If a person tells you Ginseng does not work, chances are they did not use it properly. This is one powerful tonic, indeed, so powerful that some find it too stimulating. Traditionally used by the old and the ill, it has a place in people going through a rough patch and in need of a boost. This is a plant that everyone should know about.
Chapter from my book Thirty Plants that Can Save your Life
Chapter from my PhD thesis
Part Used: Root
Remember This: Gung Ho for Gray Guys
Reasonable Uses: as a daily tonic for men over 45, fatigue, lack of endurance, depression lack of sexual desire, poor sexual function, lack of sexual desire, symptoms associated with aging; for younger men and women as an occasional tonic to speed recovery from an illness or a seriously stressful, exhausting, bad patch.
History and Traditional Uses
Korean and Chinese ginseng are the same plant. “Chinese”or “Korean” simply indicates in which country the plant was grown. In both countries Ginseng has enjoyed an almost mythical reputation for thousands of years. This sweet and faintly aromatic root occupied a place of honor in China the 2,000-year-old medical manual, The Herbal Classic of the Divine Plowman. Today, ginseng is daily by Asians men for general rejuvenation, to increase sexual desire, and as a vitality booster.
The Chinese advocate the use of Ginseng by women and younger men only in the case of serious illness or when life has worn them down to the ground. It is seen as too invigorating for young men and too male hormone like for women to use on a regular basis.
Scientific Back Up
The ginseng root contains a banquet of active ingredients, including at least 18 different hormone like saponins called ginsenosides that herbalists say fight stress and fatigue, protect the liver, and guard against memory loss. These hormones are thought to be key to its fountain of youth effect. Herbalists feel they make it Hormone Replacement Therapy(HRT) for men.
Herbalists Use It To…
Help older guys keep up
As men age endurance can take a nose dive. It can take a week to recover from a busy week. Herbalists suggest older men use ginseng to increase endurance and stamina. If there is a tough week ahead, herbalists say use ginseng to increase energy levels! Older men they are less fatigued when they use ginseng to get through a difficult week or month.
Help older guys keep it up
Aging men can experiencing a reduction in testosterone levels. Older men do not have what younger men have! Herbalists find that when older men use ginseng regularly, their general vitality increases and along with it their sex drive and ability to perform increases.
Aid recovery from Crash and Burn
Located just above the kidneys, your adrenal glands produce hormones that regulate vital body functions. Continual stress can exhaust and deplete these and even cause them to shrink. A patch of high drama can really torch the adrenals, especially following on from a period of stress. When adrenals fail, a crash and burn type of burn out sets in. Ginseng is an adrenal tonic—that is, it improves adrenal gland function even in those sitting in a pile of ashes. Older men, younger men, and women, having been through the wringer use Ginseng to recover normal adrenal function which translates to energy levels.
Reclaim health after illness
The notion of convalescence aids and recovery medicines have gone out of vogue. Today people are sent home after major surgery before the anasethesia has worn off! The body needs time to repair itself after a major illness or surgery and ginseng can help. Ginseng is used to stimulate the healing process. Herbalists recommend it after a bad cold, a major surgery, and or any other major health drama that entails recovery.
Buying ginseng is a great opportunity to get ripped off . Approach with great care. Only purchase products that indicate they are made out of the root of Panax ginseng. Do not purchase products made out of other parts of the plant. Do not purchase products containing other herbs.
There is no such thing as cheap Panax ginseng. If the product is cheap, it is probably a rip off. Try to purchase products from major manufacturers.
Ginseng can make certain men aggressive. If you find this to be the case, reduce the dose by half.
Saw palmetto(Serenoa repens)
Chapter from “Thirty Plants That Can Save Your Life” by Dr. Douglas Schar
In sitting down to write this piece I must say I did so with a little apprehension, mostly due the huge size of paper that had accumulated in the ginseng pile of information. This plant is perhaps the most written about and known tonic plant in the world. Though many have not used the plant, most have at least heard of the plant, and know something of the claims that people around say what the plant can do for you.
If you could see the stack of recommendations I am looking at you would not question the validity of ginseng. This somewhat goes back to what I was mentioning in an earlier section, people don’t long use plants that don’t work. If they can’t see, feel, and hear the difference, they don’t use them any more.
Many Westerners have used ginseng and have said it doesn’t work. Looking at the issue from a person accustomed to Western medicine, it doesn’t work. Ginseng doesn’t speed you up, slow you down, make you nervous, or do anything else that is immediately detectable. We have become so accustomed to taking pills that make you feel some way, up or down; when we come across a medicine that doesn’t knock us out, or speed us up, we say it doesn’t work. And if you are looking something that packs the nerve damage alcohol does, look elsewhere.
This is in part the problem with Westerners using herbs, they do not pack the sensory punch as do medications packed with uppers and downers. All of our major cough medications are at least 50 percent alcohol. I know this as I don’t take alcohol under any circumstance, and one of the reasons I investigated herbal medicines was I had no choice when it came to cold treatments. All of our cold medications come with substances that make us feel different, and really different at that. And the fact we have to face up to is that it is not the manufacturers, it is us, that like to feel different when we take a medication. We are the ones that when a medication doesn’t make us feel different in half an hour, we say it doesn’t work.
In order to talk about ginseng, we need to acknowledge that fact we have been trained to think that medication has to change the way you feel instantly, or we think it doesn’t work.
The reason that we have to do this because ginseng does not make one feel better instantly. It doesn’t give us a buzz that makes watching television a fulfilling experience. It doesn’t speed us up so we suddenly forget we need to eat lunch. It is not a drugging agent, but it does work. It does help the body. And it could save our life in the long haul. I have finished preaching, let’s get on with the facts.
The story of ginseng as you will see, has been all about money. From the moment humanity discovered the powers of ginseng the demand has exceeded the supply, and the desire to taste the power of the plant became a costly proposition. People found the substance worked and they wanted some.
I have spent a big portion of my life tromping around in the woods collecting plants and herbs, and I have never seen a ginseng plant. This is part of the plant’s appeal, it’s rare, and it hides itself. There are many myths that suggest the plant pulls itself underground when it hears men on the prowl.
One rather interesting finding that has resulted from recent Soviet studies of ginseng is that the root of the plant contracts just enough each year to perfectly balance the upward growth of the plant. In this way, the bud that appears each spring is situated exactly at the surface level of the ground.
The Chinese are the champions of ginseng. They have been fighting over it, searching their own lands and snatching plants from others to satisfy their consumption. To the Chinese, ginseng is the best plant for the body that has ever been revealed to humanity. They feel it to be the supreme tonic in all illnesses and so powerful that it keeps illness away.
In Chinese philosophical medicine, a healthy body is one that is in balance. The Chinese believe in two universal energy elements, yin and yang, male-female, good-bad, white-black. Our bodies are filled with these two elements. When the body contains equal parts of yin and yang, the manifestation is strong health. When one of these elements are out of whack, illness is observed. Ginseng is seen as the universal balancer of energy in the body. When a body is manifesting illness, and needs balancing, ginseng is called in. More importantly, ginseng is taken to keep the body in balance so that it never manifests illness. Along these same lines, ginseng is thought to keep the body in such good shape that incredible longevity is said to come along with its daily use. At some point in time, the whole world has looked for the fountain of youth. The Chinese feel that they have found it in ginseng.
To skip all the specific and technical hoo-ha, the Chinese have found that taking ginseng leads to strong vibrant health. And it is from this belief that we can drop into the incredible history of ginseng.
