What is Ginseng?
Alternate Names: The two most common types of ginseng are Panax ginseng, also called Asian, Korean or Chinese ginseng, and Panax quinquefolius, also called American, Canadian, or North American ginseng.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, each type of ginseng is thought to have unique healing properties. American ginseng has more "cooling" properties, which make it valuable for fever and respiratory tract disorders. Asian ginseng has "heating" properties, which are good for improving circulation.
Ginseng refers to species within Panax, a genus of 11 species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, in the family Araliaceae. They grow in the Northern Hemisphere in eastern Asia (mostly northern China, Korea, and eastern Siberia), typically in cooler climates; Panax vietnamensis, discovered in Vietnam, is the southernmost ginseng found. This article focuses on the Series Panax ginsengs, which are the adaptogenic herbs, principally Panax ginseng and P. quinquefolius. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides.
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is not a true ginseng at all. It is another adaptogen, but a different plant that was renamed as "Siberian ginseng" as a marketing ploy; instead of a fleshy root, it has a woody root; instead of ginsenosides, eleutherosides are present.
The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn (simplified: 人参; traditional: 人蔘), literally "man root" (referring to the root's characteristic forked shape, resembling the legs of a man).
The botanical/genus name Panax means "all-heal" in Greek, sharing the same origin as "panacea," and was applied to this genus because Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine for muscle relaxant.
Both American and Panax (Asian) ginseng roots are taken orally as adaptogens, aphrodisiacs, nourishing stimulants, and in the treatment of type II diabetes, including sexual dysfunction in men. The root is most often available in dried form, either in whole or sliced form. Ginseng leaf, although not as highly prized, is sometimes also used; as with the root it is most often available in dried form.
This ingredient may also be found in some popular Energy Drinks: usually the "tea" varieties or Functional Foods. Usually ginseng is in subclinical doses and it does not have measurable medicinal effects. It can be found in cosmetic preparations as well, with similar lack of effect.
Ginseng root can be double steamed with chicken meat as a soup.
Why Do People Use Ginseng?
The word Panax comes the Greek word meaning "all-healing". In much of Asia, ginseng is prized as a revitalizer for the whole body. This is partly due to the shape of the root, which resembles the human body.
# Mental and Physical Performance
Ginseng is known as an adaptogen, which means it increases resistance to physical, chemical, and biological stress and builds energy and general vitality.
# Immune Function
A study examined 323 people who had had at least two colds in the prior year. Participants were instructed to take two capsules per day of either the North American ginseng extract or a placebo for a period of four months.
The mean number of colds per person was lower in the ginseng group than in the placebo group. The proportion of subjects with two or more colds during the four-month period was significantly lower in the ginseng group than in the placebo group, as were the total symptom score and the total number of days cold symptoms were reported for all colds.
In one study, Panax ginseng in dosages of 100 or 200 milligrams were given to 36 people with newly-diagnosed non-insulin dependent diabetes. After eight weeks, there were improvements in fasting blood glucose levels, mood, and psychophysical performance. The 200 milligram dose also resulted in improved hemoglobin A1C levels (a test that measures how well blood sugar has been controlled during the previous three months).
# Erectile Dysfunction
In one research study of 90 men with erectile dysfunction, 60% of the participants reported improvement in their symptoms compared with 30% of those using the placebo. Unlike prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction which are usually taken when needed, ginseng only appears to be useful for erectile dysfunction if taken on a continuous basis.
Type of ginseng
P. quinquefolius American ginseng (root)
Ginseng that is produced in the United States and Canada is particularly prized in Chinese societies, and many ginseng packages are prominently colored red, white, and blue.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, American Ginseng promotes Yin energy, cleans excess Yang in the body, calms the body. The reason it has been claimed that American ginseng promotes Yin (shadow, cold, negative, female) while East Asian ginseng promotes Yang (sunshine, hot, positive, male) is that, according to traditional Chinese medicine, things living in cold places or northern side of mountains or southern side of rivers are strong in Yang and vice versa, so that the two are balanced.
Chinese/Korean ginseng grows in northeast China and Korea, the coldest area known to many Koreans in traditional times. Thus, ginseng from there is supposed to be very Yang. Originally, American ginseng was imported into China via subtropical Guangzhou, the seaport next to Hong Kong, so Chinese doctors believed that American ginseng must be good for Yin, because it came from a hot area. However they did not know that American ginseng can only grow in temperate regions. Nonetheless the root is legitimately classified as more Yin because it generates fluids.
The two main components of ginseng are in different proportions in the Asian and American varieties, and may well be the cause of the excitatory versus tonic natures.
The ginseng is sliced and a few slices are simmered in hot water to make a decoction.
Most North American ginseng is produced in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia and the American state of Wisconsin, according to Agri-food Canada. P. quinquefolius is now also grown in northern China.
