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What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Ginseng?

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There are three different herbs commonly called ginseng: Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), and Siberian “ginseng” ( Eleutherococcus senticosus ). The latter herb is actually not ginseng at all and is discussed in a separate article .

Asian ginseng is a perennial herb with a taproot resembling the shape of the human body. It grows in northern China, Korea, and Russia; its close relative, Panax quinquefolius, is cultivated in the United States. Because ginseng must be grown for 5 years before it is harvested, it commands a high price, with top-quality roots easily selling for more than $10,000. Dried, unprocessed ginseng root is called white ginseng, and steamed, heat-dried root is red ginseng. Chinese...

If Brekhman is right, ginseng should be the right treatment for most of us. Modern life is tremendously stressful, and if an herb could help us withstand it, it would be a useful herb indeed. Ginseng is widely used for this purpose in Russia and Eastern Europe. However, the scientific basis for this use is largely limited to animal studies and human trials of unacceptably low quality.

There have been a few better-quality studies of various forms of ginseng for certain more specific purposes—strengthening immunity against colds and flus and other infections (including herpes ), helping to control diabetes , stimulating the mind , increasing a general sense of well-being , and improving physical performance capacity —and some of these have found positive results. (See What is the...

Safety Issues

Ginseng appears to be nontoxic, both in the short- and long-term, according to the results of studies in mice, rats, chickens, and dwarf pigs. 1 2 3 Reported side effects are rare. There are a few case reports of breast tenderness, postmenopausal vaginal bleeding, and menstrual abnormalities associated with Panax ginsenguse. 4 5 6 7 Such side effects suggest that it has estrogenic properties. However, a large double-blind trial of Panax ginsengfound no estrogen-like effects. 8 Another double-blind trial found no effects on estrogen or testosterone, 9 and a carefully designed test-tube study showed that ginseng is not estrogenic. 10 Therefore, it is possible that these apparent side effects were coincidental; another possibility...