Not surprisingly with how the Chinese feel about ginseng, many myths surrounding the plant’s creation can be found. The name for the plant, ginseng, is in fact a reference to these mythological beliefs, man root. The plant is said to be charged by the constellation Orion, deriving its energy from that spacial body. It is said to be packed with this energy, and the energy is thought to convey.
One belief is that the plant itself is formed by the earth energy, namely through lightening. The notion is that a bolt of lightening strikes a mountain spring leaving a substantial crater. The stream fills the jagged whole with water, and the plant is formed. The plant is said to contain the energy formerly possessed by the lightening bolt, and the eater of the root gets the energy from the root.
Another belief is said to date to an actual happening. During the sui dynasty (581-601 a.d.) a voice was heard calling out in the middle of the night. The villager ran out trying to locate the source of the voice, thinking someone was in trouble or danger. After much searching, the villagers came onto a perfect ginseng plant, and upon digging it up discovered the roots to be in the form of a human body. Needless to say, when a plant spends the night screaming out to the neighbors, they take note. Wouldn’t you?
I have been saving the best for last. Now we move into the land of the extra-terrestrial. One legend holds that over the years the roots of the ginseng slowly develop an increasingly man like form. With each year that passes, the root becomes more and more human. Here’s the kicker, after three hundred years, the root gets up and walks away from its spot in the ground. Though this creature can pass, upon closer inspection is seems it doesn’t have the red blood most of us possess, but rather white blood. If the creature can be caught, its blood is so healing that it can resuscitate a dead man. The capture has to happen soon after the root-man leaves the earth, as he is star bound, on his way to living in the constellations.
Whether you believe ginseng can get up and take a walk or not, the thoughts surrounding the creation of ginseng reflect the people’s thoughts on the plant. There is something special about the plant, something that does not yield to explanation. Something that is not rational. The plant is packed with power that when taken internally conveys the power to human beings. The importance in the cultural beliefs lies in what it says about people’s esteem of the plant. And as far as we know, ginseng might get up and walk.
The myths are old, the written record on ginseng is no spring chicken. During the han dynasty, 202 b.c., ginseng first appears in writing. The plant gets a mention in the pen-ts’ao, one of China ‘s oldest herbals still in existence and daily use. By 200 b.c. the Chinese were aware of ginseng’s medicinal usage. I will mention that was two thousand, one hundred, and ninety-four years ago.
One thing one can expect from nobility, they always save the best for themselves. If it’s nice, and there isn’t a lot of it, whether gold and diamonds, or ginseng, the nobility takes a rather unfair share. Early in its history of use in China , ginseng became the tonic of the emperors. It was forbidden to the commoner. The nobility so carefully controlled its collection that they were in some ways the sole possessors of the herb. The emperors curried favors with their courtesans with ginseng. You do the emperor a favor, and he throws you a few roots. The interesting fact is that before European cultures traded in their bear skins, members of the royal court could be bought with a single ginseng root. It was not unusual for ginseng to cost 250 times its weight in silver. Many spices cost their weight in gold, this plant cost big multiples of its weight in gold.
Some time between 386 a.d. and 581 a.d. a certain hung king wrote that Korean ginseng is most generally found under the kia tree. This is an important note. It indicates that by the fifth century a.d. the Chinese were running through their own sources of ginseng and were zipping over to their neighbors to fulfill their consumption. Not only did they know their neighbors had the stuff growing in the woods, but they knew where they were likely to find it.
Ginseng, as I have mentioned is a wild plant that grows here and there, in a rather elusive manner. In China , early in the royal usage a special sentry developed, ginseng collectors who came to be called the va-pang-suis. This was not a club you joined at will, it was a group in which it was nearly impossible to gain membership. One would think that such membership in the group collecting a plant worth two hundred and fifty times its weight in silver would be desirous due to the financial gains made possible. Wrong. Membership was an honor thing, the collectors, traversing the woods never saw much of the profits made by its collection. The honor of being a ginseng collector considered more than enough satisfaction. Kind of like being President of the United States , doesn’t pay well, but you get all the best tables in the house.
The job was a dangerous one, bandits loved to follow the va-pangs around and kill them after they spent several years trying to find a single root. So after risking your life in the woods, surviving the tigers, and actually finding a root, you then really had trouble as the bandits were after you. Talk about a thankless job.
To boot, the bandits, also organized and called the white swans, if they caught a va-pang, rather than taking the root and killing the collector straight off, liked to torture the collector to find out where he found it, as there might be more.
During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), it would seem that the Chinese had entirely wiped out their supply of ginseng, and were searching the far reaches of the empire for an occasional plant. They started to become dependant on the Koreans to give them the precious substance. It would seem that the T’ai-hang Mountains of Shansi, the former source of ginseng, were over hunted and nary a ginseng sprout could be found.
The wealthy used ginseng every day, as a medicine, but to experience decadence at its best, as a condiment. The royal families used ginseng like we use ketchup. The poor, of course, couldn’t get their hands on the residue left on the inside of the ketchup lid, but when a family member was sick, they would mortgage the house, sell off all the daughters, to get their hands on a piece of root that was certain to cure the family member, and in that the daughters had already been sold off, you know it was for one of the patriarchs.
At some point, with the native supply so on the wane, the imperials got the idea of trying to cultivate the ginseng plant, no small job as the plant is incredibly fussy. But with some observatory skills, they learned how to cultivate the plant. Remember, the imperials cut a lot of deals by tossing a ginseng crumb to the courtesan dogs, so keeping a supply up was quite important to the power structure. This breeding program lead to what would be known as the imperial or mandarin ginseng. The plants were interbred for excellence, and the crops that resulted with centuries of imperial breeding were used only by the emperor and his family, and of course the occasional dog.
Though this practice started early, it continued on until a rather late day, as in until the emperor and his family found themselves dead and the communist party taking over. Here a little note to this effect comes out of China in 1884:
“‘Imperial ginseng,’ so called because is it raised or gathered under imperial protection in the parks or hunting grounds, where it is kept free from the profanation of the vulgar herd. This variety ranges from $40 to $200 per pound, and is largely taken up by the wealthy classes in Peking and vicinity, as far as I can learn. It is fine in its appearance, quite in the desired form, and of course very scarce in trade.” (Mr. I. F. Shephard, writing the United States Consular Reports (No. 46, vol. XIV, 1884)).
During the Manchu dynasty, 1644-1912, ginseng trade became a matter of royal business. The government controlled the digging of what little remained in China proper, and attempted to control that which entered into the country via other locales. The whole business became one ruled by licensing. Needless to say, the friends of the court got licensed and the others did not.
The desire for ginseng kept the hunters reaching further and further outside of the proper Chinese territories, and Asiatic ginseng was discovered in the sikhote-alin mountains of the Ussuri region of the USSR .
In a book written in 1861 by a certain E. G. Ravenstein, noticed the Chinese collectors crawling around Russia looking for a few plants to send back to the markets in China .
“These men, wretched in their entire being, have no other means of sustaining life than that of giving themselves up, with incredible fatigue, to the search of the ginseng.”
As the collectors were reaching towards the Soviet Union for a supply of the plant, they also were increasing their demands for ginseng from the Koreans. At one point in time, when the Koreans cut off the Chinese from their supplies of ginseng, the Chinese actually rioted at the border, overtaking it to secure a few roots.
