Known as the “King of Herbs”, panax ginseng root, or called Ren Shen in mandarin, is literally an herb bestowed by nature’s blessing. This herb has long been characterized by its human shape and miraculous power to bring the dying back to life. For that reason, ancient Chinese often referred to it as “Yellow Spirit”, “Earth Spirit”, and “Magic Herb”. Besides, together with marten, and deer antler velvet, they are also hailed as the famous three treasures of the Northeast since they are mainly produced there and of the highest quality. Though it is a highly regarded and most popular tonic, unfortunately the average person actually know very little about exactly what is ginseng root good for and how to use ginseng root to get maximum health benefits.
What is ginseng?
It can refer to a specific or multiple herbs depending on the means of classification.
Cultivated ginseng vs. wild ginseng
According to the quality, origin and growth environment, it can be classified as cultivated and wild ginseng. In China it is mainly cultivated in Jilin. Hence, it is also called “Jilin Shen”. It is normally collected during September. But ginseng plant should be grown at least 5 to 7 years. Otherwise, it will be of poor quality due to lack of enough juice. And based on different processing methods, it can be subdivided into red ginseng root, sugared ginseng root, and so on.
As its name implies, wild ginseng means the one that grows in the wild. Its growth years can range from decades to centuries. Unfortunately it is extremely scarce so that it has become a rare treasure these days.
Both of them are able to tonify Qi, nourish yin, enrich blood, promote the secretion of saliva or body fluid, strengthen heart function, invigorate stomach, reduce excitement or anxiety, etc. But the wild one contains much higher active ingredient content.
Radix ginseng from different origins
In the narrow sense, it traditionally refers to the root of Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer (Araliaceae). But in the broad sense, it can be divided into 4 main species – Changbai Mountain Ginseng (China), Korean ginseng, American ginseng, and Japanese ginseng (Burdock).
Chinese ginseng is good at tonifying Qi and partial to support Yang. It is sweet and slightly bitter in flavor and warm in nature. It goes to spleen, lung, and heart. It is ideal for people who are suffering from body fatigue, various weak body functions, low sexual desire, decreased appetite, and poor memory, and so on. Recommended dosage is from 2 to 5 grams.
American ginseng, or panax quinquefolius in Latin name, is biased toward nourishing yin. It is named so because it comes from the United States and Canada. It is cold in properties and enters meridians of heart, lung, and kidney. As a tonic of cold nature, it can benefit lung Yin, clear deficiency fire, and increase saliva production to quench thirst. So, it is a perfect substitute for the Chinese species if the person wants to enjoy its benefit but somehow can’t afford its warm nature. And it is preferred in injuring yin essence due to chronic illness and emaciated body.
Korean ginseng is skilled in tonifying primordial Qi. This species specifically refers to the one produced in the Korean Peninsula, which enjoys a high reputation all over the world. The fully mature one should be more than 6 years old. It can be used to cure diseases, make tea, and cook food. Its processing technic is so complicated that there are many different subtypes in this species.
Japanese ginseng can be used as food. Thanks to its golden color and pleasant scent, it is health food and drinks for all ages and seasons. In terms of medicinal uses, it resembles Changbai Mountain species but is with a weaker effect. As a result, it can be eaten directly and applicable to deficiency of yang.
Ginseng types based on different processing methods
Red ginseng is made from the high quality fresh one by steps of scrubbing, steaming, and drying. Its thin fibrous roots and branches have been removed beforehand. The finished product is cylindrical or spindle-shaped, red-brown, translucent, and sometimes with opaque dark yellow patches. It is partially warm so that it is suitable for patients with yang deficiency.
White ginseng, also known as candied ginseng, means the short and less quality Korean ginseng that is gone through the process of scalding with hot water, soaking in syrup, and drying. It is loose, fissured sometimes, and with white or yellowish white skin, yellow-white section, and sweeter flavor. It will melt when chewed and rapidly expand when boiled with water. The preferable one is bigger, whiter, and with older skin, longer residual part of stem, and longer fibrous root. It is applicable to those with deficiency of both qi and yin.
Sun-dried ginseng is based on the cultivated ginseng. And then it needs to remove the basal part of stem, wash and dry, clean, and then bake under the temperature of 40 to 50 °C. Thanks to the loss of water in the drying process, the activity of hydrolytic enzymes has been greatly inhibited in the dry condition, which can prevent the hydrolysis of ginsenosides and thus protect the nutrients from destroying. Besides, losing moisture provides an extra benefit. That’s to sat, it is not susceptible to mold and other microorganisms since it is in dry state. Medicinally it is of mild properties – neither warm nor dry. Hence, it can not only nourish one’s vitality but also promote the secretion of saliva or body fluid, which make it a preferred tonic that strengthens the body resistance to eliminate pathogenic factors and enhances physical fitness and disease resistance.
