You might have heard about ginseng and its so-called health benefits, especially its use as a stimulant, palliative, and aphrodisiac. This herb is also considered effective as an adaptogen (a rejuvenating herbal product). It is believed that the ginseng plant was discovered 5000 years ago, in the mountainous regions of northern China. Initially used for culinary purposes, the therapeutic properties of this herb were soon identified. This herb has been used for medicinal purposes, for the last 3000 years. According to ancient Chinese medical texts, ginseng can invigorate the body and soul, and it is also beneficial for curing many diseases and disorders. The faith in its medicinal properties was strengthened with the belief that the shape of the root resembles the human body. So the herb is being used through the generations, for longevity.
The English word 'ginseng' is derived from its Chinese counterpart, 'renshen', which means 'man root'. This is because of its forked shape, that is compared to the legs of humans. The leaves of this herb are not as effective or as highly priced as the roots. There are many energy drinks, which have ginseng as one of the ingredients. Ginseng tea is also very popular. Even some cosmetics contain this herb. Some people use the root along with chicken meat to prepare soup.
More About Ginseng Plant
It is a slow-growing plant with fleshy roots and belongs to the family Araliaceae. These plants usually grow in the slopes of ravines and in well-drained mountainous hardwood forests. It has a single stalk and compound leaves with five leaflets. The flowers are greenish white to gray in color and they produce crimson berries, which bear seeds. The wild plants grow to a length of seven to twenty-one inches and the roots, along with the branches are almost creamy white in color. Roots of older plants (more than 100 years) are highly sought-after, as they are believed to be more beneficial.
Ginseng is commonly found in areas with cooler climates like northern China, Korea, and eastern Siberia. There are different types of ginseng and Asiatic ginseng (Panax Ginseng) is the most popular one, followed by the American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Asiatic ginseng is processed to form Korean ginseng or red ginseng. So Korean ginseng is not another species. You may also find Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), which is not actually a variety of ginseng, but has almost similar properties and effects. Siberian ginseng is a different species with active components called eleutherosides. In case of original ginseng, the active components are ginsenosides, which are said to be responsible for the health benefits of this herb.
Benefits of Ginseng
Ginseng roots are generally found to be sold in dried form. You may buy them in whole or in slices. This herb is also sold in the form of tea bags and is an active ingredient in numerous cosmetics and herbal supplements. It was the ancient Chinese people, who started using ginseng for medicinal purposes. They used it for brightening eyes, for strength and virility and to treat many other medical conditions. This resulted in a flourishing trade, as China started buying this herb from Korea and some North American countries. The increasing demand for this herb resulted in its commercial cultivation, which is now done in various parts of the world.
- As per modern research, this herb is classified as an adaptogen, a term that refers to substances that increase the body's resistance against fatigue, stress, trauma, and anxiety.
- Ginseng is widely used in the treatment of diabetes, especially type II diabetes.
- It is also recommended as an aphrodisiac and stimulant. It is said to cure sexual dysfunction in men and is believed to enhance libido.
- It is believed to be beneficial for lowering high cholesterol levels.
- This herb is very popular as an anti-aging supplement. It is said to be very effective in preventing some of the major effects of aging.
- It is also used in the treatment of cancer. According to some researchers, the herb may be useful to reduce fatigue in cancer patients.
- Ginseng health benefits include its ability to fight flu, cold, cough and other infections. It may relieve rheumatism, gout, neuralgia, anemia, stress, insomnia, and headache.
- Enhancing memory and improving stamina are among some of the benefits of this herb. Ginseng is also used to normalize menstrual cycles.
- It is said to be a stimulant for the immune system as it triggers production of chemicals that fight viruses.
- It protects the liver from the negative effects of drugs and is helpful in preventing formation of blood clots in the body.
Though ginseng is said to be free of side effects, some of the users may experience sleeplessness, nausea and/or vomiting, restlessness, increase in blood pressure, headaches, breast pain, and bleeding. In high doses, this herb may cause symptoms that may range from moderate to severe. They include mood swings, dry mouth, vision problems, headache, sleeplessness, itching, edema, fatigue, high blood pressure, increased rate of respiration, and decreased heart rate. So strictly follow the prescribed doses and make sure that you approach a qualified herbal practitioner for such treatment. Pregnant and nursing women, kids, people with high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, must avoid taking this herb. Even those with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, hormone-related cancer (breast cancer and ovarian cancer) and bleeding problems, should not use ginseng.
Though some of these medicinal uses of this herb are backed by scientific evidence, some others are still not proved. The herb may prove effective for improving memory and for treating male impotence, erectile dysfunction, and diabetes. There is no sufficient evidence to prove its efficacy in treating certain types of cancer, menopausal hot flashes, cold, fever, depression, and fibromyalgia. However, there are numerous ginseng users, who will vouch for the efficacy of this herb. So seek the opinion of your doctor, before using this herb.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.