As you can see, the Chinese more than believe in ginseng, they have raped the land, have killed people, tortured others, you name it they have done it, to get their hands on the substance. Did the craze stay on the Asian continent, oh, no, there is more. The insatiable demand for ginseng spread from Asia to the Americas .
Our native ginseng first came to the attention of Europeans when Father Joseph Lafitau, who had been a missionary in China , recognized the similar American plant growing near a Mohawk village in Canada.
In 1714, Father Jartoux, a missionary for many years among the Chinese, wrote A Description of a Tartarian Plant Called Ginseng. In this work, he described the very great esteem in which the Chinese hold ginseng, and described his own personal experiences with it. Having become severely fatigued on one of his voyages through China , he was presented with a small amount of ginseng to chew. After taking the ginseng, his fatigue vanished entirely in less than an hour. Father Jartoux was actually able to correctly predict the discovery of ginseng in North America, based upon a comparison of the climates of China and Canada:
“If it is to be found in any other country in the worked, it may be particularly in Canada , where the forests and the mountains, according to the relation of those that have lived there, very much resemble those here (in China ).”
He set up ovens and had the Mohawks gather and cure ginseng for the Chinese market. By 1717, it was being brought from as far away as Green Bay , Wisconsin , by the Fox Indians, and shipped to Hong Kong via France .
From Father Lafitau:
“It was by accident that I first learned of ginseng. I had stopped in Quebec on business connected with our mission in the month of October, 1715. They have a custom of sending us every year a copy of the edifying letters of the missionaries of our company who labor in every part of the world . . . The tenth parcel of these letters fell into my hands, and I read with pleasure one from Father Jartoux. In it I found an exact description of the ginseng plant . . .”
More from Father Lafitau:
“. . . in looking for the ginseng, by accident I found it, when I was not thinking of it, near a house I was having built . . . It was then ripe, and the color of the fruit attracted my attention. I pulled it up, and with joy took it to an Indian I had engaged to help me hunt for it. She recognized it at once as one of those the Indians used.”
Peter Kalm, a Swedish explorer who traveled through Canada in 1749, gave an early account of the prosperous North American ginseng trade. The period he refers to would have occurred after the discovery of North American ginseng in 1716, but prior to 1752 when a shipment of spoiled ginseng roots to the Orient shattered the faith of the Oriental buyers for many years. In fact, it took about a century for the market to fully recover.
“. . . Many people feared lest by continuing for several successive years to collect these plants without leaving one or two in each place to propagate their species, there would soon be very few of them left, which I think is very likely to happen, for by all accounts there were formerly few in abundance around Montreal; but at present there is not a single plant of it to be found, so effectually have they been rooted up. This obliged the Indians, this summer, to go far within the English boundaries to collect these roots.”
Also in 1784, George Washington wrote, “In passing through the mountains, I met a number of persons and pack horses going over the mountain with ginseng.” In 1793, Andre Michaux wrote that ginseng was the only product of Kentucky that could be transported overland to Philadelphia .
Missionary, George Henry Loskiel, had access to the notes of the missionaries that came to America to christianize the natives. His notes were translated in 1794:
“I will here insert a brief catalogue of some of the official plants in use among the Indians.”
A plant brought first from Corea to Europe by way of Japan , grows wild in North America . In China and other countries in Asia , this root is deemed a universal remedy in every kind of disorder. When chewed it is an excellent stomachic, formerly it was very dear, and sold in Holland for twenty five floins a pound, but about thirty year ago a merchant in North America received a commission to send a large quantity of this root to Lanidon. He employed some Indians to collect as much as they could get for which he rewarded them handsomely. Its price of course was greatly lowered when found in such plenty.
By 1798, John Drayton of South Carolina said, “It is so much sought after by the Cherokees for trade, it is by no means as plentiful as it used to be in this state.” Ginseng gathering had begun to be a way of life for many pioneers. A man could go “sang hunting” and return with a fortune; or in those perilous times, might never return at all.
The early colonists not only gathered ginseng for sale, but used it in tea to encourage the appetite or strengthen the digestion, especially of elderly persons or puny children.
Ginseng plus black cherry and yellowroot made a potent tonic, especially with the addition of some homemade whiskey. An early herbal suggested gathering ginseng root and steeping it with chamomile flowers for fainting females.
Coloney Byrd, in his History of the Dividing Line, wrote, “To help cure fatigue, I used to chew a root of ginseng as I walked along. This kept up my spirits. It gives an uncommon warmth and vigor to the blood. It cheers the heart of a man that has a bad wife, and makes him look down with great composure upon the crosses of the world. It will make old age amiable by rendering it lively, cheerful, and good humored.”
By 1800, several patent medicines on the market featured “seng,” or “sang-tone.” Dr. McMasters of Michigan wrote, “Ginseng is a mild, non-poisonous plant, well adapted to domestic as well as professional uses.
Thus there was a craze for ginseng gardens from 1889 through 1905, with centers in Amberg , Wisconsin and Chardon , Ohio . Later New York state and then Michigan became the centers of ginseng production.
In a short time, a huge trade had begun. The exportation of American ginseng to the Orient has continued up the present time.
At a rather early date, the Dutch settlers in New York heard about the discovery of ginseng in Canada . This event stimulated a thorough search of their colonial territory for the ginseng plant. The search ended in the discovery of ginseng near Stockbridge, Massachusetts . The Indians native to this region quickly learned that they could trade the roots with the Dutch merchants in Albany in exchange for hardware, trinkets, and rum. The Dutch merchants, in turn, sold the roots to the Chinese at an enormous profit.
The colonists in the New World , however, did not make the profit from the sale of this ginseng, and were unjustly taxed for the tea. The profit, instead, was going to the European nations that owned the colonies.
“the Americans must have tea, and they seek the most lucrative market for their precious root ginseng.” (Captain Samuel Shaw, first U. S. Counsel to China ).
Even George Washington mentioned ginseng in his diary after a visit to Ohio in 1784:
“In passing over the mountains, I met numbers of persons and pack horses going in with ginseng.”
Daniel Boone, however, was not content to simply write about ginseng. He gathered the roots in Kentucky in 1788 and shipped them up the Ohio River from whence they were sent to Philadelphia .
The demand for American ginseng, though considered incredibly inferior to the Asian, has not ceased. We still export grand sums of ginseng, and ironically, we Americans by ginseng products from Asia that are, in fact, made with ginseng raised in America and shipped to Asia for processing.
Following are uses of ginseng by the Native Americans:
Canadian Delawares used ginseng to stimulate and rebuild a man lagging energy, the root was either eaten raw or brewed into a tea.
Just as the Oriental prospectors believe that ginseng can hide from an unworthy pursuer and make itself invisible, such also is the belief of the Cherokee medicine men. They believe that ginseng has a mind of its own, and has the power to hide from evil men.
In gathering ginseng, a Cherokee will deliberately bypass the first three roots he encounters, and take the fourth one he finds. This is because the number four has a special magical significance for the Cherokees. Taking the fourth plant ensures its efficacy as a medicine.
Before removing the ginseng plant, the finder first apologizes to the plant for what he is about to do, and a bead is placed in the hold from which the root is removed as atonement to the Plant Spirit. Amazingly, a very similar procedure is followed by the Asian ginseng hunters. They, too, say prayers of atonement for having to unearth the ginseng. Sometimes, a small altar is erected of branches and stones at the place where the root has been discovered.
For a condition whose description is suggestive of apoplexy, a decoction of ginseng and wild tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) is used. It is considered a very powerful medicine which can save the patient’s life if administered in time.
