Ginseng, belonging to the plant genus Panax is one of the most popular roots used extensively in alternative medicine. Broadly classified into Chinese ginseng or Asian ginseng (P.ginseng), South China ginseng (P.notoginseng) and American ginseng (P.quinquefolius) depending on the presence of ginsenosides and gintonin – a class of natural plant steroids and protein like compounds, ginseng actually refers to as many as 11 different species of tiny, slow growing plants with fork like fleshy roots.
The above classification is also done on how long these fork-shaped roots grow besides the colour – red or white and freshness. If the roots are harvested before 4 years of planting the saplings – it is fresh ginseng, if the roots are collected between 4 to 6 years then it is white. The ginseng aged more than 6 years of age, falls into red category.
Ginseng has been a part of traditional medicine for many centuries, especially in China, Korea and other South East Asian countries and is believed to be a wonder root that can augment the overall wellbeing.
The word ginseng is derived from the Hokkien Chinese language loosely translated as ‘person with plant root’ as the roots resemble the shape of human legs. However, the botanical name Panax is a Greek word meaning ‘all-healing’, as both Asian ginseng (P.ginseng) and American ginseng (P.quinquefolius) are believed to have various medicinal and therapeutic properties like boosting stamina, lowering the levels of cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, muscle relaxation, alleviating stress etc.
Known as P.ginseng in botanical language, this plant root is said to be the original source of ginseng. It is also widely known as Panax ginseng, Chinese ginseng and Korean ginseng. A perennial plant that grows widely in the mountains of East Asia, this slow-growing herb is in fact one of the most protected species in Russia, China and Korea is used for commercial purposes and the roots can be harvested only when the plant reaches six years of age.
Widely popular as P.quinquefolius among botanists, American ginseng is actually a native to America but is also cultivated in China. Historians believe that the export this particular variety of ginseng to Asian countries has been in practice since 18th century owing to its sedative and cooling properties and other medicinal effects that can be incorporated into alternative medicines. Unlike Asian ginseng, American one is aromatic to smell, grows up to 18 inches in height and is found in deciduous forests.
American ginseng just like its twin Asian ginseng is prized for various medicinal properties. In olden days ‘sang hunters’ used to collect these roots and sell it to the traders from China, Hongkong and other Asian countries for using in traditional Chinese medicine.
Ginseng in Ayurveda:
Indian traditional medicine Ayurveda touts Ashwagandha as ‘Indian ginseng’ for the similar herbal and medicinal properties it shares with Asian ginseng and American ginseng. Just like its Chinese and American counterparts, Ashwagandha is an ancient herb that has been in use for thousands of years for relieving stress, boosting energy and most importantly for increasing focus and cognitive abilities.
How Is Ginseng Consumed?
Ginseng is eaten in many forms. It is good to eat in raw form and can be steamed for softening it. In Chinese cooking, ginseng is used as a root vegetable and is added to soups, stir-fries. Traditional medicinal practitioners extract the goodness of ginseng and make it into powder, oil, and tablet forms.
Doctors suggest up to 2 grams of ginseng in the form of root or around 400 mg in the form of extract to derive the best benefits. It is also observed that ginsenosides in ginseng is around 2 to 3% and taking it before meals increases the absorption rate.
Health Benefits of Ginseng:
Be it Asian ginseng or American ginseng, this fleshy, fork shaped root is believed as a powerhouse of immense medicinal properties.
Regular intake of ginseng promotes overall physical wellbeing and builds stamina. It aids fighting sudden spurts of fatigue, dull mood and increases levels of energy. According to various studies, the components in this root – oligopeptides and polysaccharides bring down the oxidative stress, trigger the production of energy in body cells.
The antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties in the extracts of this plump root like ginsenoside aid in combating inflammation and trigger the levels of antioxidants in body cells. Red ginseng is used for skin conditions like eczema as it stimulates antioxidant activity and is also effective in treating symptoms associated with menopause.
Improves Cognitive Function:
Ginseng is similar to Ashwagandha when it comes to improving the brain function, memory besides showing positive effects on behaviour and mood. Chinese medicine practitioners strongly recommend ginseng as a part of daily diet for combating mental disorders, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and for regulating mood swings.
Treats Erectile Dysfunction:
Ginseng, be it Asian or American variety is strongly recommended in traditional medicinal practices for treating erectile dysfunction. The rich compounds in this root fight against the oxidative stress in blood vessels and aid normal functioning. Nitric oxide present in ginseng provides relaxation to the muscles and stimulates blood circulation.