Mold pressing steamed red ginseng, as its name suggested, is made from high quality red ginseng. In addition, it still needs to be shaped and softened by a special mold. Due to the high temperatures during processing, the enzymes, amylase, maltase, etc. contained in ginseng roots have denatured. This will not only prevent the hydrolysis of ginsenosides but also stop the enzymatic hydrolysis and saccharification of starch in the root, which in the end helps maintain nutrients.
Active panax ginseng, also called freeze-dried ginseng, refers to the fresh one that is dried based on the sublimation principle. The fundamental principle in freeze-drying is to make Water directly sublime from a solid (ice) to a gas (vapor), which will thus let the moisture in the root vaporize directly. In the sublimation process, the temperature is kept below the 0 °C. As a result, enzymes, proteins, nucleic acids and other thermolabile won’t be damaged by heat, which in turn retains the full biological activity and effective nutrients. What’s more, this method can exclude 95% to 99% moisture, help long-term preservation, protect them from damaging by worms, and keep the shape.
Fresh ginseng refers to the refined Changbai Mountain fresh one by the use of modern technology. It possesses all the benefits of the above-mentioned types and keeps all the active ingredients. It is used medicinally directly and made into a variety of health foods and health drinks. Therefore, it can help refresh spirit, improve physical fitness, promote development, and defy aging naturally.
Fibrous ginseng root is often from red ginseng and has the similar health benefits. In comparison, it is less effective and mild. Medicinally it is partially warm in nature and appropriate for people with deficient qi and weak yang.
Ginseng root nutrition facts
More than 30 species of ginsenoside have been isolated from red ginseng, sun-dried ginseng, or candied ginseng. These ginseng saponins can be classified into 3 groups – oleanolic acid, protopanaxdiol, and protopanaxatriol groups, including ginsenoside-RX (Note: X = 0, a1, a2, a3, b1, b2, b3, c, d, e, f, g1, g2, g3, h1, h2, h3, s1, s2). Besides, it still contains pseudo-ginsenoside-F11 and more. Saponins are the material basis of ginseng’s physiological activity. When aglycone is isolated, triterpene compounds like protopanaxdiol and protopanaxatriol are synthesized through cyclization reactions between hydroxyl on the side-chain of the molecule and olefinic bond with the help of dilute acid.
Esters of organic acids include citric acid, isocitric acid, fumaric acid, ketoglutaric acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, maleic acid, malic acid, pyruvic acid, succinic acid, tartaric acid, salicyl acid, vanillic acid, hydroxybenzoic acid, triglyceride, palmitic acid, tripalmitin, α, γ-glyceryl dipalmitate, trilinolein, and glycosyl diacylglycerol.
Vitamins include vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin C, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, biotin and nicotinamide.
Sterol and its glycosides include β-sitosterol, stigmasterol, daucosterol, campesterol, ginsenosides P and sterol esters.
Besides, it still contains L-aspartic acid enzyme, β-amylase, invertase, maltol, nonacosane, kaempferol, ginseng glycosides, and 20 kinds of trace elements like copper, zinc, iron, manganese, etc.
The saponins in ginseng stems and leaves are basically consistent with that in roots. In addition, it is reported that the content of total saponins in fibrous root, bud, leaf, flower, and fruit is higher than in roots.
Panax ginseng benefits
Medicinally this tonic is known for its incredible power to build fitness, prevent fatigue, prolong life, regulate blood sugar level, soothe the nerves, enhance immunity, and more. Now let’s take a look at what its pharmacology says about it.
Modern pharmacological actions of panax ginseng
1) It has anti-shock effect;
2) Its injection has a better effect on hemorrhagic shock and acute toxic shock than other types of shocks;
3) It can significantly increase the frequency and amplitude of vibration of heart beat. And the cardiac effect is more significant during heart failure;
4) It can excite the pituitary-adrenal system to improve stress response capability;
5) It can enhance the excitatory and inhibitory processes of higher nervous activity;
6) It can enhance the flexibility of neural activity process and improve mental functions;
7) It can stop fatigue, promote the synthesis of protein, RNA, and DNA, improve hematopoietic function, regulate of cholesterol metabolism, and so on;
8) It can enhance immune function;
9) It can enhance gonadal function and resemble gonadotropin;
10) It can reduce blood sugar;
11) It has anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-diuretic, anti-tumor, and other effects;
12) Its pharmacological activity often shows two-way effect according to the difference of organism status.