They also gathered the root for traders, but used the tea for heachache, cramps, female troubles.
The Chippewa Indians believed that ginseng, properly administered, could prolong the life of a dying person. In this they resembled the Chinese, who believed that the administration of ginseng to a dying person could prolong his life long enough for him to settle his estate and attend to his will.
It is traditional among the Chippewas to sing a song called The White Sun-Lady in the presence of the person who is dying, and then to blow through a reed into a decoction of ginseng. The dying person is then instructed to drink the decoction.
The person performing the ceremony addresses the soul of the dying person directly, asking it to stay rather than depart.
The Creek Indians of southern Alabama and northern Florida valued ginseng very highly, and used it both as a medicine and as a magical charm.
They called it hilis hatki, meaning “white Medicine.” It was used to treat fevers and shortness of breath, and was also included in many different medicinal preparations.
It was used in magic primarily to ward off evil spirits. The Creeks believed that a common cause of illness was contact with an evil spirit. As a preventative to this, an Indian passing by a graveyard was admonished to carry some ginseng with him, bite off a piece, and chew it. He would then spit out the ginseng first to one side, then the other, until he had spit four times in both directions.
If an Indian was shot and seriously injured, ginseng was immediately administered in order to sustain his life long enough for him to receive proper medical treatment. The medicine man, placing bits of sliced ginseng in a cup of water, would implore Yahola, the god of physical and mental strength, to restore the patient.
Ginseng was used by the Mide Indians of the northwestern United States in a way that was strangely similar to the use of Panax schinseng in the Orient.
Medicinally, it was considered an excellent remedy for every kind of stomach ailment.
In Mide tradition, ginseng (called Shte-na-bi-o-dzhi-bik) means “man-root.” It was one of the “great medicines,” a gift from the Mide Spirit. One legend describes its use in bringing a dead boy back to life. There is no doubt that it was a medicine highly esteemed by the Mide medicine men.
The Pawnee Indians of northern Oklahoma used ginseng in combination with several other herbs to produce a love charm. The following account appeared in the Thirty-Third Annual Report of the American
Bureau of Ethnology:
Aquilegia canadensis, Lobelia cardinalis, Cogswellia daucifolia, and Panax quinquefolium, or possibly a species of Ligusticum.
The Sioux Indians never used ginseng very extensively; at any rate, they never considered it a panacea. Nevertheless, they were very much involved in the gathering and preparation of the roots for export. They worked in collaboration with the International Ginseng Company of New York , which purchased their ginseng and exported it.
In the Orient, Sioux ginseng brought unusually large prices and was generally valued more than ordinary gathered North American roots. The Sioux had a special method of curing the roots; the method still only partially known to the outside world.
The correct spelling is “hflfs,” which translates to medicine or white.
Homer Emarthle, a Seminole native minister and a man acknowledged to know a great deal about herbal remedies, said that there are two plants called by the same name by the Seminoles, black nightshade, and ginseng. Both are used in the same way by the Oklahoma Seminoles, that is to cure nosebleed, a woman catcher, and to treat shortness of breath.
Florida Seminoles pay Oklahoma Seminoles three hundred dollars for a cigarette box of ginseng.
It is known as white medicine in the Florida Seminole language, and is and has been traded by the different tribes. These people treat the fish disease, marked by sleeplessness, and the millipede disease, marked by coughing and losing the voice, with ginseng. Good for shortness of breath, for people in low conditions, it is one of the compound remedies, it is also for people sick with fever who won’t sweat as ginseng induces the sweats and breaks the illness.
It was also used, according to Caley Proctor and Jackson Lewis, to stop the flow of blood from a cut. The latter by this means cured a woman who had been shot in the head. In this use people should stay away, specially women that have their period. It is also used to get rid of ghosts.
They used ginseng in religion and in healing.
They used the sap on wounds. They also burned the root around a man’s bed that was consumed with nerves and worried about something bad happening, talking out of his head, and thinking about some impending calamity.
They boiled the roots for a drink to stop vomiting, and for rheumatism.
In the early 1900s, 2 unusual research studies were performed on ginseng, both by Russian investigators working independently.
The first of these studies was performed by M. Y. Galvialo, working under the direction of Dr. A. Y. Danilevsky at the Imperial Military-Medical Academy of Russia. In describing the nature of his findings, Galvialo said that it:
“. . . appears that the root contains a certain vegetable substance which in its chemical nature has a curious affinity with animal sperm and active alkaloid of cola nuts. . . . The presence of the vegetable sperm partly explains its strange effectiveness in heightening the general tone of the organism and regenerating physical vigor. . .”
The second study was conducted by Alexander Gurwitch in the 1920s. According to Gurwitch, ginseng emits invisible energy waves which he termed “mitogenetic radiation.” He stated that ginseng continues to emit this radiation after it has been uprooted, and that this radiation has a definite hormonal effect that is beneficial to the body.
The following are modern research findings in a recent study:
When the body is subjected to everyday stress, the adrenal cortex must work very hard in order to manufacture hormones so that the body can cope with the stress. When ginseng or Eleutherococcus are given, they seem to do the work of these hormones, so that the body does not really have to manufacture them in such large amounts. In short, the constituents of ginseng and Eleutherococcus seem to take the place of the hormones of the adrenal cortex. Consequently, the adrenal cortex does not become overworked.
In a similar way, the same principle is responsible for the action of antibiotics. When there is an infection somewhere in the body, the body produces antibodies and white blood cells in order to fight the infection. However, when an antibiotic is administered, the antibiotic takes the place of the antibodies and white blood cells in fighting the infection. Since the body does not have to work as hard in order to fight the infection, the individual normally gets well much faster.
In addition to the clinical evidence which seems to indicate that ginseng and Eleutherococcus take the place of the adrenal cortical hormones, there is also a great deal of striking evidence for this theory from a chemical standpoint. The chemical constituents have a remarkably similar appearance to the steroid hormones, which include the sex hormones, cortisone, and DCA.
The adrenal gland in man is composed, actually, of 2 distinct glands, each of which has its own special function. It is made up of the adrenal cortex, which is the outer shell of the adrenal gland, and the adrenal medulla, which is the inner part of the adrenal gland surrounded by the adrenal cortex. It is the adrenal cortex that we will be concerned with here because of its relation to the action of ginseng and Eleutherococcus.
The adrenal cortex is a vital organ without which there could be no life. It manufactures essentially three different types of hormones: (1) those that regulate sugar metabolism; (2) those that regulate the mineral content of the body tissues; and (3) sex hormones, which play a rather minor role in comparison to the sex hormones manufactured elsewhere in the body.
However, this adaptive reaction was not designed to work well under conditions of frequent or prolonged stress. When the individual is subjected to stress too frequently or for too long, a number of diverse symptoms may begin to manifest themselves. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, anxiety, neurosis, chronic fatigue, and exhaustion. Unfortunately, modern living is notorious for exposing people to far more stress than they were built to endure. Consequently, these diseases are seen far too often.
In one experiment, chickens were exposed to extreme cold, which normally tends to decrease their egg-laying capacity. For a period of 2 months, the hens were regularly exposed to the cold. One group was given a daily dose of Eleutherococcus extract, and the other group was not. The hens that were given Eleutherococcus continued to lay eggs as thought they had not been exposed to cold at all. For the 2 month period, the hens that received Eleutherococcus actually laid over twice as many eggs as the control group.
