It is just amazing how we are surrounded by numerous plants that provide us with virtually all the essential nutrients needed for healthy living. Apart from these beneficial nutrients, plants also provide us with natural phytochemicals that are equally essential for the healthy functioning of the human bodies. So if this is the case, why do we sometimes fail to acknowledge and tap into all the innumerable benefits that these plants can offer to us even when we have them right around us? Most of these plants parts such as the fruits, leaves, berries, seeds, roots, barks, gums, flowers and stems contain medicinal and nutritive value, which suggests the need for us to regularly make good use of them at all times.
One of such essential plants that has gained wide attention over the past years is the ginseng, which belongs to the family of Araliaceae and genus Panax. This post therefore, aims to shed light on some ginseng benefits and side effects you definitely would like to be aware of. My personal opinion after reviewing this plant is that there is no point going half way on ginseng, it is truly a powerful plant that is highly essential for the healthy functioning our body systems.
So, What is Ginseng? Ginseng is driven from a Chinese word known as rénshēn or 人蔘 or 人参. It is a perennial plant with fleshy roots found mostly in cooler regions such as Bhutan, Korea, eastern Siberia, North America and China. It's wide popularity is as a result of its high medicinal value and owing to the fact that it is an excellent source of glycosidal saponins known as ginsenosides, which is pharmacologically valuable. Studies reveal that the intake of ginseng is essential for good health, increased performance as well as for treatment and improvement of disease conditions.
Ginseng is the root of many species of the plant genus Panax however, not all ginseng are botanically related to Panax. Widely known as the king of herbs, ginseng comprises of three major species namely; the American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and the Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus or eleuthero). Unlike the other species of ginseng with fleshy roots, Siberian ginseng is characterized by woody roots and its main constituent is eleutherosides.
The essential part of the ginseng plant is the root and studies reveal that essential nutrients are only available in the ginseng roots and this is why the roots are the mostly sought after parts of this plant. But I have no doubts that further empirical studies on other parts of this plant such as the bark, berries and leaves will definitely find them equally valuable for medicinal and pharmacological purposes.
The most commonly used type of ginseng for herbal medicines is the red ginseng unlike the white ginseng and this is because the red ginseng root has been scientifically proven to be more powerful and effective than the white ginseng. Ginseng is an excellent source of essential oils, ginsenosides, gintonin, minerals, phytosterols, amino acids, vitamins and peptides. Most of the ginseng ginsenosides contain antioxidant properties thus essential for protecting the immune and nerve cells.
Other plants that are also known as ginseng are; suma or Brazilian ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata), Sanchi ginseng (Panax pseudoginseng or Panax notoginseng), Japanese ginseng (Panax japonicus), spikenard or California ginseng (Aralia californica), Himalayan ginseng (Panax pseudoginseng ssp. Himalaicus), dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius), dong quai (Angelica sinensis), mou shen or purple ginseng (Polygonum bistorta), Indian ginseng or ashwaganda (Withiania somnifea), Panax vietnamensis, prince's ginseng (Pseudostellaria heterophylla), American ginseng (xiyangshen), sha shen or white ginseng (Adenophora plymorpha), danshen or red ginseng (Salvia miltiorrhiza) and codonopsis or false ginseng (Codonopsis pilosula).
Even though these plants have the same name as ginseng, yet each of them has unique functions and constituents. Ginseng roots are easily obtainable either whole, powdered, sliced or dried. It is noteworthy that ginseng can never be obtained from any other natural food source other than from ginseng roots. Regardless the amazing benefits of ginseng to our health, pregnant women, newborn mothers and young children are highly advised not to consume ginseng due to lack of scientific proofs about this plant.
Preservation of Ginseng Roots
After harvesting and processing either the white ginseng or red ginseng roots, they can be air-dried, steamed or as well undergo heating process for preservation. It is important to note that steaming of ginseng roots causes chemical changes as well as promotes the biological activities of ginseng.
Benefits of Ginseng
1. Impact of Ginseng on Blood Pressure
Various researchers have contrasting opinions on the impact of ginseng on high blood pressure. While some agree that ginseng is very effective in reducing blood pressure, others claim that ginseng increases blood pressure. But on the other hand, some researchers claim that there is relationship between ginseng and blood pressure thus no possible changes can be observed from patients consuming ginseng.
2. Treatment of Liver Disorders
The presence of ginsenoisdes in ginseng makes this plant very effective for treating liver disorders such as liver hepatectomy and liver failure. It can also be used for regulating the proper functioning of the liver. Ginseng can also be used for treating acute hepatotoxicity, fibrosis and hepatitis.
