The ginseng root has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Native American medicine to treat a variety of ailments and illnesses. Recent studies have proven ginseng has many health benefits such as boosting energy, preventing inflammation, helping the immune system fight colds and flu and even improving brain function (more information). One of the fastest and easiest ways to take ginseng is brewing it into a tea.
- How To Prepare Ginseng
- Ginseng roots
- Eating ginseng
- Powdered ginseng
- Ginseng wines
- What are the health benefits of ginseng?
- Why do people take ginseng?
- Ginseng: Everything You Need To Know
- WHAT IS GINSENG?
- GINSENG’S EFFECTS
- HOW TO CONSUME GINSENG?
- WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF GINSENG?
- HOW TO GROW GINSENG?
- THE HISTORY OF GINSENG
- IS GINSENG SAFE?
- Ginseng: The Most Common Supplement No One Actually Takes (And Why You Should)
- Ginseng is one of the most-studied adaptogens out there.
- But not all ginseng products are created equal.
Ginseng Tea Recipe:
- Measure approximately 2 grams of ginseng root per cup of ginseng tea you would like to prepare. 2 grams of ginseng root is equivalent to about:
- 1/4 of a jumbo ginseng root
- 1/2 of a large ginseng root
- 1-2 medium ginseng root
- 2-3 small ginseng roots
- 1 tablespoon of ginseng root powder
- Bring 8 oz of filtered water to a boil per cup of ginseng tea. Allow the water to cool for 1-2 minutes or until the water reaches about 90 °C. This helps prevent some of the fragile root compounds from being damaged by boiling hot water.
- Add the ginseng to the hot water.
- Allow the ginseng tea to steep for 5-15 minutes depending on the strength of tea you desire. It is recommended to steep larger ginseng roots longer than smaller ginseng roots, prongs or powder.
- Remove the ginseng, add a spoonful of honey or another sweetener for taste and enjoy!
How To Prepare Ginseng
Ginseng and the six other health herbs (see below) can be used in six major forms or ways, they can be eaten raw, they can be eaten after being slightly cooked, and they can also be taken in the form of a herbal tea, in herbal wine form, or used in the form of herbal powder, or the extracts of the herb can be used in a number of ways.
Many Chinese herbal stores in North America sell the whole ginseng roots, and this ginseng is usually fresh. Buying the whole ginseng root is advantageous in one way, in that there is little room for mistake about the quality of the herbal product you receive, and the authenticity of the root is almost always guaranteed, even if the whole root may be more expensive than other types of ginseng based products. There is a great difference in the quality of the commercially available ginseng, some ginseng products are much more potent than others and ginseng comes in many grades. The price of the product gives a good indication of the quality of the ginseng used, especially when the commercial ginseng product is being brought from a reputable herbal dealer. Since the product is so scarce and expensive, and as many of the herbal store owners in the Western world do not have a good idea about high quality ginseng roots, the quality of roots in the West is suspect as some of the Chinese herbal dealers may often pass off an inexpensive root for a high quality root to the commercial western trader – care should be taken when buying any ginseng product for this reason.
The greatest advantage of eating raw ginseng or lightly steamed ginseng is that all the most important chemical constituents in the herb can be obtained in this way. Roots that are steamed for a few minutes are easier to slice and chew, while the whole raw ginseng roots are a little difficult to cut and eat. The ideal way to eat these roots is to cut them in nickel thin slices that are very easy to handle and eat. During preparation of the ginger root, the entire whole root must be steamed and then cut up into slices, leaving some uncut will make it harder as the root will tend to dry again and will have to be steamed again – which is very inconvenient and makes the herb lose some of its potency. Dosage of the ginseng eaten in this manner – raw or steamed – differs from one person to another, one or two of these thin slices eaten every day is sufficient for the average person. The ideal way to store these slices of ginseng is to pour a little honey over the pre-sliced roots, keep these honey covered slices in an air tight container and refrigerate them for long term use. Many commercial herbal stores also sell pre-sliced ginseng roots and these can be very convenient. Pre-slice ginseng products come from some Korean companies. Compared to buying the whole root of the ginseng, gram for gram the sliced roots are less expensive and may be more convenient for the individual user.
Ginseng roots differ in mass and come in different weights, ranging from five grams to an ounce each – the bigger roots are more expensive.
Compared to the sliced root, the powdered form of ginseng root is easier to digest – and this form is available in many herbal stores. The easiest way to consume the powdered ginseng is to take them in gelatin capsules; the majority of health food stores also stock these capsules along with the powdered ginseng. An herbal combination formula can also be prepared by mixing the ginseng root along with other beneficial powdered herbs – these can be taken together to relieve a variety of conditions in patients. Most health and herbal stores will have commercial ginseng powders and these are usually sold in pre-packaged form.
