Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
This slow-growing, short plant with fleshy roots can be classified three ways, depending on how long it is grown: fresh, white or red.
Fresh ginseng is harvested before 4 years, while white ginseng is harvested between 4–6 years and red ginseng is harvested after 6 or more years.
There are many types of this herb, but the most popular are American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng).
American and Asian ginseng vary in their concentration of active compounds and effects on the body. It is believed that American ginseng works as a relaxing agent, whereas the Asian variety has an invigorating effect.
Ginseng contains two significant compounds: ginsenosides and gintonin. These compounds complement one another to provide health benefits).
1. Potent Antioxidant That May Reduce Inflammation
Ginseng has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some test-tube studies have shown that ginseng extracts and ginsenoside compounds could inhibit inflammation and increase antioxidant capacity in cells. For example, one test-tube study found that Korean red ginseng extract reduced inflammation and improved antioxidant activity is skin cells from people with eczema.
The results are promising in humans, as well.
One study investigated the effects of having 18 young male athletes take 2 grams of Korean red ginseng extract three times per day for seven days. The men then had levels of certain inflammatory markers tested after performing an exercise test. These levels were significantly lower than in the placebo group, lasting for up to 72 hours after testing However, it should be noted that the placebo group got a different medicinal herb, so these results should be taken with a grain of salt and more studies are needed.
2. May Benefit Brain Function
Ginseng could help improve brain functions like memory, behavior and mood
Some test-tube and animal studies show that components in ginseng, like ginsenosides and compound K, could protect the brain against damage caused by free radicals
One study followed 30 healthy people who consumed 200 mg of Panax ginseng daily for four weeks. At the end of the study, they showed improvement in mental health, social functioning and mood.
3. Could Improve Erectile Dysfunction
Research has shown that ginseng may be a useful alternative for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men. It seems that compounds in it may protect against oxidative stress in blood vessels and tissues in the penis and help restore normal function. Additionally, studies have shown that ginseng may promote the production of nitric oxide, a compound that improves muscle relaxation in the penis and increases blood circulation. One study found that men treated with Korean red ginseng had a 60% improvement in ED symptoms, compared to 30% improvement produced by a medication used to treat ED. Moreover, another study showed that 86 men with ED had significant improvements in erectile function and overall satisfaction after taking 1,000 mg of aged ginseng extract for 8 weeks. However, more studies are needed to draw definite conclusions about the effects of ginseng on ED.
4. May Boost the Immune System
Ginseng may strengthen the immune system. Some studies exploring its effects on the immune system have focused on cancer patients undergoing surgery or chemotherapy treatment. One study followed 39 people who were recovering from surgery for stomach cancer, treating them with 5,400 mg of ginseng daily for two years. Interestingly, these people had significant improvements in immune functions and a lower recurrence of symptoms .
5. May Have Potential Benefits Against Cancer
Ginseng may be helpful in reducing the risk of certain cancers. Ginsenosides in this herb have been shown to help reduce inflammation and provide antioxidant protection. The cell cycle is the process by which cells normally grow and divide. Ginsenosides could benefit this cycle by preventing abnormal cell production and growth. A review of several studies concluded that people who take ginseng may have a 16% lower risk of developing cancer. Moreover, an observational study suggested that people taking ginseng could be less likely to develop certain types of cancer, such as lip, mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, liver and lung cancer, than those who do not take it. Ginseng may also help improve the health of patients undergoing chemotherapy, reduce side effects and enhance the effect of some treatment drugs. While studies on the role of ginseng in cancer prevention show some benefits, they remain inconclusive.
6. May Fight Tiredness and Increase Energy Levels
Ginseng has been shown to help fight fatigue and promote energy. Various animal studies have linked some components in ginseng, like polysaccharides and oligopeptides, with lower oxidative stress and higher energy production in cells, which could help fight fatigue.
One four-week study explored the effects of giving 1 or 2 grams of Panax ginseng or a placebo to 90 people with chronic fatigue. Those given Panax ginseng experienced less physical and mental fatigue, as well as reductions in oxidative stress, than those taking the placebo.
7. Could Lower Blood Sugar
Ginseng seems to be beneficial in the control of blood glucose in people both with and without diabetes. American and Asian ginseng have been shown to improve pancreatic cell function, boost insulin production and enhance the uptake of blood sugar in tissues. Moreover, studies show that ginseng extracts help by providing antioxidant protection that reduce free radicals in the cells of those with diabetes. One study assessed the effects of 6 grams of Korean red ginseng, along with the usual anti-diabetic medication or diet, in 19 people with type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, they were able to maintain good blood sugar control throughout the 12-week study. They also had an 11% decrease in blood sugar levels, a 38% decrease in fasting insulin and a 33% increase in insulin sensitivity.
8. Weight Loss
Ginseng tea may aid weight loss, as it is known to be a natural appetite suppressant, according to the book 'The Miracle of Herbs and Spices' by Dr. Bahram Tadayyon. However, only drinking this tea along may not help you lose weight and it has to be accompanied by regular exercise and a healthy diet.
9. Controls Hypertension
Drinking ginseng tea is said to be a natural home remedy to control hypertension or high blood pressure. According to 'Linda Page's Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-healing for Everyone', some clinical trials on high blood pressure patients proved that consumption of ginseng tea can bring about a regular reduction in blood pressure.
10. Restores Hormonal Balance
Ginseng tea is particularly good for women, as it can help bring about a hormonal balance in their bodies and may consequently guard against breast cancer, endometriosis and other problems caused by hormonal imbalances. This is because ginsenosides are chemically similar to female steroidal hormones, which means that the root has mildly estrogen-like effects, according to 'Linda Page's Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-healing for Everyone'.
11. Promotes Heart Health
Ginseng tea is a rich source of antioxidants, which are good for heart health. Moreover, according to the book 'Prescription For Herbal Healing' by Phyllis A. Balch, ginseng has been shown to slow the heart rate and reduce the heart's demand for oxygen. The book says that ginseng root can increase the strength with which heart muscle can contract and hence, protects the heart from myopathy.
Easy to Add to Your Diet
Ginseng root can be consumed in many ways. It can be eaten raw or you can lightly steam it to soften it.
It can also be stewed in water to make a tea. To do this, just add hot water to freshly sliced ginseng and let it steep for several minutes.
Ginseng can be added to various recipes like soups and stir-frys, too. And the extract can be found in powder, tablet, capsule and oil forms.
How much you should take depends on the condition you want to improve. Overall, daily doses of 1–2 grams of raw ginseng root or 200–400 mg of extract are suggested. It’s best to start with lower doses and increase over time.
Look for a standard ginseng extract that contains 2–3% total ginsenosides, and consume it before meals to increase absorption and get the full benefits.