Ginseng: Panax Quinequefolius, Five Fingers, Five Leafed Ginseng, Man-Root

Botany:

It is a medicinal herb that can be found in deciduous forests across the eastern United States.  It is a smaller plant with off-white flowers and tiny red drupes.  Seeds are typically used to grow ginseng.  However, roots or seedlings can be transplanted.  Seeds should be planted in the fall and then they will start growing in the spring.  Ginseng plants take about three years until they reach marketable size, which is when the roots may be used.  Ginseng has optimal growth under specific conditions.  It requires a natural habitat with up to 90% shade.  In order for ginseng to thrive, about 45 inches of rain is needed each year with an average temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Also, frigid temperatures allow for ginseng to become dormant.  If all of these conditions are met, then it is likely that the ginseng will reach its full potential.  Mature ginseng may be 12-24 inches tall and may have more than 2 leaves.  Maturity takes at least four or five years.

Chemistry:

There are several active components in ginseng.  Some of these components include saponin glycosides, glycans, and volatile oil.  The saponin glycosides are also referred to as the ginsenosides: Ra, Rb, Rg-1, etc.  There are 10 known saponins in ginseng which are basically polysaccharides with distinct properties.  These saponins can synthesize DNA, RNA, and proteins.

Fun Fact:

The genus Panax is derived from a Greek word which means “cure all.” Basically there are exaggerated expectations of ginseng’s active constituents. 

History:

The Chinese favored ginseng that had roots that resembled humans.  Early Chinese emperors stated that this medicinal herb should be used in soaps and lotions.  They believe it could be taken orally as well.  The Iroquois used its roots to make eyewash, which treated the sore eyes of young children.  They also ground the root and then smoked it as a way to help asthma.  Infusions of ginseng roots were used by the Penobscot tribal women as a way to prevent infertility.  Today, there are many uses for ginseng.  In the east, it is used in tooth paste, food, drinks, bubble gum, and tobacco products.  The United States sells ginseng in my natural health stores and Asian stores.

Uses/Pharmacology:

The active constituents can be found in the root.  Ginseng is most useful for those who are weak, particularly the elderly.   This medicinal herb has the power to increase energy and physical performance.  It also promotes mental capabilities and reduces stress.  Thus it is considered to be an adaptogen which helps the body effectively handle biological, physical, and chemical stress.  Research has been conducted on Rg-1 at the Beijing Institute of Geriatrics.  Researchers discovered that as the thymus atrophies, lymphocyte function decreases.  This is a main contributor to aging.  Researchers found that Rg-1 stimulated lymphocytes and returned them to normal functioning.  Ultimately, Rg-1 can slow the process of aging.  Ginseng has been prescribed to serve as a sedative, increase nerve tone, and improve capillary blood flow.

Dosing/Recipes:

There is a useful recipe for making a decoction that should be drunk daily three times.  Add ½ teaspoon of powdered root in a cup of water. Bring the water to a boil for ten minutes.

Standard ginseng dosage is 200 mg per day.  It can be taken for about three weeks in a row and then it should not be taken for two weeks in a row.

Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions:

May interfere with blood thinning medications.  Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant or if you are taking other medications.

References Cited:

1.  Anderson, M. and Peterson, J. American Ginseng.  United States Department of Agriculture.  http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_paqu.pdf . 29 May 2003. Heterick Memorial Library. Ohio Northern University.  4 October 2009

2.  Harrison, H.C. Horticulture Updates.  University of Wisconsin-Madison. January- February 1989.

3.  Oliver, A., B. Van Lierop and A. Buonassisi.  American Ginseng Culture in the Arid Climates of British Columbia.  Province of British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. 1990.

4.   Coleman CI, Hebert JH, Reddy P. The Effects of Panax Ginseng on Quality of Life. Journal   of  Clinical Pharm. Therapy 2003;28(1):5-15.

5.   Ginseng. Medline Plus. United States National Institute of Health.  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-ginseng.html.  29 August     2009. Heterick Memorial Library. Ohio Northern University. 8 October 2009.

Researched By: Rachel Yanikov