Herbal tea made from ginseng is the ideal way to consume the herb, and the main advantage in making an herbal ginseng root tea is that many other beneficial herbs can be mixed in the tea. Ginseng root tea is normally fortified in China by adding about three to five jujube dates to the steaming tea – this is then given to the patient for drinking. Ginseng root tea can be transformed into a simple tonic herbal combination formula by adding other useful herbs like the licorice root, the astragalus, the Fo-Ti herb, the dong quai, herb or some schisandra berries – this fortified ginseng tea is much better for health then the ginseng tea taken alone. The expensive nature of ginseng makes it prohibitive to prepare a tea like regular tea using the herb alone. A covered double boiler is normally used to cook the ginseng herb. A ginseng cooker which is made out of a small porcelain container is used in place of the top portion of a double boiler by the Chinese to prepare the ginseng. About two cups of herbal ginseng tea can be prepared from the water held in this cooker. This Chinese ginseng cooker is designed in a way, in which the solution within the cooker is insulated from the outside air, the evaporation of the valuable ginseng in the cooker is prevented by an inner lid that covers the top, a second domed lid fits over that, the result is that an insulating air space exists between the first and the second lids which prevents spillage of the herbal brew. Most Chinese stores have these very inexpensive cookers on sale. Results similar to the cooker can be achieved by utilizing a lidded pint canning jar, some ginseng and water can be kept in the lidded jar and this can be placed in a large pot of boiling water for steaming. As boiling can cause the loss of some of the herbal constituents, using the cooker or the jar ensures not too much of the herbal constituents is lost and the main role played by the cooker or the lidded jar is to keep the ginseng tea from boiling over.
The cooker or the jar can both be used in the preparation of the ginseng herbal tea, use water and six grams of the ginseng herb to make the tea, boil the ginseng for about two hours in the container, as the boils away, water can be added when necessary to make up for the loss of water in the steam. A crock pot set on low can be substituted for the pot on the stove, if you do not have the time or the inclination to continuously watch the water level in the container. When using the crock pot instead of the pot on the stove to boil the ginseng, the herb may need to be boiled about an hour longer.
Once the tea has been prepared, remove from the stove, strain and drink about half of it every day during the supplemental period. The boiled ginseng roots and the other herbs in the water must not be discarded immediately. When boiling ginseng, you must remember that only the beneficial extracts lying in the outer part of the root are steeped into the water during the first boiling of the herbal tea, this initial boiling of the tea does not extract the active constituents lying in the inner parts of the root. Cut the once boiled root in to small pieces so as to expose the core of the inner root and then subject these to boiling water to make a second boiling herbal tea. A third boiling of the ginseng can also be carried out by repeating the cooking process at least twice – until all the ginseng has been used up. A single root of the ginseng can provide you with at least six doses of the herbal tea in this way. Taking a one week break from supplementation will be useful, if the dosage of the ginseng tea over stimulates the body, and this break is advised especially when you are affected by any rare side effects of taking the ginseng, if affected by any side effects induced in the body by continuously taking the herb, take a break for one week and then repeat the daily doses at one fourth or one third of the cooker or jar content of herbal tea.
Drinking wine in which ginseng and other herbs have been soaked for a long time is very common in China; indeed drinking such wines is a common way to take doses of the ginseng and some of the other useful tonic herbs in China. While any wine or strong liquor can be used for soaking the ginseng and other herbs, the rice wine is traditionally used as liquor for this purpose – the herbal extracts leak into the wine and also flavor the wine. When ginseng is commonly used as a medicine in China and taken in doses of one ounce – it is used as a medicine in such small doses. Tonic herbs are complemented very well by wines as the wine “moves” the blood, the Chinese believe that such drinking wine improves and speeds up the circulation of blood.
Prepare the ginseng infused wine in this way: use about three ounces of the ginger root, and finely chop or thinly slice these into even sized pieces, use a rice liquor to soak these slices for five or six weeks at a stretch. The rice wine must ideally be shaken once or twice every day, and the wine with the ginseng in it must be stored in a cool and dark area for the duration of the soaking period. This preparation must be used as a medicine and cannot be considered as a regular alcoholic beverage, as over stimulation of the body will be the likely outcome of overindulging in the liquor. Similar wine preparations can be made using some of the other beneficial tonic herbs, including herbs such as the deer antler, the Eleuthero root, the Fo-Ti herb, the schizandra berries, and the rehmannia herb. To promote digestion and to fine tune the circulation in the body, some fennel seeds or a little bit of cardamom can be added along with the rehmannia herb. The ginseng wine can also be infused with these herbal tonics to make a combination herbal infused wine.
