Chinese Ginseng: A Super Natural Health Herb

Ginseng has always been one of the top selling herbs. This makes sense as fatigue and “stress” are universal health problems that people use ginseng for. The ginsengs are great examples of what we call “adpatogens.” This term was first used by two Russian scientists to describe the effects of Chinese ginseng and later to its’ relative Siberian ginseng. An adaptogen is a herb that essentially helps the body adapt and increase its’ resistance to the effects of stress. I want to familiarize you with the three most commonly used ginsengs. They all help to help the body cope with the effects of stress and help with energy production, but they have unique differences in how they work and what they are to be used for.

Let’s start with the granddaddy of ginsengs and probably the most well known herb in the world–Panax ginseng. Panax ginseng is also called Asian ginseng, Korean ginseng, Red ginseng, and Ren-Shen. The word Panax is Latin for “panacea” as it is so highly revered by the Chinese people for its’ health enhancing effects. The Chinese translation for ginseng is “root of man”. The root of ginseng is used for medicinal purposes. Chinese ginseng used to grow wild in China, Japan, Korea, and the eastern portion of Russia. However, it is nearly extinct in the wild but is now widely cultivated for commercial use in Asia, as well as the United States and Canada. Chinese herbalists will tell you that the wild species is more potent than the cultivated ginseng. However, it is very difficult to obtain the wild root, unless you want to travel to China or Korea and pay thousands of dollars for one root!

Panax ginseng has been used for over 5,000 years in traditional oriental medicine. Historically it was used for the elderly as a rejuvenating tonic. This “tonic” effect included improving sexual function, increasing energy and vitality, recover from illness, and to slow the aging process. As a matter of fact, traditional Chinese herbalists would rarely prescribe ginseng for younger people. They recommended “saving” this potent medicine for when one is older. Panax ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine for shock or collapse, strengthen the lungs (asthma), improving digestive function, diabetes, heart palpitatations, insomnia, and forgetfulness. There are two types of Panax ginseng: “white” and “red”. White ginseng is the dried root, and is more cooling and less stimulating than the more potent form of red ginseng, which is steamed and cured (dried over a fire or in the sun).

The exact mechanism of how Chinese ginseng works is not completely understood. Animal and human studies have shown that it supports and strengthens the function of the adrenal glands. Also referred to as the stress glands, the adrenals produce stress hormones that enable the body to cope with various stressors. Panax ginseng has a balancing effect on the stress hormones. It also improves the cells ability to “burn” oxygen as fuel, this improving energy production and enhancing physical performance.

In addition, it helps muscles utilize glycogen (stored glucose) as a fuel more efficiently. A group of compounds known as ginsenosides are thought to be responsible for many of the therapeutic effects of Chinese ginseng. The ginsenosides Rg1 and Rb1 have been most intensively studied. Interestingly, Rg1 has been shown to stimulate brain and central nervous system activity, allowing increased energy and improved intellectual performance. Rb1 has been shown to relax brain activity and lower blood pressure. You can see by these two constituents the “adaptogenic” properties of Asian ginseng.  Other ginsenosides, as well as polyacetylenes and polysaccharides activate the immune system and possess anti-cancer activity. Undoubtedly, other active constituents of ginseng are still to be discovered.

Today, Asian ginseng is used by millions of people around the world. It is commonly used for fatigue, immune enhancement, improved mental alertness, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sexual tonic, athletic performance enhancer, stress combater, high cholesterol, immune support during chemotherapy and radiation, depression, anxiety, and dozens of other conditions.