In another experiment, mice were made to run on an inclined moving ramp. The mice were initially divided into two groups. One group was given Eleutherococcus extract for twelve days prior to the experiment; the other was not. It was found that the mice that were given prior treatment with Eleutherococcus were able to run on the ramp for an average of about 30 minutes before exhaustion occurred. The mice that did not receive Eleutherococcus, however, could only stay on the ramp for about twenty minutes before becoming exhausted. In other words, the treated group was able to endure the situation 50% longer than the untreated group.
Other studies in which animals were given ginseng extract have demonstrated that the treated animals are also able to outswim, and even outsurvive the untreated animals. For example, laboratory rats that were not treated with ginseng lived an average of about 659 days, whereas those that were given ginseng lived an average of about 768 days. Similar tests have not yet been performed on humans, but the equivalent of this difference in humans would amount to an extension of the average lifespan by about ten years.
Constituents of Ginseng:
A steroid is a chemical compound with the same basic structure as the sex hormones and the adrenal cortical hormones, of which estrogen, testosterone, cortisone, and DCA are prime examples.
Testosterone, the male sex hormone, is found in different proportions in the male and female body; and acts as the body’s natural anabolic. By definition, an anabolic is a substance that builds up the general health of the body by regulating the burning of energy. The opposite of an anabolic is a catabolic which temporarily gives a person more energy, but does so by tearing down body energy reserves. Essentially, the difference between an anabolic and a catabolic (of which the drug amphetamine is a good example) is that an anabolic gives energy by breaking down food into sugar, while a catabolic gives energy by breaking down nutrients that have been stored by the body. In a sense, one process is healthy and constructive; the other process is unhealthy and can be destructive if the process is continued for a long period of time.
Because the steroid constituents of ginseng are so similar in their structure to the body’s own anabolic agents, it is certainly very feasible that they would act in a similar manner.
In addition to its steroid components, ginseng also contains vitamins B1 and B2 calcium, potassium, iron, sodium, silicon, magnesium, titanium, barium, strontium, aluminum, manganese, sugar, starch, mucilage, and the following substances that are unique to ginseng:
Saponin: the substance that causes the slight foaming when ginseng tea is brewed. A saponin is in the chemical category of glycosides, substances which the body can break down into sugar. It is safe to ingest the saponin in ginseng, but injecting a saponin can have very dangerous effects.
Volatile oil: the substance that gives ginseng – especially fresh ginseng – its characteristic odor. The volatile oil of ginseng, sometimes referred to as panasen, evaporates to some extent when the roots are dried out. Some researchers believe that panasen has a direct stimulant effect on the brain, somewhat like caffeine. This substance boils at 105 o to 110 o Centigrade. It constitutes about 0.05% of the root.
Ginsenin: somewhat resembles insulin in its effects. The presence of this substance probably explains the beneficial effect of ginseng in the treatment of alloxan diabetes, in which it is useful. Ginsenin has a glycoside-like chemical structure.
Panoxic acid: favorably improves the metabolism and facilitates the efficient functioning of the cardiovascular system. Panoxic acid is actually a chemical mixture of unsaturated fatty acids including palmitic, stearic, oleic, and linoleic acids. Panoxic acid helps prevent the formation of cholesterol, and is thought to facilitate burning of the body’s fat deposits.
Panaxin: a substance that has a direct central nervous system stimulant action. It also acts as a tonic to the heart and circulatory system.
Panaquilon: a substance believed to stimulate the endocrine system in general, and to maintain proper hormone levels in the body.
The Chinese believe that ginseng enters through the spleen and lung channels. The text in which it first appeared was the Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica.
The following are what are generally held as the functions and clinical uses of ginseng:
- Powerfully tonifies the original qi: used for severe collapsed qi conditions that manifest as shallow respiration, shortness of breath, cold limbs, profuse sweating, and a minute or weak pulse. This herb is used alone for this condition after severe loss of blood.
- Tonifies the lungs and benefits the qi: used for wheezing, shortness of breath, and labored breathing with exertion caused by deficient lung qi. Usually there is also a concomitant failure of the kidneys to grasp the qi.
- Strengthens the spleen and tonifies the stomach: used for lethargy, lack of appetite, chest and abdominal distention, chronic diarrhea, and, in severe cases, prolapse of the stomach, uterus, or rectum.
- Benefits yin and generates fluids: used for the wasting and thirsting syndrome, as well as in cases when the qi and fluids have been injured by high fever and profuse sweating.
- Benefits the heart qi and calms the spirit: used for palpitations with anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness, and restlessness from deficient qi and blood.
There are many different types of ginseng. The type that is cured in rock candy is called “white root” (bai shen), cultivated ginseng not cured in rock candy is called “dried oot” (sheng shai shen). Cultivated ginseng that is cured by steaming turns red, becomes warmer in nature, and is called “red root” (hong shen).
Following is some pharmacological and clinical research:
The central nervous system effect: radix ginseng (ren shen) has a particular set of effects on the central nervous system, particularly the higher centers. Based on animal experiments using EEG and conditioned reflexes, it enhances both stimulatory and inhibitory processes in the central nervous system, thereby improving the adaptability of the nervous responses. What happens to a particular patient depends in large measure upon the original state of their nervous system. Normally, radix ginseng is more stimulatory and can be used to increase wakefulness. However, in large doses it has a sedative effect. Different reports state that the excitatory effect of this herb is either greater or lesser than caffeine. It controls the inhibitory effect of morphine on conditioned reflexes. However, contrary to previous reports, recent research shows that radix ginseng has an inhibitory effect on certain CNS stimulants and is synergistic with the acute hypnotic effect of pentobarbital. In long-term experiments there appeared to be neither a stimulatory nor a sedative effect. It shortens the latency period of nerve reflexes, speeds the transmission of nerve impulses, and strengthens conditioned reflexes.
The cardiovascular effect: preparations of radix ginseng have inotropic effects similar to those of cardiac glycosides on toad heart specimens, as well as in situ dog, cat, and rabbit hearts. This effect is more pronounced from alcohol-based solutions than from water-based ones. Atropine does not extinguish this effect and does not cause tachycardia in these animals. It is also observed to reduce or stop catecholamine-induced arrhythmias. In anesthetized animals, small doses of this herb constrict end-arterioles and slightly increase blood pressure, while large doses cause a reduction in blood pressure. In some animals it has a vasodilating effect on the coronary arteries, cerebral blood vessels, and retinal vessels. However, in acute shock, large doses are useful in stabilizing blood pressure. In patients with heart disease, this herb improves myocardial utilization of nutrients and cardiac function.
In dogs, with experimentally induced diabetes mellitus that basically has been controlled with insulin, radix ginseng improves most signs and lowers plasma glucose levels, but it is unable to reverse completely the metabolic abnormalities. It lowers hyperglycemia induced by epinerphrine in rats and dogs. It has a synergistic effect with insulin but is not a substitute for it. Radix ginseng does not have any direct sex hormone function, but it does increase the secretion of gonadotropin by the pituitary and thereby hastens the sexual maturation of rats. It does not significantly increase the weight of the testes in rats or mice. In female rats that are already mature it lengthens the estrus periods. This effect disappears in oophorectomized rats. In one experiment this herb increased the weight of the uterus and ovaries in female mice. Radix ginseng is able to raise the basal metabolic rate of rats that have had their thyroid glands removed. Large doses over short periods of time increase the function of the thyroid gland in rabbits, while long-term ingestion appears to decrease thyroid function in rats.