Combats Common Allergies:
It is widely believed in China and across Southeast Asian countries that a daily dose of ginseng prevents falling sick due to common allergies. The extract of this root strengthens epithelial cells in lungs and fight against flu or influenza.
Lowers Blood Sugar:
Ginsenosides, a compound present in ginseng plays a crucial role in lowering blood glucose and also in preventing sudden spike of sugar levels. It improves insulin resistance and helps in keeping this chronic condition under check. Medical practitioners often recommend the intake of fermented red ginseng after meals for deriving best benefits.
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in ginseng have potential cancer fighting components. Various studies reveal that regular usage of ginseng reduces the risk of cancers like oral, esophagus, colon, stomach, lung and liver by 16 per cent. It is also recommended to reduce the side-effects in patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Does Ginseng Help Sexually?
Well, ginseng has been popular for treating men’s sexual disorders for thousands of years. According to the studies the regular intake of ginseng helps in improving sexual functioning in men and effectively treats erectile dysfunction. Creams made from ginseng extract are said to have positive effects on triggering the libido and improving the sexual performance.
Thanks to ample amounts of ginsenosides, it is often touted as an aphrodisiac, as it increases sperm count, quality and treats infertility in men.
Why Is Ginseng Expensive?
Ginseng is known as a King of herbs in Chinese medicine for its multifunctional therapeutic properties. It triggers metabolism, treats sexual dysfunctions, improves brain performance etc. Ginseng gained a lot of popularity in the last few years and there is a huge gap in supply and demand in the world market.
Various environmental and economic factors in the recent years made ginseng an expensive herb. The price of ginseng actually varies on the age of the root. The older the root, the expensive it could be.
Does ginseng work like Viagra?
Ginseng is like a natural aphrodisiac and many believe that it can mimic the functioning of a Viagra. Though there is not enough evidence to prove this claim, this root is popular in the market for its aphrodisiac properties as it relaxes muscles and stimulates blood flow into the genital region.
In Korea, the red ginseng is prescribed for improving sexual desires and arousal in both the sexes.
Countries like China, Korea are popular for their tea. These teas are not only hot beverages for them but also serve as medicines in combating certain health conditions. Ginseng tea is a common hot beverage served for improving vitality and vigour.
Ginseng tea that is aromatic to smell and taste, generates heat from within the side and triggers metabolism.
Here is how you make ginseng tea also known as Insam Cha.
Ginseng root, sliced into 10 pieces
1 tsp natural honey
6 cups of water
In a bowl, boil water. Steep ginseng root pieces.
Let it boil for 2 minutes. Stir in honey.
Strain out the ginseng roots and enjoy the hot tea.
For Chinese, Koreans and Americans in few regions, ginseng tea is more than a hot beverage. It is guzzled down on a cold day to keep the body from within, for triggering metabolism, gain instant energy, feel revitalized and to serve as an aphrodisiac.
Though widely popular for its innumerable health benefits, the intake of ginseng needs to be restricted as per the quantity prescribed by the doctors. Excessive consumption of ginseng be it Asian or American variety can lead to sudden nervousness, lack of sleep, blood pressure fluctuation, vomiting.
In severe cases, vaginal bleeding, diarrhea, breast pain are also reported. If you are an alcoholic, patient on blood thinners, antidepressants, immunosuppressants, talk to your doctor before including ginseng in your diet.
Ginseng is a popular root, that is used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine and also as a natural remedy for various health conditions in America. Broadly classified into three varieties – Asian ginseng, American ginseng and Korean ginseng it is available as fresh, red and white depending on the age of roots.
Ginseng exudes multiple medicinal and therapeutic properties including fighting fatigue, improving cognitive functions, boosting metabolism and preventing seasonal allergies.
This fork shaped, fleshy root is extremely popular for treating various sexual disorders related to men like erectile dysfunction, lower sperm count. It is also recommended for improving libido and sexual arousal in both sexes.
The root that can be consumed raw, steamed and in the form of tea needs to be eaten in moderate amounts to avoid certain side effects like insomnia, nervousness, diarrhea and vaginal bleeding in severe cases.
If you are pregnant, lactating mom and fighting severe health conditions, talk to your doctor before making ginseng a part of your diet or taking medicines made from this root.