3. Regulation of Cholesterol Level
Red ginseng can be used for reducing plasma total cholesterol, LDL, non-esterified fatty acid (NEFA) and triglyceride while increasing the plasma lipoprotein (HDL), cholesterol.
4. Treatment of Health Conditions with Weak Pulse
Ginseng can be used for treating health related conditions that are associated with weak pulse such as pulmonary obstruction and coronary heart diseases.
5. Effect of Ginseng on Energy Level Ginger is an essential herbal tonic for boosting the energy level since it is is capable of promoting the performance of individuals taking it. Ginseng facilitates a balanced stamina as well as prevents fatigue and tiredness. Ginseng also helps to regulate the body's metabolism thus helps individuals taking it to effectively use oxygen. Consumption of ginseng can also help to reduce stress, stimulates the brain cells as well as facilitates agility of an individual consuming it.
6. Hair Treatment
Ginseng can be used for producing hair creams and ointments that can treat dandruff, dry scalp as well as help hair to grow.
7. Cancer Treatment
Ginseng is an excellent source of ginsenosides, polysaccharides, polyacetylenes and phenolic compounds, thus makes it very useful for preventing cancer growths.
8. Improvement of Dementia Condition
Studies reveal that ginseng supplements can be used for improving the symptoms of dementia as well as Alzheimer.
9. Fertility Treatment
Researchers reveal that ginseng and its derivatives can be used for treating fertility related problems such as erectile dysfunction.
10. Anti-diabetics Properties
Some clinical trials reveal that ginseng can be used for regulating and reducing blood glucose levels. It is important to note that consuming high amount of American ginseng can cause hypoglycemia in both diabetics and non-diabetics individuals.
11. Herbal Tea Production Ginseng can be used for producing energy drinks that act as stimulants as well as herbal teas such as ginseng coffee or ginseng herbal tea.
12. Menopausal Treatment
Ginseng can be used for treating women with menopausal symptoms.
13. Treatment of Impotency
Ginseng can be used for preparing herbal medicines that treat impotency as well as boosts testosterone production.
14. Boosts the Functioning of the Brain
Some studies reveal that ginseng can boost the functioning of the brain thereby promoting thinking capacity, improving concentration, cognition and overall performance of an individual consuming it.
15. Relief from Menstrual Pain
Women and young girls suffering from menstrual distress, pains and cramps can take ginseng herbal tea to reduce menstrual pain.
16. Weight Management
Ginseng is a natural appetite suppressant thus very effective for controlling obesity and excess weight.
17. Other Uses of Ginseng
Ginseng can be used as an ingredient for producing body cream, herbal toothpaste, cosmetics, soaps, cigarettes, toothpaste, power bars, chewing gum, beverages and baby food.
Side Effects of Ginseng
When consumed concurrently, Panax ginseng can hyper stimulate the central nervous system which can possibly lead to increased blood pressure, irregular menstruation, insomnia and irritability. Other side effects of using ginseng are; vomiting, insomnia, nausea, nosebleeds, diarrhea, headaches and loss of appetite. The fact that ginseng can affect the blood sugar level suggests the reason why it can equally interact with diabetic drugs thus individuals suffering from diabetes should endeavor to consult their doctors first before taking ginseng.
Having read this post, I encourage you to share your views about the ginseng plant in the comment section. Every opinion counts!!!
This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnostic and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
1. Aphale, A. A., Chhibba, A. D., Kumbhakarna, N. R., Mateenuddin, M., and Dahat, S. H. (1998), Subacute toxicity study of the combination of ginseng (Panax ginseng) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in rats: a safety assessment. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol;42(2): pp.299-301.
2. Attele, A. S., Zhou, Y.P., Xie, J.T., Wu, J.A., Zhang, L., Dey, L., Pugh, W., Rue, P.A., Polonsky, K.S. and Yuan, C.S. (2002), Antidiabetic effects of Panax ginseng berry extract and the identification of an effective component. Diabetes 51: pp.1851–1854.
3. Chan R. Y., Chen W. F., Dong A., Guo D. and Wong M. S. (August 2002), Estrogen-like activity of ginsenoside Rg1 derived from Panax notoginseng, J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 87 (8): pp.3691–3693.
4. Cho Y, Kim H, Turner ND, et al. A chemoprotective fish oil and pectin-containing diet temporally alters gene expression profiles in exfoliated rat colonocytes throughout oncogenesis (2011), The Journal of nutrition, 141: pp.1029-1033.