What are the health benefits of ginseng?
Share on PinterestGinseng is reported to have multiple health benefits. However, further research is required to confirm these.
Ginseng has traditionally been taken to aid a range of medical conditions.
More research is needed to confirm its benefit as a supplement. However, it is claimed that ginsenosides, chemical components found in ginseng, are responsible for the clinical effect of the herb.
Western scientists and health professionals often question the medicinal properties of ginseng. There is no conclusive evidence that determines its true effectiveness.
Ginseng products can vary in their quality and medicinal properties. Checking the ingredients of ginseng products before purchase is strongly recommended. Some products have been found to contain a small or negligible amount of ginseng, and some contain other substances.
Researchers suggest that the following health benefits are linked to ginseng:
Ginseng may help stimulate physical and mental activity in people who feel weak and tired. One study revealed that ginseng showed good results in helping cancer patients with fatigue.
However, the energy-boosting effects of ginseng were only seen in people currently undergoing treatment. Ginseng did not show statistically significant improvements in people who had already finished cancer treatment.
Sharper cognitive function
Share on PinterestGinseng has demonstrated effects on thinking power, but studies have been inconclusive.
Ginseng may improve thinking processes and cognition. Research published in The Cochrane Library examined the accuracy of this claim.
The study says that ginseng seems to demonstrate benefits for cognition, behavior, and quality of life. However, the authors of the review cautioned that despite some positive findings, studies included in the systematic review did not make a convincing case for the effectiveness of ginseng as a cognitive booster.
Richard Brown, M.D., an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, said about the study:
“It was a very careful review. But as with many Chinese herbs and treatments, while ginseng has been used by millions of people, there aren’t a lot of rigorous modern studies.”
Another study, published in Journal of Dairy Science, explored whether it would be possible to incorporate American ginseng into foods. The researchers developed ginseng-fortified milk with sufficient levels of ginseng to improve cognitive function.
However, it is not possible at this stage to know whether the inclusion of ginseng in a food product would have the desired cognitive effect.
Ginsenosides may have anti-inflammatory effects, according to experimental results in Journal of Translational Medicine.
Ginseng is often used to reduce inflammation. The researchers suggest that ginsenosides may be responsible for targeting pathways in the immune system that could reduce inflammation.
Treatment of erectile dysfunction
Men may take ginseng to treat erectile dysfunction.
A 2002 Korean study revealed that 60 percent of men who took ginseng noticed an improvement in their symptoms. Research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology also claimed to provide “evidence for the effectiveness of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.”
However, a more recent systematic review has been carried out.
In assessing the effectiveness of red ginseng for treating erectile dysfunction, the review demonstrated that the number of trials, total sample size, and the quality of the experimental methods were not satisfactory for demonstrating ongoing clinical benefit.
More research is needed to confirm ginseng as a reliable treatment for erectile dysfunction.
Research on the effects of ginseng on mice suggests a between ginseng and the treatment and prevention of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Findings suggested that red ginseng extract could improve the survival of human lung epithelial cells infected with the influenza virus. However, many studies of the preventive actions of ginseng against viruses were later discredited as unreliable.
Lowering blood sugar
Several studies suggest that ginseng may help lower blood sugar and help treat diabetes. Ginsenosides may affect insulin production in the pancreas and improve insulin resistance using other mechanisms.
More clinical studies and standardization of ginseng root are needed to consider ginseng as a possible complementary therapy for diabetes. This is so that researchers can investigate what specific doses are effective.
Why do people take ginseng?
Ginseng has traditionally been used for a number of medical conditions. However, its benefits for most of them haven’t been seriously researched.
There are two main types of ginseng: Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Studies have found that the different types have different benefits. In traditional Chinese medicine, American ginseng is considered less stimulating than the Asian variety.
Although many other herbs are called ginseng — like eleuthero, or Siberian ginseng — they do not contain the active ingredient of ginsenosides.
Some studies have found that ginseng may boost the immune system. There is some evidence that one particular type of American ginseng extract might decrease the number and severity of colds in adults.
Several studies in people have also shown that ginseng may lower blood sugar levels.
There is some early evidence that ginseng might temporarily — and modestly — improve concentration and learning. In some studies of mental performance, ginseng has been combined with ginkgo. While these studies are intriguing, many experts feel that we need more evidence.
Ginseng has also been studied as a way to improve mood and boost endurance as well as treat cancer, heart disease, fatigue, erectile dysfunction, hepatitis C, high blood pressure, menopausal symptoms, and other conditions. While some of these uses are promising, the evidence isn’t conclusive.
