American ginseng root, also known as Panax quinquefolium in pharmaceutical Latin and Xi Yang Shen in Pinyin, has long been viewed as a precious tonic with special therapeutic value. Although it shares the name of ginseng with Ren Shen (Panax Ginseng), they are not the same herb, physically and functionally. Clinically, it is widely used in improving or eliminating deficiency symptoms of body fluid and blood, which are typified by emaciation, red eyes and tinnitus, dry mouth and throat, fidget and thirst, weak breath, aching pain in knees and lower back, fever due to deficient Yin, impaired Yin caused by fever, chronic cough caused by lung deficiency, coughing up blood, and the like. Thanks for its slow but enduring pharmaceutical effect, it is a very popular tonic these days.
What is American ginseng root?
It usually refers to the root of Panax quinquefolium L., which is a species in the family Araliaceae. It is mainly found in the United States and Canada and now also cultivated in Beijing, Jilin, Liaoning and other places. The harvest usually starts in fall after it has been grown for 3 to 6 years. And medicinally it is used sliced and raw.
American ginseng plant is an herbaceous perennial with round or spindle-shaped taproot. The root surface is hairless, pale yellow or yellow-white, shiny, and with delicate striae. Texture is full and strong. Section is clean, presenting a clearer daisy pattern. Its slice has strong, choking, and sweet-bitter flavor.
Main chemical constituents
The root contains glycosides, mainly panaquilon, and others like volatile oils and resins. 6.4% to 7.3% are total saponins, which produce mainly panaxadiol and also panaxatriol and oleanolic acid after they are hydrolyzed. The species cultivated in Liaoning contain ginsenosides Rb1, Rb2, Rd, Re, Rf, Rg1, Rg2, Rg3, Rh1, RA0, R0, and possible Rc. In addition, it still contains daucosterol, oleanolic acid, and stigmast-3,5-diene-7-one. The cultivated one still contains volatile oils, fats, amino acids and trace elements. And about 32 kinds of ingredients have been identified in the volatile oil. Among them, the highest content is 26.05% β-farnesene, followed by 8.9% cetane and 7.89% β-gurjunene.
When it comes to the active ingredients, American ginseng has basically the same category with ginsenoside monomers, and even the sapogenins contained are exactly the same, namely oleanolic acid, panaxadiol and Panaxatriol.
Modern pharmacological actions
1) Anti-fatigue effect. Intraperitoneal injection of 60mg/kg panaquilon can extend the swimming time of mice;
2) Antidiuretic effect. Intraperitoneal injection of 60mg/kg panaquilon has anti-diuretic effect on rat;
3) Anti-anoxia ability. Intraperitoneal injection of 60mg/kg panaquilon can extend anoxic survival time of mice;
4) Anticonvulsant effect. Intraperitoneal injection of 60mg/kg panaquilon can reduce the mortality caused by pentylenetetrazol-induced convulsions and strychnine-induced seizures;
5) Others. Intragastric administration with American ginseng water extract (2g/ml) 0.5ml/each can promote blood clotting in the experiment of collecting blood by cutting the tail tip of each mouse. Intragastric administration with 60mg/kg panaquilon can reduce plasma ratio viscosity and increase erythrocyte membrane fluidity in experimental rat with blood stasis syndrome. The total saponins of American ginseng can inhibit collagen-induced platelet aggregation om rats, and IC50 is 1.012mg/ml.
American ginseng root nourishes Yin, tonifies Qi, calms spirit, improves brain power, removes heat to promote salivation, and relieves summer heat and pathogenic fire. As the old saying goes: “Thanks for the cool but tonic medicinal properties, American ginseng is the ideal alternative to panax ginseng when people need it but can’t afford its warm nature.” That’s to say, what makes American ginseng so special lies in its tonic nature that won’t easily cause dryness.