5. Duda R. B., Taback B., Kessel B., Dooley D.D., Yang H., Marchiori J., Slomovic B.M. and Alvarez J.G.(1996), pS2 expression induced by American ginseng in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Ann Surg Oncol 3: pp.515–518.
6. Fangyun X, Zhifan Z and Huiying H, (2001), Clinical observation on nasopharyngeal carcinoma treated with combined therapy of radiotherapy and ginseng polysaccharide injection, Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine;7(4): pp.273-275.
7. Engels, H. J., and Wirth, J. C. (1997), No ergogenic effects of ginseng (Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer) during graded maximal aerobic exercise. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. v. 97, p. 1110-1115.
8. Gillis C. N. (1997), Panax ginseng pharmacology: a nitric oxide link? Biochem Pharmacol.;54: pp.1–6.
9. Gray, S. L., Lackey, B. R., Tate, P. L., Riley, M. B., and Camper, N. D. (2004), Mycotoxins in root extracts of American and Asian ginseng bind estrogen receptors alpha and beta. Exp Biol Med (Maywood.); 229(6): pp.560-566.
10. Ma Y. C., Zhu J., Benkrima L., Luo M., Sun L., Sain S., Kont K. and Plaut Carcasson Y. Y. A (1995), comparative evaluation of ginsenosides in commercial ginseng products and tissue culture samples using HPLC. J. Herbs Spices Med. Plants;3: p.41.
11. Murphy L., Cadena R., Chavez D.and Ferraro J. (1998), Effect of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) on male copulatory behavior in the rat. Physiology & Behavior. 64(4): pp. 445-448.
12. Nocerino E., Amato M.and Izzo A.A.(2000), The aphrodisiac and adaptogenic properties of ginseng. Fitoterapia. 71: pp.1-5.
13. Park K. A, Kweon S. and Choi H. (2002), Anticarcinogenic effect and modification of cytochrome P450 2E1 by dietary garlic powder in diethylnitrosamine initiated rat hepatocarcinogenesis, Journal of biochemistry and molecular biology, 35: 615-619.
15. Park S. J., Lim K. H. and Noh J. H. (2013), Subacute oral toxicity study of korean red ginseng extract in sprague dawley rats. Toxicol Res. 29: pp.285-290.
16. Kim, H. C., Shin, E. J., Jang, C. G., Lee, M. K., Eun, J. S., Hong, J. T., and Oh, K. W. (2005), Pharmacological action of Panax ginseng on the behavioral toxicities induced by psychotropic agents. Arch Pharm Res; 28(9): pp.995-1000.
17. Salvati, G., Genovesi, G., Marcellini, L., Paolini, P., De, Nuccio, I, Pepe, M., and Re, M. (1996), Effects of Panax Ginseng C.A. Meyer saponins on male fertility, Panminerva Med;38(4): pp.249-253.
18. See, D. M., Broumand, N., Sahl, L. and Tilles, J. G. (1997), In vitro effects of Echinacea and ginseng on natural killer an antibody dependant cell cytotoxicity in healthy subjects and chronic fatigue syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome patients. Immunopharmacology 35, 229–234.
19. Ulbricht et al., (2009), An Evidence based Systematic Review of Ginseng Interactions by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration, Natural Medicine.
20. Vogler B. K., Pittler M. H. and Ernst E. (1999), The efficacy of ginseng. A systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Eur J Clin Pharmacol; 55: pp. 567-570.
21. Wen J. and Zimmer E. A. (1996), Phylogeny and Biogeography of Panax L. (the Ginseng Genus, Araliaceae): inference from ITS sequences of nuclear ribosomal DNA. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 6: 167–176.
22. Yun, T. K. (2001), Brief introduction of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer, Journal of Korean Medical Science, vol. 16, supplement, pp. S3–S5.
23. Yun, T. K. (2003), Experimental and epidemiological evidence on non-organ specific cancer preventive effect of Korean ginseng and identification of active compounds, Mutation Research, vol. 523-524, pp. 63–74.
24. Zhang J., Bae T., Boo K., Sun H., Song I., Pham C., Ganesan M., Yang D., Kang H., Ko S., Riu K., Lim P. and Lee H. (2011) Ginsenoside productionand morphological characterization of wild ginseng (Panax ginseng Meyer) mutant lines induced by g-irradiation (60Co) of adventitious roots, Journal of Ginseng Research 35: pp.283–290.