Ginseng is slow-growing slow-growing perennial plant, of which its fleshy roots is revered in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. According to the herbal theory of the Doctrine of Signatures, a plant looks like the body system or ailment it heals. In the case of ginseng, the freshly dug root resembles the human body and indeed it benefits the whole body as a stimulating adaptogen. It provides potent source of physical and mental vital energy (qi in traditional Chinese parlance or prana in Sanskrit), increases resistance to stress, supports blood circulation, strengthens the immune response, and promotes longevity, metabolism, and tissue regeneration when taken in the long term. As if indicative of its impenetrable vigour, ginseng plants thrive well in harsh climates, such as in the Appalachian mountain ranges and Siberia; they certainly know what real stress is like!
True ginseng comes in three main forms: Asian (Panax ginseng) White, Asian Red and American (Panax quinquefolius). Asian White ginseng is the unsteamed, crude root, while Asian Red ginseng has been steamed (steaming turns the roots red) and is much more warming and stimulating. Researchers have reported that the steaming process increases the bioactivity of ginsenosides, the main constituents of ginseng. Other reported benefits of Asian ginseng are hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic and highly antioxidant, which makes it useful as a cardiovascular tonic as well.
American ginseng is mildly stimulating and thus more popular for women. It is more sweet, in flavour and cooling and moist in nature. In traditional Chinese medical theory, American ginseng has affinity for the lungs, stomach and kidney meridians, and considered a fantastic tonic to simultaneously boost qi, nourish yin and clear excess heat.
You can mollify the stimulating action of ginseng by combining them with balancing adaptogens (ashwagandha, tulsi) and calming nervines (oatstraw, lemon balm); or potentiate the energising effects with caffeine plants (green tea, cacao). Warming chai spices (cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg) pair well together with ginseng and synergise their effects.
Ginseng is better taken in the morning; evening consumption may trigger insomnia. The recommended dosage is up to 5 grams (1 teaspoon) day of dried root as powder or in a tincture; pregnant women should not use ginseng without professional consultation.
Ethical considerations to note when using ginseng are that due to the high demand for this superherb, ginseng is now threatened and even endangered in some states where it once flourished. Therefore, one should always purchase cultivated roots (not wild-harvested) of American ginseng from a reputable supplier. In general I use ginseng sparingly and favour more sustainable and affordable alternatives such as codonopsis and maca root.
You may have heard of other types of ginseng such as Brazilian (suma), Indian (ashwagandha), Peruvian (maca), Siberian (eleuthero), Tibetan (rhodiola) and even women’s ginseng (angelica root or dong quai). However these are not true ginseng as they are not from the Panax genus, although they have similar beneficial adaptogenic action. Some manufacturers label the names as such for product marketing purposes by associating with the esteemed reputation of the Asian ginseng. However by law in the United States, it is now illegal to label any herb as ginseng unless it comes from the Panax genus.« Back to Glossary Index