Sample ginseng root formulas on herbal remedies
According to The Chinese Pharmacopoeia, it is sweet and slightly bitter in flavor and neutral in nature. It covers meridians of spleen, lung, and heart. Main functions are reinforcing vital energy, restoring the pulse, relieving desertion, invigorating spleen for benefiting lung, promoting fluid production, and tranquillizing. Primary ginseng uses and indications include on the verge of depletion of body fluids, cold limbs, weak pulse, reduced appetite due to deficient spleen, lung deficiency cough and asthma, thirst caused by body fluid deficiency, internal heat induced consumptive thirst, emaciation in chronic illness, palpitation, insomnia, impotence, cold uterus, heart failure, and cardiogenic shock. Recommended ginseng dosage is from 3 to 9 grams. Mind you, it should be decocted alone and then blended into the decoction of the rest herbs. And recommended dosage of wild ginseng powder is 2 grams, 1 times a day.
1) Du Shen Tang from Jing Yue Quan Shu (Jingyue’s Collected Writings). It is used alone to save critically ill patients with extremely deficient primordial Qi that is about to deplete, shortness of breath, mental fatigue, and a faint pulse verging on expiry due to profuse sweating, extremely watery diarrhea, massive hemorrhage, serious illness, or chronic illness.
2) Shen Fu Tang from Zheng Ti Lei Yao (Classification and Treatment of Traumatic Diseases). It is coupled with Fu Zi (Aconite) to treat on the verge of collapse due to qi deficiency, accompanied with sweating and cold limbs.
3) Sheng Mai San from Nei Wai Shang Bian Huo Lun (Clarifying Doubts about Damage from Internal and External Causes). It is combined with Mai Men Dong (Mondo Grass) and Wu Wei Zi (Fructus Schisandrae Chinensis) to cure deficient qi causing collapse accompanied with sweating, warm body, extreme thirst with preference for cold drinks, and red dry tongue.
4) Bu Fei Tang from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand golden essential prescriptions). It is matched with Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra Seed), Zi Su Zi (Perilla Fruit), Xing Ren (Apricot Seed), etc. to heal asthmatic cough and excessive phlegm due to the ascent of lung-qi.
5) Si Jun Zi Tang from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It is equipped with Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes), Fu Ling (Poria), and Gan Cao (Licorice Root) to treat dysfunction of spleen in transforming and transporting accompanied with damp stagnation.
6) Gui Pi Tang from Ji Sheng Fang (Life-saving prescriptions). It is formulated with Huang Qi (Astragalus Root), White Atractylodes, etc. to cure long-term blood loss caused by deficient spleen-qi failing to govern blood.
7) Ba Zhen Tang from Zheng Ti Lei Yao. It is joined with Dang Gui (Dong Quai) and Shu Di Huang (Rehmannia), etc. to replenish qi and nourish blood.
8) Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan from She Sheng Mi Pou (Secret Investigations into Obtaining Health). It is put together with Suan Zao Ren (Sour Jujube Seed), Bai Zi Ren (Arborvitae Seeds), etc. to heal palpitation, chest tightness, shortness of breath, weak pulse and other symptoms of heart failure. In addition, it still can tranquilize the mind, promote intelligence, treat insomnia, and improve forgetfulness.
9) Bai Hu Jia Renshen Tang from Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Cold Pathogenic Diseases). It is used along with Zhi Mu (Anemarrhena Rhizome) and Shi Gao (Gypsum) to treat qi and body fluid impairment caused by heat.
Popular ginseng recipes
There are many good ways to take this tonic. And here are the most common ones for your reference.
How to prepare ginseng?
1) stew. Cut it into slices of about 2cm, put into a bowl, fill it with water, seal the bowl, place the bowl into a steamer, and stew it for 4 to 5 hours;
2) Chewing. Can you eat ginseng root raw? The answer is yes. It is the easiest way and what you need to do is just to chew 2 to 3 slices slowly, which can help perk up your spirits and promote the secretion of body fluid since it is sweet, refreshing, and tasty;
3) Milling. Grind it into fine powder and swallow it in daily basis. Recommended dosage is 1 to 1.5 grams depending on the individual constitution;
4) Tea. How to make tea? Well, it is also quite simple – slice it and put your desired amount into a bowl or cup, brew it with boiling water, cover it and wait, and it will be ready in 5 minutes;
5) Wine. Soak the whole root or slices into a bottle of liquor that is with 40% to 60% alcohol.