1) Strengthen cardiac muscle and enhance the activity of the heart;
2) Build strong central nervous system, calm mind, recover from fatigue, alleviate a hangover, enhance memory, and treat Alzheimer’s disease;
3) Modulate blood pressure and lead to a temporary or permanent fall of blood pressure;
4) Inhibit atherosclerosis and promote the growth of red blood cells to increase hemoglobin levels;
5) Regulate the secretion of insulin and therefore treat diabetes;
6) Regulate the secretion of adrenaline and enhance metabolism;
7) Increase strength and benefit athletes;
8) Inhibit the growth of cancer cell and increase immune function;
9) Help digest food and thus improve chronic gastritis and stomach weakness.
Panax quinquefolium and Panax Ginseng
Chinese Materia Medica believes that Panax quinquefolium is sweet and slightly bitter in flavor and cold in nature. It goes to meridians of lung, stomach, heart, and kidney. Primary function is boosting Qi, nourishing Yin, and clearing fire to promote the secretion of saliva or body fluid. Major American ginseng uses and indications include deficient Qi and Yin, excessive fire, coughing up blood tinged sputum, tiredness and fatigue caused by deficient heat, diabetes due to internal heat, and dry mouth and throat. Recommended American ginseng dosage is from 3 to 6 grams in decoction. Besides, it is often used in the forms of pills and powder.
Since both Panax quinquefolium and Panax Ginseng are good at benefiting the primordial Qi, they can be used to shortness of breath, tiredness, feeble pulse, and other syndromes caused by depleting Qi. However, the former’s bitterer and colder properties in combination with tonifying Yin function make it the better option in treating Qi-Yin exhaustion caused by heat illness; the latter has such a better depletion-rescuing ability that it works even though it is used alone.
Both of them can invigorate the Qi of spleen and lung, and treat the syndromes due to deficient Qi of spleen and lung. The former is often used in the treatment of the deficiency syndromes of Qi-Yin in spleen-lung; in comparison, the latter has stronger effect.
Both of them enhance Qi while nourishing fluid. As a result, they are commonly used for thirst due to body fluid impairment and diabetes. In addition, Panax Ginseng can still tonify the Qi of heart and kidney, soothe the nerves, and increase intelligence. Hence, it is also good for insomnia, forgetfulness, palpitation, and deficiency-type dyspnea due to kidney dysfunction in Qi holding.
American ginseng side effects and contraindications
1) Don’t drink strong tea while taking this herb because tea contains large amounts of tannic acid, which will destroy the active ingredients. If you are addicted to tea, you’d better resume your habit 2 to 3 days after American ginseng has been consumed. It is best not to drink coffee either since coffee has some impact to its effect;
2) Don’t take it along with radish. Ginseng tonifies Qi while radish drains Qi. That’s to say, these two types of foods are contradictory from a nutritional point of view. Moreover, they are of mutual restriction. If taken together, they will easily result in an allergic reaction or poisoning. From the pharmacology of traditional Chinese medicine, radish shouldn’t be eaten with many tonics. As a matter of fact, eating radish will also greatly aggravate the condition, e.g. a cold or blisters.
3) Be wary of adverse reactions. After taking it, some individuals may suffer from chills, decreased body temperature, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain and diarrhea. In some others, the symptoms include dysmenorrhea and delayed menstruation. Besides, to some it may cause an allergic reaction, which manifests sporadic, unequal-sized, and itching blisters on extremities. But blisters can be self-absorbed and then disappear after American ginseng has been stopped.
4) Chinese medicine thinks that this is a cold-natured herb, which should be used for boosting Qi and nourishing Yin. If your body suffers from heat syndromes, such as dry mouth, irritability, hot palm, red face, and chronic fatigue, the use of it makes sense and will nurse your body. On the contrary, if you have symptoms such as coughing up sputum, excessive saliva, or edema, don’t try to take it or it will make the condition worse. In addition, tonics are created to tonify deficiency. If your body is healthy enough, taking tonics could backfire. So, don’t take it when you feel good about yourself.
5) It is not good for eczema. So, take the seasonality into account when you are planning to take it. Since spring and summer is relatively dry, American ginseng root is a better choice. Apparently, Panax Ginseng or red ginseng is more suitable to be taken in autumn and winter.