As with other adaptogens, it improves the body's capability to cope and adapt to stress in the environment, mind and/or body. Ginseng's modulating action makes it both a restorative tonic in the elderly and a stimulating tonic for young people to improve mental and physical energy.
Slow growing perennial in the Araliaceae family that is native to the Far East and grows up to 60cm. It is now extremely rare in the wild and a different milder species is being cultivated: Panax quinquefolius - American ginseng. We use the fleshy root in herbal medicine after four years of growth because the content of saponin ginsenosides (a key active ingredient in all ginseng species) in the root increases threefold in the first four years of growth. The dried root is white but when steamed and then dried it is red - the steaming process increases potency and it changes constituents and ratios.
Ginseng improves aspects of anxiety and depression and has been shown to have similar levels of efficacy as the antidepressant fluoxetine and anxiolytic medicine diazepam. It is particularly indicated in states of prolonged or chronic anxiety when the nervous system has become weakened. The phytochemical ginsenosides in ginseng are anti-anxiety, affecting the brain calming signal GABA, and antidepressant, affecting the brain signals for serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine.
Ginseng improves quality of sleep as measured in studies by increasing sleep efficiency & reducing total wake time in healthy individuals. It has also been shown to improve cancer related fatigue as well as overall quality of life, appetite and sleep at night.
American ginseng has been shown to improve memory along with other herbs like Ginkgo and Saffron in healthy adults as well as those suffering with schizophrenia, chronic fatigue and Alzheimer's. A cochrane review on memory concluded that analysis of ginseng shows improvement in cognitive function, behaviour and quality of life. Ginsenosides in ginseng are neuroprotective through several mechanisms such as enhancing outgrowth, regenerating neuronal networks and protecting from various types of toxicity including against one that induce parkinsonism. Interestingly, rates of Parkinsons disease in China are lower where ginseng is widely consumed.
In controlled trials ginseng improved performance and well-being, decreased fatigue and increased work capacity in healthy people during exercise. It has also been shown to relieve fatigue in people with chronic illness. This adaptogenic action is thought to be due to certain metabolites of ginsenosides that act through the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). In a review of Ginkgo biloba and Panax Ginseng, ginseng was shown to be better indicated for chronic stress whereas Ginkgo was more useful for acute stress.
Ways to Use Ginseng at Home?
- Dried root is traditionally sliced, in Asia 1-10g per day and in the West 0.5-3g daily.
- Insamcha is a ginseng infused tea in Korea.
- Insamju is a ginseng infused liquor in Korea.
- It can be added to soup - commonly consumed this way in China.
- The root is also directly chewed for the medicinal effects.
- Tinctures, tablets and capsules of the powdered root are also available at health food shops and apothecaries.
Caution with warfarin, monoamine oxidase inhibitors and hypoglycemics and in acute asthma and fever, excessive menstruation, nose bleeds and before major surgery.
Did You Know?
Ancient Chinese emperors valued ginseng more than gold and wars were fought over the land where it thrived.
If you are pregnant/breastfeeding or on drug medication, be sure to consult with a professional before trying these remedies.