Ginseng: Everything You Need To Know
WHAT IS GINSENG?
Ginseng is a popular Chinese herbal remedy that’s made from the root of the ginseng plant. It’s sometimes called “man-root” because the multi-limbed rhizome of wild ginseng plants take on a human-like shape. Other nicknames include “root of life” and “root of immortality”.
For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has used ginseng as a natural cure for erectile dysfunction and to boost sagging libidos in all genders. It stimulates the immune system, increases energy, reduces stress, sharpens mental focus, and stimulates fertility. Ginseng is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and there is some anecdotal evidence that it may even help fight cancer. Not to mention, this “cure-all” achieves all this with practically no side effects for most users.
Due to its ever-increasing demand, ginseng is also one of the most expensive herbal medicines on the market today. Some premium wild ginseng roots have sold for as much as $200,000 USD. Although rare, sales like that do happen for ginseng hunters lucky enough to stumble across a ginseng plant that’s matured naturally for well over a decade. To be considered harvest-worthy, ginseng must be several years old; it grows very slowly. Wild roots sell for $500–600 USD a pound on average. Cultivated ginseng, on the other hand, is only worth about $50 USD a pound.
There are three different types of ginseng plants: Korean (Panax ginseng), American (Panax quinquefolius), and Siberian (Eleuthero). Korean ginseng is the most powerful and most valuable. American ginseng has similar health benefits, but it’s not nearly as energising. Siberian ginseng is totally different. Although it does have some value in herbal remedies, it does not contain ginsenoside (AKA panaxoside), the active ingredient in Korean and American ginseng.
Over time, Ginseng became so popular in Asia that profiteers overharvested this highly coveted plant. That means authentic Korean ginseng is rare and hard to find. As a result, the United States exports tonnes of American ginseng to China every year. Even if you purchase a ginseng product that’s made in China, you may receive American ginseng. Pay close attention to the labels and only buy from a reputable dealer.
For thousands of years, ginseng has safely treated a wide range of complaints as a general vitality booster. That’s because Panax ginseng belongs to a special class of herbs and plants called adaptogens. Instead of blindly focusing on one organ, whether it’s functioning properly or not, adaptogens “adapt” to the current condition of your body. In that way, ginseng is like a smart drug that will regulate your endocrine system and balance your hormones—if, and only if, they need balancing. This holistic approach gives ginseng a unique ability to heal without doing harm.
Ginseng is world-famous for its value as a sexual aid. Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction often have stronger erections and more staying power after they begin using this herb. It’s even supposed to increase sperm count. Ginseng’s most popular benefits aren’t restricted to the male gender; it can also help post-menopausal women who lack desire naturally increase their sex drive. According to animal studies, ginseng makes our furry friends more willing to mate too, indicating that man-root’s more sensual side is no mere placebo effect.
If you suffer from brain fog, ginseng might clear your mind and allow you to focus. It acts as a mild stimulant to relieve minor fatigue and improve cognition. Ginseng is not a cure for long-term sleep loss, and it only improves mental function if you’re actually tired. It did, however, improve hyperactivity and attention scores among test subjects with ADHD. It can also improve your mood, calm your mind, and heighten your memory. Researchers have found that ginseng aids both the mental abilities and behaviour of Alzheimer’s patients.
This root is often used as an immune-boosting tonic to ward off the common cold and influenza, and it’s been known to help ailing patients regain their strength. It’s particularly helpful for people who are fighting cancer, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, and COPD because it improves the body’s response to stress in addition to supporting the immune system. However, claims that ginseng can improve physical performance and endurance in healthy subjects are highly debated.
Ginseng reduces blood sugar levels and blood pressure, but only if you have type 2 diabetes or hypertension. It’s still safe to take for those who don’t suffer from either condition. The ginsenosides in ginseng can also combat inflammation, a condition that is now thought to be the underlying cause of many serious diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
It seems like ginseng’s virtues are endless. Other benefits include weight loss, protection from alcohol toxicity, anti-cancer properties, and cholesterol reduction. However, ginseng does not work for everyone or for every disease. It you suffer from a serious condition like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or erectile dysfunction, please consult with your doctor about using ginseng as a complementary treatment in addition to traditional medicine, rather than using it for self-care.
GINSENG’S SIDE EFFECTS
For most people, ginseng is safe to take for short periods of time. If you’re sensitive to ginseng’s active ingredients (ginsenosides), or if you take this herb for a prolonged period (over six weeks), you may experience side effects like:
- fast heart rate
- change in blood pressure
- vaginal bleeding
- tender breasts
Allergic reactions can be serious. Please discontinue use and seek immediate medical attention if you develop hives, have trouble breathing, or experience swelling of the tongue, throat, lips or face. Other serious reactions include burning of the eyes, skin pain, sore throat, high fever, and skin rashes, blisters, or peeling.