As far as the effect on lipid metabolism: the saponins in radix ginseng have no effect on the cholesterol level in the blood of normal rabbits. However, in rabbits with high cholesterol there was a beneficial effect noted.
In mild cases of diabetes, ingesting radix ginseng can cause a decrease in glycosuria, and a reduction in blood glucose by 40-50%. These effects can persist for up to 2 weeks after ceasing to take the herb. In moderate cases of diabetes, radix ginseng does not have a significant effect on the blood sugar but does reduce systemic symptoms like lassitude and thirst. Some patients can lower their insulin doses by taking this herb.
Rabbits who have been fed radix ginseng for long periods of time have a very attenuated inflammatory reaction to injection of milk or turpentine or the experimental induction of frostbite of the ear lobe. It weakens the serum sickness reaction to horse serum. It also inhibits angioedema. This may be due to its influence on the organism when it is in the “stress process,” probably through interaction with the hypothalamus-pituitary-ad renal cortex axis. Long-term ingestion of small doses of radix ginseng appears to increase the function of the reiculoendothelial system, while large doses have the opposite effect.
Ginseng has many well-documented anti-stress capabilities. It prevents weight changes in the adrenals, thymus, spleen, and thyroid of mice that have been stressed. There is also an effect on the vitamin C and cholesterol content of the adrenals, the amount of 17-ketosteroids in the urine, as well as the levels of plasma glucose and liver glycogen. Long-term ingestion of ginseng appears to raise the ability of mice and rats to adapt to exceptional stimuli (e.g., very low or very high temperatures) and to quicken to normalcy of various changes induced by stressors. However, the literature on this subject is full of contradictory reports, possibly because of differences in experimental design, seasonal variation, and duration of the experiments. Radix ginseng has a profound anti-fatigue effect on animals as shown by its ability to prolong the swimming time to fatigue of mice. It strengthens the human body’s ability to adjust to temperature changes and has a significant anti-fatigue effect. In animal experiments, trypanosome-infected mice that had been given radix ginseng had longer life expectancies, while chickens infected with malaria that had been given radix ginseng did not die acutely.
Preliminary reports suggest that radix ginseng has a therapeutic and preventative effect on peptic ulcer disease. However, other reports suggest that it has a negative effect on stress ulcers and ulcers secondary to pyloric ligation. These reports recommend that ulcer patients should be cautious about taking this herb. Patients suffering from atrophic gastritis who have little or no hydrochloric acid secretion have an increase in ability to eat and improvement in symptoms without objective changes when taking this herb.
Ginseng may improve radiation resistance as part of a general improvement in stress response. Tong and Chao even adduce evidence in support of the ginseng longevity connection: “the cell density of the human amnion cells grown in the medium containing crude aqueous extract of ginseng is greater than that of the control due to the prolonged life span of the treated cells.” If Rg1 can promote mitosis in some tissues in human body in vivo, and this seems likely according to the results reported in rats and mice, perhaps it can improve the general resistance and regenerative condition of a person, especially in the old one, by activating the metabolic processes and cell proliferation. Ginseng extract is said to be mitogenic as well as antimutagenic, depending on the dose used. Ginseng has been shown to facilitate the mating behavior of male rats. Males under the influence of ginseng began ejaculation earlier and repeated the action more often than controls. Panaxin stimulates the cerebellum system, heart, and blood vessels, panaxic acid invigorates the heart and metabolism: panaquilon stimulates internal secretions; panacene benefits the cerebrum and spinal cord, while ginsenin shows hypoglycemic activity. Both Chinese and Russian investigators have demonstrated hypoglycemic and cardiotonic activity. Ginseng has been given for arrhythmia with shock-like condition, hypotension, and shock. In patients with hypotension and chock, oral administration of ginseng decoction or ginseng powder seemed to strengthen myocardial contraction and elevate the blood pressure.
Rather than acting quickly and wearing off in a few hours, ginseng acts in a manner that may not be noticeable at first. Rather than referring to ginseng as a stimulant, it would be more accurate to say that ginseng increases endurance, and tends to delay or prevent exhaustion. Users of ginseng, after they have taken it regularly, often notice that they are less tired at the end of a hard week. They feel that they have more energy “left over.” Many people who have busy, hectic schedules say that they are able to hold out better, and often feel less tension under pressure.
Chapter from My PhD Thesis
Panax ginseng (C.A.Meyer)
Part Used: Root
Chemical Constituents: Significant phytochemicals include ginsenoside, ginsenoside F1-3, ginsenoside M-7-CD, ginsenoside RA-2, ginsenoside RB 1-3, ginsenoside RC, ginsenoside RD, ginsenoside RE, ginsenoside RF, ginsenoside RG 1-2, ginsenoside RH1, ginsenoside RO, 2-glucoginsenoside RF, panacene, panasenoside, panaxic acid, panaxin, panaxydol, and panaxynol. (4)
Panax ginseng (PG) has been used for centuries in Asia to stimulate the return of health and vitality amongst the ill and the elderly. Deemed one of the most powerful tonics known, traditional uses include treating massive blood loss in child delivery, tuberculosis, and age related physical and mental senility. Indigenous to China , Korea , and Japan , PG was a precious commodity and its collection and trade was a highly organised affair. The high regard in which Asians held PG quickly caught the attention of western communities in Asia . Once westerners experienced the drug, they too developed a taste for it, which added demand for, and increased the cost of, the drug.
By the time Brekhman began working with adaptogens, PG’s reputation as a health building drug had spread around the globe. Though well known, widely sought after and extraordinarily expensive, little was known about the nature of the PG. It was only when Brekhman took an interest in PG that it shifted from mythical medicine to researched drug.
Today, PG is one of the most thoroughly studied botanical drugs. A search of Pub Med, the online database of 4500 biomedical journals created by the American National Library of Medicine, reveals that 1434 Panax ginseng studies have been published between 1963 and 2003. Indeed, the rate of research is increasing. Between 1963 and 1980, 172 studies are cited in Pub Med; between 1980 and 1990, 369 studies are cited; between 1990 and 2003, 892 studies are cited.
The adaptogen criterion: Brekhman’s research
Brekhman’s research demonstrated that PG shows properties consistent with the adaptogen definition. He determined that PG had a low toxicity and did not pervert function. Research revealed that doses of PG, large enough to increase non-specific resistance, did not cause significant disorders in normal function of the organism. (1–2) In other words, PG fit Brekhman’s first criteria of an adaptogen.
Again, Brekhman employed the animal model to test the crude drug and its saponins’ capability to increase resistance in a non-specific way. His studies revealed that the organs of the animals treated with both the crude drug and its isolated saponins did not show the usual signs of stress that were seen in the control group. Like ES, Panax Ginseng inhibited a major change in the weight of the adrenals, thymus, spleen, and thyroid, demonstrated in the control animals. As well, shifts in blood chemistry and metabolism were also distinctly modified.
