GINSENG ROOT (Panax ginseng)

Latin: Panax ginseng
Chinese: Ren shen
English: Essence of Man

WHAT IT DOES: Ginseng root is sweet and slightly bitter in taste, and warming in action.  It strengthens the vital force (Qi), tonifies the digestive and immune systems, reduces fatigue, strenghtens muscles and bones, sharpens the mind and slows aging.

RATING: Silver, due to limitations for some sensitive individuals

SAFETY ISSUES: Do not use during acute fevers.  Do not use with hypoglycemia or hypertension.  Overdose or taking late at night may cause nervousness and sleeplessness.  May cause irritability in some sensitive individuals.  Consult with your physician if you are taking cardiac glycosides.

• Dried powder: three to nine grams per day
• Concentrated powder extract: one to three grams per day
Note: it is common to use a combination of the two forms

Wild ginseng root is collected in the mountains of northern China and in Korea.  There are two common preparations of the cultivated root, sun-dried or roasted ginseng, and sweet red ginseng.  Americans have known about the tonic effects of ginseng since colonial times, though I still find a lot of common misunderstandings about its use.  It is a strong tonic of the vital force (Qi) and is especially useful when there is extreme deficiency presenting with symptoms of cold limbs, anemia, weak respiration, weight loss (from weak digestion or severe illness), chronic fatigue and a weak pulse. TCM doctors prescribe it for those purposes in formulas, along with other Qi tonifying herbs such as white atractylodes root, poria mushroom and astragalus root etc.  It strengthens the immune system, helps generate fluids and strengthens the heart.  In our practice, we find it indispensable for keeping cancer patients strong when undergoing chemotherapy.

Ginseng can be lifesaving if administered following sudden bodily trauma or shock, such as blood loss after an accident.  In such cases, administer a large dose of ginseng–about three grams of dried powder every two or three hours, up to 30 grams per day.  Doctors in Chinese hospitals use a formula called “Generate the Pulse” (shengmai san) for the same purpose, and it is more effective than ginseng alone (Xuejiang et al., 1999).  It is made from equal parts of ginseng root, ophiopogon root (mai men dong / Ophiopogon japonicus) and schisandra berries. Ginseng can also be used with cancer patients suffering from wasting by restoring lost appetite.

Research Highlights

• Ginseng’s anti-aging effects are theorized to be a result of its ability to increase the body’s synthesis of DNA, RNA, and protein, as well as synthesis of gonadotropins and ACTH, all of which can prolong cell life (reported in Huang, 1999).

• Healthy male volunteers given ginseng root showed cardiovascular benefits, indicated by a substantial decrease in heart rate two weeks after the end of a nine-week experiment (Kirchorfer, 1985).

• It may also improve muscular oxygen utilization (Pieralisi et al., 1991).

• Ginseng may be of benefit to non-insulin-dependent diabetic patients.  Researchers in one study reported that, “Ginseng therapy elevated mood, improved psychophysical performance, and reduced fasting blood glucose and body weight.  The 200-mg dose of ginseng improved glycated hemoglobin and physical activity (Sotaniemi et al., 1995).

• Russian studies have shown that ginseng increases mental activity, efficiency of concentration and intelligence.  This is accomplished partly through increased biosynthesis of neurotransmitters (reported in Huang, 1999).