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Vol 21, No. 03, March 2017   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
Ginseng Nature's "Cure-All"

Origins of Ginseng

It is one of the most well-known and widely-researched herbs when it comes to traditional Chinese Medicine. There are several evidence-based benefits for one’s well-being that some even refer to ginseng as a natural cure-all. It is considered as an adaptogen, which means it helps with mental and physical stress. Western medicine practitioners, however, don’t necessarily believe this is always the case.

Ginseng has become a multibillion dollar industry with 99% of all of the world’s supply coming from four countries: China, South Korea, the United States, and Canada.

In South Korea, 1,000 researchers are devoted to the study of ginseng and publish more than a hundred research papers on it every year. [1]

The English word ginseng was derived from the Chinese word, 人参 (pronounced as ren-shen), which means “man-root”. [2] The forked root of ginseng appeared to resemble a person with limbs that the Chinese revered its human shape as a divine symbol for harmony. In fact, the botanical name for ginseng is “Panax ginseng”Panax meaning “all-heal” or “panacea.”

Panax ginseng was first discovered over 5,000 years ago in the mountains of Manchuria, China. [3] Originally, ginseng was used as food. When the Chinese realized that consumption of ginseng enhance their strength and rejuvenation, they began to use it as medicine. By 300 A.D., the demand for ginseng garnered international trade with Korea. They exchanged Chinese silk and other goods in exchange for the herb. Several centuries later, the trade for ginseng is still growing strong between the two countries.

Kinds of Ginseng

While there are 11 species of the ginseng root, the most popularly consumed are the Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), the American ginseng (Panax quinqefolius) and the Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). [4]

The Asian ginseng is said to be the most potent of all. It contains ginsenosides, which is the active ingredient in the herb, that gives it its healing properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is said to strengthen the yang energy, “which improves circulation, increases blood flow, revitalizes the body and aids recovery from weakness after illness.” [5]

It is prepared by steaming before drying, and then it gets steeped in a mixture of special herbs. It turns red during this process, thus the name, “Red Ginseng.” The process of making red ginseng is said to preserve the ginseng’s natural state thus increasing its potency, where the steaming part has been shown to alter the composition of the ginsenosides. [6] For 2,000 years, the red ginseng was used as a sexual enhancer for men in the Far East.

The American ginseng is grown in Eastern and Central America and some parts of Canada. It has grown in popularity in Chinese medicine as a “calming tonic” that it has become endangered for overharvesting. Due to this, it has been expensive to purchase and produce. [4]

The American ginseng is similar to its Asian counterpart due to its ginsenoside content. It is known to be less potent than the red ginseng, though. It is mainly used for cough, hemoptysis, thirst and irritability. [7] It also boosts memory and functions as an anti-oxidant.

The Siberian ginseng is different from the first two as it does not have ginsenosides. The active ingredient for this type of ginseng is eleutherosides, which stimulates the immune system. It is also considered an energy-boosting adaptogen that fights off colds and the flu.

Studies have shown that Siberian ginseng also has anti-viral properties and reduced the number of herpes outbreaks with herpes simplex virus type 2. [8]

Benefits and Side Effects

You can buy various forms of ginseng in most health stores or online shops. Ginseng supplements come in capsules, tablets, powders and liquid extracts. There are ginseng tea bags and loose bulk tea. You can also buy dried ginseng roots, either whole or pre-sliced, which are generally used to make tea or are added to cooked food such as soup.

Others who don’t mind the strong taste would consume raw, dried slices as they are.

If you are taking ginseng supplements, the general dosage is 200 to 400 mg daily. The higher 400mg dose is usually needed to provide maximum benefits for brain function. [9]

Even if ginseng is natural, it doesn’t mean it’s completely safe to take it. Side effects of ginseng include insomnia, especially when mixed with coffee or drinks laced with caffeine. Other reactions are problems with digestion, headache and anxiety.

It is not recommended for children to take ginseng. It is also not advisable for women who are pregnant and nursing because it can cause vaginal bleeding or breast pain. [10]

It is still best to consult your doctor if you are inflicted with bipolar disorder, high blood pressure or an autoimmune disease. If you are taking prescribed or over-the-counter medication like blood thinners, diabetic medication or anti-inflammatory drugs, do not take ginseng liberally unless your physician has given you the green light to do so.

While it is widely known for lowering stress and increasing brain function, it is always better to do your own research. There is credit to the natural wonders that ginseng offers. If you want to try it as a supplement, take a small dosage in the beginning and incorporate it with a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Gradually, you can build up to taking it 400mg daily until you find the effect that leaves your body functioning optimally.

About the Author

Catherine Domingo Ong currently works as Journal Production Editor for World Scientific Publishing. Having taken Master's for Creative Writing, she also often contributes articles for APBN and enjoys writing and reading fiction. She is a writer whose guilty pleasure is lounging in a peaceful location with a good book (or several) and a latte at hand.


  1. In-Ho Baeg and Seung-Ho So, “The world ginseng market and the ginseng (Korea)”, J. Ginseng Res., Vol. 37 No. 1, 1-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3659626/
  2. Definition of Ginseng: Oxford Dictionary: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/ginseng
  3. History of Ginseng. https://www.csiginseng.com/history.htm
  4. Health Benefits of Ginseng by Dr. Mercola, https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/06/22/ginseng-health-benefits.aspx
  5. Panax Ginseng vs Siberian Ginseng by Owen Bond. https://www.livestrong.com/article/414544-panax-ginseng-vs-siberian-ginseng/
  6. Different Types of Ginseng: Which One to Use? By Olavi, https://www.herbsnatura.com/healthy-herbs/ginseng
  7. “Ginseng and Ginseng Products 101: What Are You Buying?” by Koh Hwee Ling, Wee Hai Ning and Tan Chay Noon (World Scientific Publishing, 2016), p. 19
  8. “Siberian Ginseng” by the University of Maryland Medical Center. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/siberian-ginseng
  9. How to Take Panax Ginseng. https://examine.com/supplements/panax-ginseng/
  10. American Ginseng Side Effects by Rae Uddin. https://www.livestrong.com/article/330086-american-ginseng-side-effects/

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