Did you know that there are different types of ginseng, and they are all considered potent herbs for helping the body adapt to stress—both mental and physical?
Ginseng is best known for its ability to stimulate your immune system and fight fatigue and stress. Several dozen studies have shown that ginseng enhances physical and mental performance, improves mood, and aids metabolic function.
Other studies suggest that ginseng maybe anti-inflammatory and can provide a wealth of benefits, including improved blood cholesterol, lowered liver toxicity, lowered blood sugar levels, improved blood oxygen flow, control of respiratory diseases, and enhanced stamina.
Considered the “king of all herbs” in many countries, Chinese ginseng (Panax ginseng) is found in the forests of Northeast China, Manchuria, and Korea.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese ginseng is used to tonify the qi (vital energy or life energy force) and is a powerful yang, or warming, tonic herb. It has been reported to stimulate the immune system, fight fatigue, combat stress, slow aging, balance blood sugar levels, enhance mental performance and memory, lower cholesterol, and strengthen the heart muscle. It may even have anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties.
Before rushing off to get some Chinese ginseng, be aware that its overuse can have some negative side effects, including irritability, insomnia, and rapid heartbeat.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is indigenous to the Eastern woodlands from Georgia to Quebec and was used by Native Americans. While not as well known as Chinese ginseng, American ginseng has been around for hundreds of years. Jesuit priests were reported to be trading American ginseng to the Chinese as early as 1718.
American ginseng has a more yin, or cooler, nature than its Chinese counterpart. While still energizing the body, American ginseng calms the central nervous system, quiets the brain, and lowers blood pressure.
Also, because of its more yin nature, it is generally better to use on a daily, long-term basis than Chinese ginseng. However, if you tend to have a cold constitution, this might not be the herb for you.
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is native to Siberia, Japan, Korea, and China. Although not a true ginseng, this variety is most highly prized.
Siberian ginseng was traditionally used to promote longevity and general health. Many herbalists prefer it for helping with women’s health issues, particularly with depression associated with PMS and menopause.
Research, mostly from Russia, confirms this herb’s ability to increase mental and physical performance, stimulate the immune system, increase movement of white blood cells, promote circulation, and enhance the benefits of medical radiation treatments while lessening its negative side effects.
Ginseng should be avoided by people who are pregnant or have high blood pressure. In addition, ginseng may increase the effects of caffeine or other stimulants, which may cause sweating, insomnia, or an irregular heartbeat. It should not be used in conjunction with antipsychotic medications, steroids, or hormones.
As with all Chinese herbs, it is best to consult with a Chinese herbalist to see what is best for you before taking ginseng products.
Jennifer Dubowsky, LAc, practices acupuncture in Chicago. She earned her Bachelor of Science in kinesiology from the University of Illinois and Master of Science in oriental medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Colorado. She completed an internship at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital in Beijing. For more information, see TCM007.com.