Ginseng (Panax) is a genus of about five or six species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, in the family Araliaceae. They grow in the Northern Hemisphere in eastern Asia and North America, typically in cooler climates; Panax vietnamensis, discovered in Vietnam, is the southernmost ginseng found. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenoside.
Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is not considered a true ginseng; instead of a fleshy root, it has a woody root; instead of ginsenosides, eleutherosides are present.
Some other species previously classified in Panax are now treated in the separate genera Polyscias and Pseudopanax.
The name ginseng comes from the Chinese term Ren Shen (??), which means man root. It was originally the common name for several plants valued for their medicinal properties; although ginseng is now most often associated with the genus Panax, some researchers believe that the original ginseng used in ancient China may have been a different plant. Although ginseng is often seen as an East Asian medicine, American ginseng has been used by Native Americans for centuries. A wide variety of ginseng is generally available in many Chinatown herb shops and ethnic Chinese supermarkets.
Modern science and Ginseng
The positive medicinal effects of ginseng have been difficult to prove using modern science. Frequently, there are contradictory results from different studies. Supporters claim that this is due to the wide variety of ginseng quality used in studies. The quality and neutrality of studies from East Asia have also been questioned. Another issue is that there is no profit to be achieved from researching ginseng because it cannot be patented; therefore, pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to research ginseng. As a result, quality studies into the effects of ginseng are rare. Ironically, one of the better studies involving ginseng actually uses a proprietary formula of ginseng.
Ginseng is highly prized as an adaptogen (a product that does no harm, but increases the body's resistance to stress). Unfortunately, this property is extremely difficult to prove scientifically as well.
A comparative, randomized and double-blind government study does indicate it to be "a promising dietary supplement" when assessed for an increase in quality of life.
Panax ginseng appears to inhibit some characteristics associated with
cancer in animal models; nevertheless, this effect is unclear in humans.
* Panax ginseng Chinese/Korean ginseng (root)
Alleged effects: promotes Yang energy, improves circulation, increases
blood supply, revitalizes and aids recovery from weakness after illness,
stimulates the body
* Panax quinquefolius American ginseng (root)
Ginseng that is produced in the United States and Canada is particularly
prized in Chinese societies, and many ginseng packages are prominently
colored red, white, and blue.
Wild ginseng is ginseng that is not cultivated and harvested from nature. Wild ginseng is relatively rare, and in many cases threatened or endangered. Wild ginseng has been shown to contain higher levels of ginsenoside.
Red ginseng is Panax ginseng that has been heated, either through steaming or sun-drying. This version of ginseng is associated with stimulating sexual function and anti-cancer benefits. In this context, regular, non-heated ginseng is referred to as White ginseng.
A double-blind, crossover study of Red ginseng's effects on impotence show a marked positive effect.
A study shows that Red ginseng reduces the relapse of gastric cancer versus control.
A study of ginseng's effects on rats show that while both White ginseng and Red ginseng reduce the incidence of cancer, the effects appear to be greater with Red ginseng
These plants are sometimes referred to as ginseng, but they are either from a different family or genus.
* Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)