Ginseng is one of the most popular herbal supplements , perhaps most well known for its traditional use of boosting memory and energy levels. However, it has many other uses. For starters, ginseng is considered an adaptogen, which means it helps your body to withstand mental and physical stress.
Delving further into the benefits first requires understanding the different typesof ginseng available. There are three major varieties, each with unique attributes, although only two are actually ginseng:
- American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius): This tan, gnarled root contains ginsenosides, which are thought to be responsible for many of its medicinal properties. Chinese medicine, which has used ginseng for thousands of years, considers American ginseng a “cool” calming tonic.1
- Asian ginseng ((Panax ginseng): Sometimes referred to as Korean ginseng, Asian ginseng also contains ginsenosides, although in different proportions than American ginseng, and is considered an adaptogenic herb. According to Chinese medicine, Asian ginseng is a “hot” stimulant.2
- Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng and does not contain ginsenosides. Its active components are called eleutherosides, which are thought to stimulate your immune system.
Like American and Asian ginseng, however, Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen that’s traditionally been used to increase energy, stimulate the immune system, and increase longevity.3
What Are the Health Benefits of American Ginseng?
American ginseng cannot be used for medicinal purposes until it’s at least six years old (the wrinkles around the neck of the root reveal its age). Due to overharvesting, American ginseng is endangered in the wild and quite expensive to purchase, although it’s also grown on farms now as well.
Most research to date has involved Asian ginseng, however the studies that have been done on the American variety suggest it may boost your immune system, function as an antioxidant and also benefit inflammatory conditions. It may also be useful as an all-around stress tonic. According to research published in the Journal of Herbs, Spices & Medicinal Plants:
“[American] Ginseng is traditionally reputed to regularize bodily functions and relieve many ailments resulting from physiological stress. Beneficial effects are thought to be due to a non-specific influence on production and use of regulatory hormones.
As an ‘adaptogen’, ginseng exhibits anti-fatigue, anti-stress, and anti-aging activity, as well as general improvement of mental and physical performance, ‘recognized in therapeutic claims permitted by a plethora of international regulatory constituencies.”
Additional benefits include:
Memory: American ginseng was found to improve working memory and mood in both young individuals and middle-age adults.Another study revealed “robust working memory enhancement following administration of American ginseng.” Diabetes: American ginseng appears to have anti-diabetic properties. In one animal study, extract of American ginseng root lead to weight loss and lower blood sugar levels in mice with type 2 diabetes.It’s also been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in healthy individuals. Cancer: American ginseng has anti-cancer properties that appear to suppress tumor growth. It has shown particular promise in treating colorectal cancer. Cold and Flu: Older adults who took an extract of American ginseng had a 48 percent reduction in relative risk, and a 55 percent reduction in duration, of respiratory illness.This herb was also found to be “a safe and effective treatment for reducing the absolute risk of recurrent colds and the mean number of colds per person.” ADHD: A combination of American ginseng and ginkgo biloba may improve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and teens. Immune System Function:American ginseng has also been found to stimulate the immune system, helping your body fight off infections and disease.