Panax quinquefolium (American)
Panax ginseng (Asian)
Other Common Names
True Ginseng, Five Fingers, Tartar Root, Red Berry, Man’s Health, Ren Shen, Man Root, Finger Root
Ginseng is taken to improve stamina and concentration, for debility, ageing, sexual inadequacy, diabetes, insomnia, stress and many other real or imaginary ailments. Extensive research is being carried out into the pharmacological effects of ginseng. From old texts in history: The prepared root was chewed by the sick to recover health, and by the healthy to increase their vitality; it is said to remove both mental and bodily fatigue, to cure pulmonary complaints, dissolves tumors and prolongs life to a ripe old age. From more recent findings: Used for dyspepsia, vomiting, and nervous disorders. A decoction of ½ oz root, boiled in tea or soup and taken every morning, is commonly held a remedy for consumption and other diseases. In Western medicine, it is considered a mild stomachic tonic and stimulant, useful in loss of appetite and in digestive affections that arise from mental and nervous exhaustion.
Although ginseng is taken so widely, fatalities are unknown. However despite it being so safe, side effects are well documented and include estrogenic (having an action similar to that of an estrogen) effects, hypertension, irritability and related symptoms.
History and Folklore
Biblical references: Ezekiel 27:17 25-130 Panax is derived from the GreekPanakos (a panacea), in reference to the miraculous virtue ascribed to it by the Chinese Tartary, but now is known to be also a native of North America, from whence Sarrasin transmitted specimens to Paris in 1704. The word Ginseng is said to mean “the wonder of the world”. The name of this herb by native Chinese and Native Americans meant “like a man” referring to the root’s resemblance to the human form.
Panax Ginseng, from Asia, could be one of the most significant restorative tonics ever known partly because of its remarkable effect on the body as well as Ginseng’s legendary reputation. Its reputation prompted a wealth of scientific study that launched its current popular use in the western hemisphere. In China it was known as “man root” because when the plant is harvested the root usually has two long parts that look like legs with smaller roots appearing above like arms with even smaller rootlets as fingers. Ginseng native to North America is highly regarded by Asians and Westerners alike. The Cherokee Indians also called Ginseng “little men”.
Traditional Chinese Medicine described Ginseng as tonifying to the spleen, calming irritation and nourishing for the body. It was actually thought to benefit all the vital organs but more specifically Ginseng greatly improved the function of the spleen to draw nutrients out of food and distribute them to other organs. It is interesting to note that Chinese medical views regarding the internal organs were based on theories of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements. The organs did not always correspond exactly to Western anatomical science.
Quieting the essence spirit and settling the ethereal and corporeal soul was also attributed to this amazing root. The essence spirit refers to the mind and Ginseng’s ability to quiet excessive mental chatter. Ethereal and corporeal souls, fundamental forces in the body, were thought to reside within the liver and lungs. Ethereal soul in the liver was thought to influence or control dreams and corporeal soul in the lungs was believed to maintain the health of the physical body. Chronic degenerative diseases developed from what was called “scattering” which often resulted from being frightened of the corporeal soul. So the belief was that ginseng soothed the anxious mind and strengthened the body.
According to ancient medical texts, Ginseng eliminated evil qi. Evil energy or qi referred to forces in the environment that cause disease. Ginseng protected the body by making it strong enough to prevent disease and helped the body recover if already overcome by evil.
Ginseng calmed the heart which was thought to be the resting place of the spirit. Balance could be restored with Ginseng which was especially helpful during times when fright, worry and anxiety caused heart palpitations. Included also in Chinese medicine concepts were the eyes as windows to the mind, the mind lives in the heart and wits were the expression of the mind. In this case it meant by taking Ginseng the mind would not become dull for when the heart is open and the mind calm, a person can feel his true purpose, will and courage to then achieve great things.
The popular publications today offer uses of Ginseng sometimes quite different than the original Chinese medical concepts for this herb. In recent years this herb has enjoyed a wealth of scientific study which has documented its benefits for the immune system, high blood pressure, normalizing high and low blood sugar, normalizing red and white blood cell count, managing pain, fevers & inflammation. Ginseng has this unique ability to either thin blood or increase its clotting ability depending on the need. From around the world studies have shown Ginseng to strengthen the heart, aid recovery from surgery and serious infectious disease. One of the most useful aspects for most of us with busy schedules is Ginseng’s help in overcoming the effects of stress. The list of benefits attributed to this historical root goes on and on.
Generally considered a safe herb but unfortunately in the past has suffered from poorly conducted medical research. Uses of standardized products were more likely to cause hypertension imbalance and undesirable effects in extremely stressed out people. Use of whole root products is thought to be safer.
From 3 weeks to 3 months is the generally suggested length of time to take Ginseng. From the following whole root preparations that are not standardized, one could take for example 3 capsules twice a day or drink 1 to 3 cups of tea made from powdered root in a day or take the liquid extract 1 to 3 times a day. Keep in mind that strength of liquid extracts vary but for example the dose could be from 15 drops to as much as a dropperful or two, 1 to 3 times a day. Your body size and sensitivity to things in general should factor into a proper dose for you. Everybody is different.
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Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal, Vol. 1, Vol. 2. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1971.
Dharmananda, Subhuti. The Nature of Ginseng. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council, HerbalGram. 54. 2002.
Keville, Kathi. Ginseng. New Canaan, Connecticut: Keats Publishing. 1996.
Reid, Daniel P. Chinese Herbal Medicine. Hong Kong: CFW Publications. 1987.