Like ES, PG altered the anatomic and biochemical manifestations of the alarm stage of stress in Brekhman’s studies. He noted that when PG and various PG glycosides and their genins were used there was a reduction in adrenal activity, thymicolymphatic involution, and bleeding ulceration of the stomach. Some saponins isolated from PG had a stronger anti-stress effect than other saponins. Brekhman concluded that when PG or its glycosides were administered, the pathological changes usually associated with stress did not occur. (1–2)
Again, applying his animal model, Brekhman’s tests revealed that the time to complete exhaustion could be delayed with the use of PG and its isolated saponins. (1–2)
Panax ginseng was found to have a radio protective action in single x-ray irradiation. In prolonged irradiation it doubled lifetime of rats and improved the state of their blood and other indices. (1–2)
Alloxan Induced Diabetes
PG increased resistance to alloxan induced diabetes. (1–2)
PG inhibited narcotics action on the inner cortex of the brain. (1–2)
In acute hypertension, a mild hypotensive activity was noted for PG. (1–2)
PG, like ES, exhibited three actions indicating anabolic activity; it increased weight, sped albumen replacement after a massive bleed, and increased immune cell production. Similar to ES, this anabolic activity was manifested only when it was required and PG had no virilizing effect. (1–2)
Physical and mental strain
PG contributed to a sparing use of carbohydrates and to enhanced use of glycogen and high-energy phosphorus compounds, especially when the organism was under physical strain. Brekhman’s research showed that Panax ginseng also caused an increase of physical and mental efficiency after a single dose (stimulant) and prolonged dosing (tonic). The stimulant doses were low in toxicity, devoid of pronounced excitant action, and did not alter the ability of the organism to fall asleep or stay sleep unlike Benzedrine compounds. (1–2)
Normalising effect of PG
Brekhman’s research probed PG further to determine if it had the capacity to normalise functions regardless of the pathological changes. He found PG impeded hypertrophy (ACTH induced) and atrophy (Cortisone induced) of the adrenal glands. (1–2) It impeded hypertrophy (thyreoidin induced) and atrophy (6-methylthiouracil induced) of the thyroid gland. (1–2) PG reduced sugar levels in alimentary (glucose) and adrenal hyperglycaemia and decreased hypoglycaemia induced by insulin. (1–2) PG also normalised leukocytosis induced by the parenteral administration of milk and neutropenia induced by the endotoxin of dysenteric microbe. (1–2) Finally, PG normalised erythrocytosis caused by cobaltous nitrate and erythropenia caused by phenylhydrazine. (1–2)
PG at the cellular level
Brekhman also presented data suggesting PG, like ES, worked on a cellular level. Similar to ES, PG revealed a marked protective effect when erythrocytes were subject to artificial radiomimetic substances i.e. oxidised oleic acid. Active substances in PG possessed anti-radical and anti-oxidant activity; prophylactic and medicinal effect were obtained in pathological states (stress, irradiation, cancer) in which free radical caused disturbance played a role. The anabolic action of PG, particularly the stimulation of immune bodies, suggests that stimulation of the biosynthesis of protein and nucleic acid play a significant role in its action. (2)
Like ES, Brekhman found the adaptogenic effect of PG only became apparent when the resistance of the organism diminished or the organism was taxed with extra demands. In a normal organism or an organism not experiencing over taxation, PG had no effect. (1–2) Numerous studies using healthy individuals substantiated this finding. (26, 27)
Brekhman went on to demonstrate that in addition to reducing the damage associated with the Alarm Reaction phase, PG increased resistance to stressors. Again, Brekhman’s analysis of the data led him to conclude that a “State of non-specifically Increased Resistance” or SNIR caused by PG was more than the general adaptive reaction. Like ES, PG also created a super State of Resistance to that which an organism would have naturally.
Adaptogen criterion: 1969–1990
This time period was an active one in PG research. Pub Med lists 541studies published between these years. In 1991, Hiroshi Hikino published a paper entitled “Traditional Remedies and Modern Assessment: The Case of Ginseng.” The paper appeared in the CRC press book entitled “The Medicinal Plant Industry” and represents a summary of the research done between 1980 and 1990. The paper cites 163 studies, many in foreign language, and can be seen as the most comprehensive review of PG literature. The data presented by Hikino, which confirmed Brekhman’s findings, is as follows:
* Research confirms that PG is non-toxic. The safety of ginseng has been demonstrated in mice, rats, rabbits, beagle dogs, and minipigs in short, medium and long term studies. (3)
* Chronic PG supplementation provides significant protection against electroshock stress, heat stress, and fatigue stress in mice. (3)
* PG increases resistance to radiation, carbon tetrachloride and thioacetamide exposure, and alcohol intoxication in animal studies. (3)
* PG increases resistance to ageing. Ageing is associated with the death of certain cells that result in the loss of vitality and greatly contribute to senility. Ginsenosides were found to increase the life span of long lived proteins in the human body. Experiments have shown that it inhibited the intracellular protein degradation in confluent cultures of IMR-90 human diploid fibroblasts, inhibited proteolysis of long lived proteins selectively, and stimulated protein synthesis in human fibroblast. (3)
* PG increases resistance to microbial infection in animals. Polysaccharides found in PG have been demonstrated to stimulate immune function and thereby offer increased immunity against microbial infection. In mice, they were found to stimulate phagocytosis, increase the production of antibodies, cause an increase of serum complement content, raise the serum IgG level, and increase the B lymphocyte to T lymphocyte cell ratio. (3)
* PG increases resistance to cancer. It has been found to inhibit the spread of tumours, to inhibit the production of tumours caused by toxins, to increase tolerance to toxic anti-tumour drugs, and to stimulate Natural Killer cell activity which carries an intrinsic anti-tumour activity. In addition, PG has been found to stimulate reverse transformation in certain cancer cells. (3)
* PG improves tissue wasting and may do so by stimulating protein synthesis. Experiments showed that ginseng fractions accelerated incorporation of orotic acid into liver nuclear RNA and into cytoplasmic RNA in rats. The implication being that PG accelerated nuclear replication. In addition it has been shown to activate every step of the biosynthesis of protein. Looking at bone marrow, research has shown that PG increases protein in blood serum and the liver. (3)
* Studies reveal PG participates in regulation of neurotransmitters. PG inhibited the uptake of GABA, glutamate, dopamine, noradrenaline, and seratonin. In addition, PG may accelerate the process of nerve fibre production and maintenance. Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a protein that plays an important role in the development and maintenance of sympathetic neurones, was increased in embryonic chick cells when exposed to PG saponins. (3)
* PG was shown to increase gastric, pancreatic, and biliary secretion. At the same time, it was shown to prevent and heal gastric ulceration. (3)
* PG may have a role in the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease. In the first instance, it normalised blood circulation. Several of the saponins increased contractile force of the heart. Some of the Ginsenosides caused vasodilatation, increasing peripheral blood flow to the fingertips and brain. (3)
* PG also diminished risk factors associated with the development of atherosclerosis. PG reduced serum cholesterol levels. Rabbits fed a high cholesterol diet and treated with Ginseng saponins had reduced serum cholesterol levels, lower ratios of cholesterol to phospholipids, elicited less fatty infiltration of the liver, and diminished the penetration of cholesterol into aortic tissue. This resulted in less atherosclerotic alteration and prevented the occurrence of atheroma in the aorta. Research went onto demonstrate PG reduced the atherogenic index. (3) In addition, platelet aggregation and fibrin production was inhibited by PG. (3)
* PG increased erythrocyte and haemoglobin counts. PG fractions induced erythropoietin production in the liver, kidney, spleen, and bone marrow. Ginseng fractions doubled the number of mitoses in both myeloid and elytroid cells, increased the numbers of nucleated cells in bone marrow, and reticulocytes in peripheral blood. Human erythrocytes were shown to have increased cellular metabolic activity when exposed to PG saponins. (3)
* In a variety of animal tests PG and its saponins have been found to inhibit inflammation. (3)
* PG demonstrated blood sugar reduction activity. PG saponins have been shown to reduce blood sugar in both drug induced diabetic animals and genetically diabetic animals. It appears to work on several levels including stimulating the production of insulin. Recent work suggests that sugars contained in PG, the panaxans A-H also contribute to its reduction of blood sugar levels. (3)
* Early work revealed PG promoted adrenal function. Research reveals that PG has the capacity to stimulate pituitary cells to increase production of ACTH and at the same time sit on cortical steroid receptors. Some of the Ginsenosides are more active at stimulating adrenal function than others. (3)
Adaptogen criterion: 1990–2003
This period of research has also been active. Hundreds of studies were undertaken and great strides were made. With substantial evidence behind the efficacy of this particular adaptogen, some of the research took a different direction. Researchers began to look for cheaper ways to produce the PG saponins through cell cultures and other means.