Ginseng may interact with other drugs and supplements. The combined effects can be dangerous. Do not use ginseng with other supplements that can reduce blood sugar, including psyllium, chromium, and alpha lipoic acid.
You should always discuss all prescription and over-the-counter medicine you take with your doctor along with any supplements. Take special care if you plan to take ginseng with any blood thinner, immunosuppressant, antidepressant, or diabetes medication. There haven’t been any studies conducted to show whether ginseng is safe for use by children or pregnant women; use by these groups should be avoided.
HOW TO CONSUME GINSENG?
There are many ways to consume ginseng. Most people start with gelcaps containing ground ginseng root. You can also make teas, tonics, or tinctures. Prepared products are readily available in most health food stores, but you can also use the fresh or dried root to create your own.
How to make ginseng tea:
Cut fresh or dried ginseng root into thin slices.
Drop the slices in a pot of boiling water.
Turn off the heat and steep for 5 minutes.
Sweeten to taste with honey if desired.
How to make ginseng tincture:
Slice a whole ginseng root and place it in a jar.
Cover with 190-proof grain alcohol.
Tighten the lid to prevent evaporation and place in a cool, dark place for 30 days.
Dose yourself with 5–15 drops once or twice a day.
You can also eat ginseng root. Slice it, steam it in a basket for 15 minutes, then eat it as is, or use it in any recipe that calls for root vegetables.
If you’re able to harvest your own fresh ginseng, you can preserve the roots by drying them. Wash gently to remove dirt and debris, being careful not to break the skin. Let them air-dry for several hours. Place the roots on a screen in a single layer with space between each root. Put the screen in a warm, dark place where the air is still for two weeks to allow the drying process to complete.
Technically, ginseng roots must be at least six years old before they’re harvested to be considered red ginseng, but some people use this term to refer to ginseng that’s been steamed prior to drying. If you prefer this method, steam your roots after they air dry, but before you place them on the screen. Do so by placing them in a steamer basket over boiling water for one to two hours.
For best results, use ginseng for two to three weeks, stop for one to two weeks, then repeat the cycle. This practice will eliminate most side effects, unless you’re allergic, and prevent your body from building up a tolerance to ginsenoside.
Start off with a low dose of ginseng to see how your body reacts to it. If you tolerate it well, you can increase slowly after the first week. Most people never exceed 2g of raw root or 400mg of dried ginseng in a 24-hour period.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF GINSENG?
Ginseng has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine with great success, and researchers have now identified some of the scientific mechanisms responsible for its effectiveness. Here are some of the health benefits of ginseng.
1. Ginseng Is An Antioxidant & Anti-inflammatory
Chronic inflammation and oxidative damage cause more than just pain and swelling. It’s now believed that they contribute to life-threatening conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have shown that this herb can reduce inflammation markers and increase antioxidant activity in otherwise healthy subjects. Here are some of the studies.
- Ginseng reduced the inflammation and oxidative activity associated with eczema in a test tube study.
- After supplementing with ginseng for a week, male athletes were shown to have less inflammation than those who were given a placebo.
- Postmenopausal women who took ginseng for 12 weeks under a doctor’s care also had less inflammation and oxidative stress markers at the end of the study than those who took a placebo.
2. Ginseng May Help Prevent Cancer
Although no one’s claiming that ginseng can cure cancer, it can do its part in combination with a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of this deadly disease.
- Two studies show that ginseng can reduce your chances of developing cancer. The first found that people who take ginseng developed cancer 16% less often than those who don’t. The second found that ginseng users tended not to get specific forms of this disease like lung, stomach, liver, colon, esophagus, lip, and mouth cancer.
- Ginseng can also help during cancer treatment. It reduces side effects, helps maintain the patient’s overall health and vitality, and it can even increase the effectiveness of some cancer drugs.
3. Ginseng May Stabilise Blood Sugar Levels
Fluctuating blood sugar levels aren’t good for anyone. They’re a real and immediate danger for diabetes patients, and in healthy individuals, these ups and downs can affect your energy levels, your mood, and your weight. Here are some studies that prove ginseng can help keep blood glucose levels nice and even.
- A group of 19 type 2 diabetes patients were given 6g of Korean red ginseng along with traditional treatment. At the end of the 12-week study, they all showed marked improvements. On average, they reduced their blood sugar by 11%, their fasting insulin by 38%, and their insulin sensitivity by 33%.
