If you think of the herb ginseng as something you take to give your energy a boost, you’d be right, but only up to a point. While taking ginseng can help your energy in many circumstances, this herb is so much more than a quick pick-me-up. In fact, the biological name for Asian Ginseng is panax ginseng, derived from the Greek words pan, meaning all and axos, meaning medicine—or a cure all.
I know, you may be sold at the mention of a cure all, but before you decide ginseng is just what you need, here’s what you need to know.
There are Different Types of Ginseng
That’s right, while you may think you’re buying or taking one type of ginseng, you may actually be inadvertently taking something else. Asian ginseng is a commonly used herb in Chinese medicine. It’s called Ren Shen, which translates to man herb, because the herb, when taken out of the ground looks like a small man. It’s considered to be slightly warming and it strongly rebuilds and supports your energy, especially after you’ve been severely depleted, ill or had serious loss of blood. It’s used in formulas to help strengthen your lungs; support your digestion by treating loss of appetite, chronic diarrhea and prolapse; and it can benefit your heart by treating palpitations, insomnia and anxiety.
Asian ginseng can be very expensive, and to further complicate things, there are a number of varieties of this particular herb:
- Herbal experts in China say the best quality of Asian ginseng is grown wild in the mountains. It’s called wild mountain root, or just mountain root, some of which is grown in the Jilin province in China and is called Ji Len Shen.
- Cultivated ginseng may be cured in rock candy and is called white root or sugar root. This form of ginseng tends to be less expensive than other kinds.
- Cultivated and not cured ginseng can come in fresh or dried form.
- Cultivated and cured ginseng may be steamed or processed, which turns the ginseng root red. Steaming tends to make the herb warmer energetically and is called red root. Most Korean ginseng is this kind, and it tends to be more potent than ginseng from China.
Also used in Chinese herbal medicine is American ginseng root, or Xi Yang Shen, which translates to western seas root. It grows in the Northern United states and parts of Canada. American ginseng tends to be a cold herb compared to the warming quality of Asian ginseng. Also, while American ginseng is used to improve energy, it also helps to generate fluids and alleviate dryness. It’s often used for patients who are recovering from illnesses that involve a high fever. American ginseng can nourish your lungs, help cool lung inflammation or infections and is good for a cough. While American ginseng isn’t as strong as Asian ginseng, it can be used in many instances as an effective and less expensive alternative.
It’s a little confusing to know that there is also an herb called Siberian ginseng, which isn’t actually ginseng because it doesn’t contain ginsenosides, which are active compounds in ginseng. Siberian ginseng is also called eleuthero or Wu Jia and is used as an adaptogen, which helps your body regulate and cope with physical and mental stress. It can help to boost your energy and stimulate your immune system to help you fight off colds and flu.
The Health Benefits of Ginseng
With the reputation of being called a cure all, Asian ginseng actually may come close, as research is beginning to find a number of ways in which this herb can benefit your health. Research studies suggest that ginseng helps to:
- Promote better memory and cognition
- Build your immunity to fight off colds and flu
- Treat erectile dysfunction and low libido
- Treat chronic fatigue
- Regulate blood sugar, reduce risk of diabetes
Also, early research indicates that ginseng may be helpful in treating:
- Hay fever
- Bronchial inflammation
- Certain kinds of heart failure
Ginseng is also a good source of antioxidants, which offset damage from free radicals that accelerate your body’s breakdown and aging. Additionally, researchers are suggesting that ginseng may have anti-carcinogenic properties for certain kinds of cancers, and it may help patients recover faster from cancer treatments.
There is no standard dosage for ginseng because it varies for each condition and patient. At BodaHealth, our practitioners have years of training and experience in both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. They can prescribe an herbal formula based on your specific needs and health condition. They’re well-versed in the appropriate use and dosage of ginseng for the most effective results. If you’d like to know more about ginseng or herbal medicine in general, please contact us at BodaHealth.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.