Simultaneously, work on its pharmacological effects continued. Studies conducted between 1990 and 2003 duplicated many of the findings about PG already mentioned in the review of research between 1969 and 1990. For example, this additional research confirmed the innocuous nature of Panax ginseng and its protective effect against cancer in extensive pre-clinical and epidemiological studies. (8)
Some of the additional findings follow:
* A case control study demonstrated PG might inhibit the Carcinogenesis associated with the transition from chronic hepatitis to hepatic cirrhosis. (10)
* A study revealed that PG inhibited the development of mammary tumours induced by intra-mammary injections of N-methyl-N-nitrosourea in rats, brain and spinal cord tumours induced by transplacental administration of N-methyl-N-nitrosourea in rats, and uterine, cervical, and vaginal tumours induced by intra-vaginal applications of 7,12-dimethylbenza(a) anthracene in mice. PG also induced regression of adenamatous cystic hyperplasia of the endometrium in human patients. (11)
* Research indicated the supplementation with antioxidants, specifically PG, might protect smokers from oxidative damage and reduce the risk of cancer caused by free radicals associated with smoking. (16)
* PG was shown to bolster immune activity. Specifically, it activated the innate immunity of cows infected with Staphylococcus aureus mastitis and contributed to their recovery. (12)
* Used in combination with anti-HIV drugs, PG delayed resistance to these drugs in a human study. (13)
* In a study of 227 volunteers, researchers found that following vaccination, participants given PG had a lower incidence of developing the common cold. With respect to the vaccination, antibody titres rose to an average of 171 units in the control group. PG treated patients displayed an average titre of 272 units. (18)
* In another study involving 60 healthy volunteers, PG was found to increase immune activity and was deemed an immunomodulator. (24)
* A study involving 625 patients revealed that patients treated with PG experienced an improvement of quality of life index in a physically and mentally stressed population. (17)
* In a study involving 46 healthy male sports teachers, PG increased the subjects work capacity by improving muscular oxygen utilisation. (22)
* In a study involving 24 elderly outpatients suffering from alcohol or drug induced hepatic-toxicity, PG improved the detoxifying activity of the liver. (25)
* PG demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of erectile dysfunction in 45 clinically diagnosed men. (5)
* Administration of PG in rats resulted in a reduction of bile flow and bile secretion of total lipids and cholesterol, while it increase the secretion of proteins in a dose dependent manner. The drug may be of use in preventing gallstone development. (6)
* PG improved secondary memory performance, improved speed of performing memory tasks, and accuracy of attention tasks in twenty healthy young adults. (7)
* PG improved aspects of human mental health and social functioning after 4 weeks of therapy. (9)
* PG improved vascular endothelial dysfunction in patients with hypertension. (14)
* PG was found to improve the signs and symptoms of symptomatic post-menopausal women. (15)
* In a study involving 36 non-insulin dependent patients, patients treated with PG experienced elevated mood, improved psychophysical performance, and reduced fasting blood glucose activity. In a higher dose group, patients experienced improved glycated haemoglobin, serum PNP, and physical activity. The conclusion was that PG might be a useful adjunct in the treatment of non-insulin dependent diabetes. (19)
* In a study involving 46 patients with class IV cardiac function, participants given PG experienced an improvement in hemodynamical and biochemical indices. The effect amongst patients given both PG and digoxin was an even more pronounced improvement. (20)
* In a study involving 30 mitral valvular surgical patients, PG had a protective effect on myocardial ischemia and reperfusion injuries following open-heart surgery. (21)
* In a study involving 358 persons aged 50–85 years, PG had an anti-senility effect improving memory, raising white blood cell counts, organic immune function, function of hypophyseal-gonadal axis, adrenal cortex function, and coronary heart disease with angina pectoris. (23)
Panax ginseng complies with the criterion set out by Brekhman for an adaptogen and subsequent researchers have substantiated his finding. Evidence supports its use in raising general resistance and there is evidence that suggests it may be of use in other specific circumstances.
PG and heart disease
There is evidence that PG has a role in preventing heart disease. As already noted, it contains anti-oxidants that may reduce free radical damage to cardiovascular tissues. (1–2, 16) In addition, research has demonstrated it reduces cholesterol and blood pressure levels. (3) The reduction in these damaging influences may impede the development of atherosclerosis. (3) In addition, the drug demonstrated an ability to reduce the incidence of reperfusion injury to the heart muscle. (21)
PG and viral disease
PG has demonstrated the ability to raise resistance to infectious disease through immune stimulation. (1–2) It has been shown to reduce the incidence of hepatic carcinoma in the patients in transition from chronic hepatitis to cirrhosis. (10) It has also been shown to reduce the anti-HIV drug resistance when used in conjunction with certain HIV anti-retro-viral drugs. (13)
PG and cancer
PG has demonstrated the ability to inhibit Carcinogenesis and to increase resistance to existing cancer. (1–2, 8, 10–11) The action in both instances is complex. In addition, the drug has been shown to increase resistance to radiation and toxic chemicals, which suggest it may have a role as an adjunct in cancer therapy. (1–2)
References for Panax ginseng
• Brekhman, II and Dardymov, IV. Pharmacological Investigation of Glycosides from Ginseng and Eleutherococcus. II. Lloydia, March 1969, Volume 32, Number 1. P. 46–51.
• Brekhman, II and Dardymov, IV. New Substances of Plant Origin Which Increase Non-specific Resistance. Annual Review of Pharmacology. Henry Elliott, Editor. Annual Reviews, Inc. 1969. P. 419–430.
• Hikino, Hiroshi. Traditional Remedies and Modern Assessment: The Case of Ginseng. Hiroshi Hikino. The Medicinal Plant Industry. CRC Press. Chapter 11. P. 149–166.
• Duke, J. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS drugs. CRC Press. P. 424. 1992
• Hong B et al. A double blind crossover study evaluating the efficacy of Korean red ginseng in patients with erectile dysfunction: a preliminary report. Journal of Urology 2002 Nov; 168(5): 2070–3. From PubMed abstracts.
• Salam OM et al. The effect of ginseng on bile-pancreatic secretion in the rat. Increase in proteins and inhibition of total lipids and cholesterol secretion. Pharmacology Research 2002 Apr; 45(4): 349–53. From PubMed abstracts.
• Kennedy DO et al. Modulation of cognition and mood following administration of single doses of Ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and ginkgo/ginseng combination to healthy young adults. Physiol Behav 2002 Apr 15; 75(5): 739–51. From PubMed abstracts.
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Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.