Ginseng is a slow-growing plant that forms a fleshy root. While most knowledge of the medicinal root is shrouded in ancient mystical terms and legends, recent studies have shown that these plants contain 40 powerful compounds called ginsenosides as well as a compound called gintonin.
These compounds have remarkable and quite useful medicinal properties.
The name ginseng is related to the Greek term panacea, meaning “heal all.”
True ginseng comes from the genus Panax and family Araliaceae and is found in North America (American ginseng) and in eastern Asia — mainly Korea, China, and eastern Sibera (Asian ginseng).
Sometimes, plants that are not from the genus Panax are referred to as ginseng. For instance, Siberian ginseng, which is from a different family of plants, has a woody root instead of a fleshy root.
Siberian ginseng contains no ginsenosides, but rather compounds called eleutherosides.
The most widely studied ginsengs include: Panax ginseng (also called Korean white ginseng), Panax quinquefolis (American ginseng), Panax notoginseng (Chinese notoginseng or Sanchi). Each species has unique properties.
Most of the medicinal properties come from the American and Asian varieties.
Many people have heard of the terms “red” and “white” ginseng. Korean red ginseng is made by steam-heating Panax ginseng (white ginseng) for prolonged periods — a process that forms new compounds.
Ginseng can be used as a whole root, as dried strips, powders, or as special extracts that are dissolved in various fluids.
I prefer to use the liquid forms, as it is easier to adjust the concentration and they are absorbed much faster.
Ginseng is generally safe in even high doses, but must be used with some caution and should not be combined with certain medications, especially phenelzine, warfarin, imatinib, antidepressants, and lamotrigine.
Stimulant ginsengs such as Panax and Korean red ginseng can cause insomnia if they are taken later in the day or in very high doses.
Most studies have found very few significant side effects with even higher doses of ginseng.
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