- Fermented red ginseng was shown to be more effective than a placebo at lowering blood sugar after the subjects were given a meal.
- By taking ginseng, 10 healthy subjects had better blood sugar results on the sugary drink test.
4. Ginseng Supports The Immune System
Most research into ginseng as an immunity booster has focussed on cancer patients, but that doesn’t mean it can’t help healthy people too. After all, it does appear to make vaccinations, like the flu shot, more effective for everyone.
- Patients recovering from surgery to remove stomach cancer took 5400mg/day of ginseng for two years. Testing showed their immune system functioned at optimal levels and cancer recurrence happened at a lower rate than the general population.
- Another study shows similar results. This one found that patients who took ginseng and had their cancer surgically removed were 38% more like to survive the surgery and 35% more likely to be cancer-free at the five-year point.
5. Ginseng May Improve Sexual Performance
Ginseng is more famous for its use as a potent sexual aid than for any of its other benefits, and science says this isn’t a myth. Here are some studies that prove it works.
- After 8 weeks of taking 1000mg/day of ginseng, 86 men reported significant improvement in their erections.
- A different group of men found that their erectile dysfunction symptoms were reduced by 60% compared to a mere 30% improvement enjoyed by men who took a pharmaceutical ED treatment.
- Ginseng works in two ways to help ED. It reduces oxidative stress in penile tissues and blood vessels, and it increases nitric oxide production to increase blood flow.
6. Ginseng May Improve Brain Function, Increase Energy
Ginseng does more than fight disease; it can improve both your physical and mental vitality if either have been lagging. Here’s how this Chinese herb has been proven to help.
- Ninety people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome where given either ginseng or a placebo for four weeks. Those taking ginseng felt they had more physical and mental energy during the study than the placebo group.
- Thirty healthy test subjects were given 200mg/day of Panax ginseng for four weeks. They showed measurable improvement in mood, social functioning, and mental health.
- A different set of thirty healthy adults were given either 200mg or 400mg of ginseng in a single dose before taking a 10-minute test. All showed improvement, but the 200mg group had the biggest increase in mental performance. A little ginseng goes a long way.
- Multiple studies have shown that ginseng can benefit Alzheimer’s patients too. When given this herb, both their cognitive abilities and behaviour improve.
HOW TO GROW GINSENG?
If you’d like to grow your own ginseng, it’s possible, but it will take a lot of time and patience, plus the right environment. The plants grow slowly and they’re picky about their surroundings. It helps if you live in a place where wild ginseng flourishes, such as the US East Coast, the Pacific Northwest, or Asia. To be successful, you should simulate the conditions that wild ginseng prefers, choosing a sloped woodland area with natural shade instead of a typical garden setting.
Ginseng grows best in soil with a neutral pH level. If it’s not in the 5.6 to 6.0 range, adjust with soil amendments like lime before you plant. The desired area will also need to have about 80–90% shade and not get excessively hot, even in the summer. Make sure you’ll have access to the plot for years into the future and that the ground will not need to be disturbed for any other type of project. Your newly planted ginseng may need a full decade for the roots to reach the desirable size.
If possible, keep your new enterprise a secret. Because of its value, ginseng theft is a real threat. Poachers have been known to sneak into fields under the cover of darkness to dig up roots well before the owner would be ready to harvest in order to make some quick cash.
1. Buy Ginseng Roots Or Seeds
You can grow ginseng using either seeds or roots to start your garden. One or two-year-old rootlets are sold to new farmers so they can quickly establish their fields. They’ll take hold in the soil easier than seeds, and you’ll see live ginseng plants emerge much faster than if you started from seed. Plus, you’ll also have a headstart on your harvest. Once you get the hang of growing from roots, try growing from seeds. You can harvest your own as your plants get older, or you can buy those too. You’ll get many more seeds than roots for the same amount of money.
If you’re in an area where ginseng grows naturally in the wild, like the Appalachian Mountains, try to find a local source for your seeds and roots. Not only will you know they’re fresh and authentic, you may be able to see where they grew and get some ideas for your own garden. Moreover, a local source might be more willing to answer your questions after your purchase than someone online.
A reputable seller will only ship ginseng roots and seeds in the fall when they should be planted. But don’t wait too long to look for one; the best sources often have waiting lists and take pre-orders.
Seeds come in two forms: green and stratified. Green seeds are picked that year and are still encased inside the berry. If you sow green seeds, they will not sprout until the second spring after they’re planted. It will take them that long to shed the flesh of the berry and fully mature. A stratified seed, on the other hand, is no longer encased within the berry. They cost about twice as much as green seeds, but they will germinate the first spring after they’re planted in most cases.