A randomized, double-blind study shows that an extract of American ginseng reduces influenza cases in the elderly when compared to placebo.
The treasured aromatic root resembles a small parsnip that forks as it matures. The plant grows 6 to 18 inches tall, usually bearing three leaves, each with three to five leaflets 2 to 5 inches long.
Panax ginseng Asian ginseng (root)
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine Panax Ginseng promotes Yang energy, improves circulation, increases blood supply, revitalizes and aids recovery from weakness after illness, stimulates the body. Panax Ginseng is available in two forms:
The form called white ginseng is grown for four to six years, and then peeled and dried to reduce the water content to 12% or less. White Ginseng is air dried in the sun and may contain less of the therapeutic constituents. It is thought by some that enzymes contained in the root break down these constituents in the process of drying. Drying in the sun bleaches the root to a yellowish-white color.
The form called red ginseng is harvested after six years, is not peeled and is steam-cured, thereby giving them a glossy reddish-brown coloring. Steaming the root is thought to change its biochemical composition and also to prevent the breakdown of the active ingredients. The roots are then dried.
Red ginseng (Korean=홍삼, simplified Chinese: 红蔘; traditional Chinese: 紅蔘), is P. ginseng that has been heated, either through steaming or sun-drying. It is frequently marinated in an herbal brew which results in the root becoming extremely brittle. This version of ginseng is traditionally associated with stimulating sexual function and increasing energy. Red ginseng is always produced from cultivated roots, usually from either China or South Korea.
In 2002, a preliminary double-blind, crossover study of Korean red ginseng's effects on impotence reported that it can be an effective alternative for treating male erectile dysfunction.
A study shows that Red ginseng reduces the relapse of gastric cancer versus control.
A study of ginseng's effects on rats show that while both White ginseng and Red ginseng reduce the incidence of cancer, the effects appear to be greater with Red ginseng.
Falcarinol, a seventeen-carbon diyne fatty alcohol was isolated from carrot and red ginseng, shown to have potent anticancer properties on primary mammary epithelial (breast cancer) cells. Other acetylenic fatty alcohols in ginseng (panaxacol, panaxydol, panaxytriol) have antibiotic properties.
Wild ginseng is ginseng that has not been planted and cultivated domestically, rather it is that which grows naturally and is harvested from wherever it is found to be growing. It is considered to be superior to field farmed ginseng by various authorities, and it has been shown to contain higher levels of ginsenoside. Wild ginseng is relatively rare and even increasingly endangered, due in large part to high demand for the product in recent years, which has led to the wild plants being sought out and harvested faster than new ones can grow (it requires years for a ginseng root to reach maturity). Wild ginseng can be either Asian or American and can be processed to be red ginseng.
There are woods grown American ginseng programs in Maine, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. United Plant Savers has been encouraging the woods planting of ginseng both to restore natural habitats and to remove pressure from any remaining wild ginseng, and they offer both advice and sources of rootlets. Woods grown plants have comparable value to wild grown ginseng of similar age.
One of P. ginseng's most common side-effects is the inability to sleep (insomnia). Other side-effects of ginseng can include nausea, diarrhea, euphoria, headaches, epistaxis, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, mastalgia, nervousness, agitation and heart palpitations.
Pregnant or nursing women or children should avoid ginseng. People with hormone-dependent illnesses such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or cancers of the breast, ovaries, uterus, or prostate should avoid Panax ginseng because it may have estrogenic effects.
Panax ginseng may decrease the rate and force of heartbeats, so it shouldn't be used by people with heart disease unless under the supervision of a healthcare providers.
Ginseng may lower blood sugar levels, so it shouldn't be taken by people with diabetes unless under a doctor's supervision. Ginseng may worsen insomnia.
These mostly adaptogenic plants are sometimes referred to as ginsengs, but they are either from a different family or genus. Only Jiaogulan actually contains compounds closely related to ginsenosides, although ginsenosides alone do not determine the effectiveness of ginseng.
Since each of these plants have different uses, one should research their properties before using. Descriptions and differentiation can be found in David Winston and Steven Maimes book Adaptogens.
* Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Southern ginseng, aka Jiaogulan)
* Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng)
* Pseudostellaria heterophylla (Prince ginseng)
* Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng, aka Ashwagandha)
* Pfaffia paniculata (Brazilian ginseng, aka Suma)
* Lepidium meyenii (Peruvian ginseng, aka Maca)
* Oplopanax horridus (Alaskan ginseng)
Other plants which are referred to as ginsengs may not be adaptogens (although notoginseng is in the Panax Series):
* Angelica sinensis (Female ginseng, aka Dong Quai)
* Panax notoginseng (Known as san qi, tian qi or tien chi, hemostatic ingredient in Yunnan Bai Yao)
Saturday, May 24, 2008
What is Ginseng?
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