Simple ginseng root recipes
1) Jujube ginseng soup
Ingredients: jujube fruits 20, ginseng 9g, dried shrimps 10g, egg 1, sesame oil 10g, and a little bit of vegetable oil, salt, onion, and parsley.
Directions: clean and remove the stone of jujube fruits, clean and slice ginseng roots, fill the pan with appropriate amount of water, boil it over high heat, pour in jujube and slices, cover the pan, simmer for up to another 2 hours, and finally add in all the rest ingredients.
2) Ginseng chicken soup
Ingredients: chicken drumstick 1, fibrous ginseng root 30g, jujube 10, salt 1/4 teaspoon, chicken powder 1/4 teaspoon, cooking wine 1 tablespoon, and water 600 cc.
Directions: chop chicken drumstick into blocks, quickly boil them and put in a stew pot, add in fibrous ginseng root, jujube, wine, and water, place the stew pot into an electric pot, steam it for about 40 minutes, and finally add in the right amount of salt and chicken powder for seasoning.
3) Ginseng walnut soup
Ingredients: ginseng 3g and walnut seed 3.
Directions: take these two ingredients and cook soup. Consume it for straight 5 to 7 days, once a day.
4) Lotus seed ginseng porridge
Ingredients: ginseng 10g, lotus seeds 15g, rice 50g, and appropriate amount of sugar.
Directions: soak and cut ginseng into thin slices, soak lotus seeds until it becomes inflated, remove the lotus plumule, wash rice, add water, lotus seeds, and rice into a pan, boil it with high heat, put in ginseng slices, switch to slow fire until it is done, and finally flavor with sugar.
Consuming tonics is a step by step process. So, don’t go off half cocked and don’t use it more often than directed. In addition, seasonal changes do matter. In general, autumn and winter are the best time to take tonic while summer isn’t.
Panax ginseng side effects and contraindications
Abuse of panax ginseng will get you nowhere. What’s worse, it may lead to side effects like nosebleeds, systemic allergies and even shock.
1) Ginseng is such an extreme tonic that it is inappropriate for people with high blood pressure, hemorrhagic stroke, dry mouth, excessive internal heat, ruddy cheeks, and dry stools. For American ginseng, it is inadvisable to be used in people with deficiency-cold in spleen and stomach, impotence, dysmenorrhea, and amenorrhea. Anyway, before taking it you should first identify what type of constitution you belong to – the cold type should take sun-dried ginseng or red ginseng while the heat type should consume American ginseng.
2) It cannot be eaten together with white radish and tea. Radish is known for relieving stagnant Qi and the tea will affect the absorption of ginseng’s active ingredients. So, avoid them as possible as you could so as not to affect the effect.
3) It shouldn’t be used in excess syndrome, heat syndrome, and vital qi that is not deficient. Hypertensive patients caused by hyperactivity of liver-yang are susceptible to cerebral vascular accident after taking ginseng. However, the patients with deficiency-cold type hypertension are allowed to consume it but the amount should be in low dosage. And all people with excess heat, manifesting as excess of pathogenic qi, body fever, slippery and forceful pulse, and difficulty with passing urine or stools.
4) According to modern reports, continuous dosing with high doses of ginseng can lead to adverse reactions like headaches, insomnia, palpitations, high blood pressure, depression, and so on. They won’t go away until it has been stopped. This condition is better known as “ginseng abuse syndrome”. Therefore, long-term use of overdose is inadvisable. And you should stop taking it immediately once the above mentioned adverse reactions occur.
5) People with no qi deficiency should not take it lightly. Tonic is totally unnecessary if you have strong and sturdy physique. On the contrary, misuse or overuse of ginseng may often lead to feeling of mild suffocation, chest tightness, and abdominal distension. This is so wrong to think it is completely harmless.
6) Children should not take ginseng. This is a tonic, which is only suitable for people with asthenic disease. So, healthy children should not abuse it.
7) People with strong allergies should stay away from it if rashes appear after the taking.
8) Generally it should not be taken during cold and fever. This is simply because fever is often accompanied with severe heart palpitations. Taking ginseng will worsen it since it can improve blood circulation and thus increase palpitations.
In a word, once chronic poisoning symptoms occur because of overdose of panax ginseng root, it should be immediately suspended. Generally the symptoms will disappear on their own in about a week later. In severe case, drinking licorice, sugar water or carrot soup as tea can relieve the poisoning symptoms. Finally, taking ginseng supplement or pills under the guidance of doctors is highly recommended.