2. Choose Your Site
Look for a wooded area with mature hardwood trees like walnut, oak, maple, or hickory. The canopy should provide about 90% shade and there shouldn’t be a lot of smaller trees or bushes under the canopy. The shade will keep your developing plants cool in the summer and prevent crowding from undergrowth.
Choose a site on a slope that faces east or north. These areas are cooler than those that face south or west. The sloped area will also help the soil drain; ginseng does not like to grow in soggy areas. Clay-based soil should be avoided. Plants that like to grow in the same conditions as ginseng include goldenseal, black cohosh, and wild yam. If you see those growing on your potential site, you’ve found a good spot.
3. Plant Your Roots Or Seeds In The Fall
Wait until after it rains or snows to plant your roots or seeds. The ground should be moist, but not saturated. Before planting, make sure you’re not planting directly above a rocky layer in the soil. If a stick will easily penetrate the soil to a depth of at least 5cm, you’re good.
Start by removing any of the fallen leaves or natural mulch covering the area where you will be planting. Sow the seeds about 50cm apart. Poke a hole about a centimetre deep, drop the seed in, cover with soil, then pack it down firmly. Finally, recover the area with about 8cm of the leaves you removed when you started to plant. This is a wild-simulated method that requires no tilling.
Roots must be kept moist prior to planting and should be placed into the soil whole. Plant as soon as you receive them or store in the refrigerator. If stored, they must be aired out daily to prevent mould or rot. Don’t try to stretch your order by breaking them into sections. Plant rootlets using the same spacing as seeds, but they’ll need to be positioned in a larger hole at a 30–45° angle. The top should be a couple centimetres below the surface once the soil is replaced.
4. Let Nature Take Its Course
This is where patience comes in. You have no choice now but to wait until spring for the young plants to emerge. There’s nothing you can or should do to help them. They’ll have to thrive, or not, on their own—just like wild ginseng.
Whether you start from root transplants, green seeds, or stratified seeds, not every one will result in a ginseng plant. Viability rates depend not only on the quality of the seeds and roots, but the weather, how they were planted, and their environment. Sometimes, if a spring season is hotter or dryer than usual, even stratified seeds will lie dormant until the next year when conditions are better.
5. Harvest Mature Roots In Five To Ten Years
Be very careful when you dig up the roots of a mature plant. You don’t want to break any of the root hairs or damage any immature plants nearby. Starting about 15cm away, use a small pitchfork or spade to loosen the soil around and under the plant. Finish with your hands, gently wiggling the roots from the soil. Once the root has been picked, place it on a wooden tray. Keep all the roots in a single layer to promote airflow and prevent breakage. Wash them briefly and gently before drying on wooden racks. Never let your ginseng touch metal if you can prevent it.
THE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF GINSENG
Like most edible plants, ginseng roots contain carbohydrates, sugars, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, but ginseng’s saponins are the active components responsible for most of ginseng’s health benefits. So far, scientists have identified 13 saponins in ginseng. They’re referred to generically as ginsenosides or panaxosides.
THE HISTORY OF GINSENG
No one knows when mankind first started using ginseng as a tonic. The first time consumption was recorded was in an ancient Chinese text from the first century AD. This writing by Chinese herbalists claimed the roots could brighten the mind, prolong life, and increase wisdom, as well as improve sexual vitality. Its reputation as a potent aphrodisiac has made ginseng a popular and highly sought-after herb throughout the centuries.
Early practitioners of Chinese medicine probably tried ginseng initially because the roots resemble a small man. This unusual appearance would have made them think that ginseng would benefit the human body as a whole, in the same way they thought walnuts were good for the mind because they looked like a brain. As crazy as that sounds in today’s world, this was a common practice in ancient times and even has a name: the Doctrine of Signatures. In the case of ginseng, the doctrine was spot on.
Before long, all of China had heard of ginseng’s reputation as a virtual fountain of youth. As a result, the Chinese government and lords sought to control the regions where ginseng grew wild in those times, and it soon became worth its weight in gold. Wars were fought, lives were lost, fortunes were made, and today, natural wild ginseng in Asia is very rare and incredibly expensive due to overharvesting.
American ginseng is now one of America’s biggest exports to China. Some is cultivated using either traditional or simulated wild conditions, but wild ginseng hunting also attracts many people in need of money in the Appalachian and Smoky Mountains. Hunters scour the mountainsides, often trespassing on private lands in search of small green plants with red berries and roots that can sell for enough money to carry them through the coming year.
Some will replant seeds as they collect mature roots, but others dig up anything they can find with no regard for future generations. As a result, strict regulations have been created to control who can hunt for ginseng, as well as when and where they can harvest.
Today, ginseng is still widely consumed and an important part of Chinese medicine. You’ll find it in capsule form at health food stores, pharmacies, and online at a variety of price points.
IS GINSENG SAFE?
Unless you’re allergic or sensitive to ginseng’s active ingredients, it’s considered safe to use for short periods of time. After about 4–6 weeks of use, you can take a break and safely resume use for another short period.
Ginseng is not addictive, and it can help some people get through withdrawal symptoms if they decide to stop taking other drugs that are addictive.
However, ginseng may not be safe for use by all people. It can act as a 5-HT2A agonist, so it should not be taken along with SSRI antidepressants, and it can cause hypomania for some people with bipolar disorder. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not take ginseng, and you should not give it to children.
Ginseng is legal to use no matter where you live, but laws pertaining to purity, labelling, harvesting, poaching, and exportation abound.
Ginseng: The Most Common Supplement No One Actually Takes (And Why You Should)
Today, the nutrition world is fad-crazy.
Maybe you’ve been tempted to try a collagen supplement because you see your favorite celebrity using one. Or perhaps you’ve embarked on a ketogenic diet because some of your coworkers swear by it.
But the most-researched and clinically validated ingredient for your health is far more ancient.
Enter adaptogens — non-toxic plants that help your body adapt to stressors. And in the world of adaptogens, one of the most popular is ginseng. Odds are, you can find it your grandmother’s medicine cabinet. You’ve also probably seen an energy drink in a gas station made with it.
It’s both everywhere, and nowhere. Everyone knows about it, but no one takes it.
And that’s too bad because ginseng has a wide range of time-tested benefits. The root is filled with antioxidant properties and has the potential to both increase your energy levels and decrease stress.
Here’s why it might be time to revisit the old classic:
Ginseng is one of the most-studied adaptogens out there.
Ginseng has been around forever.
It was originally used as herbal medicine in ancient China, and there are written records about its properties dating back to about 100 A.D. In traditional Eastern medicine, it’s believed to it be a source of Chi, the earth’s vital energy that circulates through the body at all times. Today, ginseng is one of the most popular herbal medicines in the world. (Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius are the two most recognized species.)
The first thing to understand about ginseng is that it isn’t your average functional herb like thyme or basil — it’s an adaptogen. This is a major distinction. There are three key requirements for a plant to qualify as an adaptogen:
- It’s nontoxic, safe for long-term use, and non-habit forming
- It produces a nonspecific response in your body, helping a variety of systems defend against physical, chemical, and biological stressors
- It brings balance to your body and helps to normalize all systems
Confused? Think of it this way. You know that empathetic friend who comes over to your house to vent, but then she sees that you’re excited about something and adjusts her demeanor to celebrate with you? That’s what an adaptogen does in the human body. It senses what the body needs and alters its behavior to foster wellbeing.
And stress is the root cause of most diseases and common ailments.
For these reasons, adaptogens are the queens of holistic medicine, and ginseng is one of the very best. In fact, if you check PubMed, you’ll see upwards of 6,000 published studies on Panax ginseng alone.
The data is in — ginseng is the real deal.
Credit: Riaz, et. al. (Science Direct)
But not all ginseng products are created equal.
If you’re in the camp of people who’ve tried ginseng and saw no results, you’re probably taking low-quality ginseng in too-small doses.
It takes about six or seven years for ginseng to generate the properties it needs to be adaptogenic. Put simply, bugs eat the ginseng root, which causes the plant to generate protective mechanisms that end up being healthy for humans. This makes it an expensive root, meaning there’s a high risk that shady manufacturers might sell impure ginseng or include less than advertised on the bottle.
Gas station energy drinks often contain low-quality ginseng and are loaded with caffeine, neither of which will do you much good for your body. And when it comes to ginseng supplements, quality and active ingredients vary widely from maker to maker. The most common ginseng readily available on the market is lower quality, which makes it very hard to establish a standard dose.
The method of extraction also greatly influences the quality of the ginseng.
Methods include mechanical shaking, ultrasound, high pressure, and microwave. Numerous studies have been dedicated to determining the best extraction procedure, and experts agree that ginseng analysis requires expertise in chemistry, chemometrics, biology, and bioinformatics.
In other words, it’s complex.
If you’re going to take ginseng, do your research to make sure it’s from a reputable manufacturer as opposed to just grabbing the first bottle you see.
In the end, adaptogens support immune function, stress management, deep sleep, and promote overall health and wellness. And ginseng is the tried and true way to test out adaptogens. From there, there’s a whole world of adaptogens to explore.
As with many other things in life, your grandma was right about this one.