Ginseng: An Ancient Medicinal Plant
Ginseng is undoubtedly the most popular medicinal plant available to Herbologists today, and the most widely used medicinal plant within the healing practices of ancient Chinese medicine. Practitioners of ancient Chinese medicine view the healing powers of Ginseng as unique in the sense that they are believed to affect a given patient’s whole being. For more than 2000 years followers of this form of alternative medicine have devised medicinal tonics designed to enhance one’s sexual and physical vitality, increase one’s mental and physical stamina and help build up resistance to the psychological and physical stresses of life that often lead to an imbalance in the body’s inherent forces of Yin and Yang which according to ancient Chinese medicinal philosophy are essential components of a healthy body, clear mind and peaceful spirit.
Today, products featuring both American and Asian ginseng are widely sold over-the-counter at drug stores, globally. These products include everything from reputed aphrodisiacs, sexual stimulants, weight loss teas to energy drinks.
A Short Introduction To Ginseng
Ginseng is a slow growing perennial herb which can reach heights of about 2 feet. The eleven recognized species of Ginseng are native to North America, the mountainous areas of north eastern China, Korea and far eastern regions of Siberia. Of these eleven species the following three species are the most widely used species of Ginseng:
- American Ginseng: Believed to have the most relaxing properties
- Chinese Ginseng: Often used in OTC Ginseng supplements
- Korean Ginseng: Often used in energy drinks because of its strong stimulant effect
The root of the Ginseng plant can live for over 100 years. The older the root, the greater the concentration of Ginsenosides, the active chemical compounds found exclusively in Ginseng, and the more potent the plant’s medicinal properties. The more than 25 different types of Ginsenosides present in Ginseng give this herb its adaptogenic properties that enable it to balance and counter the effects of both mental and physical stress factors such as anxiety and aging.
Health Benefits of Ginseng: The Alternative Medicine View
Practitioners of various types of alternative medicine, including the very influential practitioners of ancient Chinese medicine, have used Ginseng for over 2000 years in such remedies as those designed to:
- Combat the effects of stress on the mind and body
- Improve physical performance, especially in the elderly
- Improve sexual performance
- Cure infertility in both men and women
- Ease menopause symptoms
- Boost energy levels by decreasing fatigue and combating the degenerative effects of aging
- Enhance memory
- Ease pulmonary complaints
Health Benefits of Ginseng: According to Modern Scientific Studies
Ginseng Homeopathic Remedies
Recent scientific studies have shined a new light on the health claims made by practitioners of ancient Chinese medicine regarding the medicinal properties of Ginseng. One of the most remarkable finding of these scientific studies highlights the fact that when Ginseng is combined with other medicinal herbs (as is often the case with ancient Chinese remedies such as Si Jun Zi Tang ) the medicinal properties of Ginseng increase, resulting in a more positive outcome for the patient.
Ginseng and Sexual Health
A study conducted in 2002, by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, concluded that Ginseng (especially red Ginseng) has a profound effect on both the male and female sexual health and performance. This study, which was carried out on laboratory animals, found that both Asian and American Ginseng help enhance libido and sexual performance. The study conductors deduced that the sexual effects of Ginseng are not due to changes in hormone secretion, but due to Ginseng’s direct effects on the central nervous system and gonadal tissues. This study also proved that in men Ginseng works as a form of natural Viagra in the sense that it can facilitate penile erection.This finding is consistent with the teachings of traditional Chinese medicine and traditional Korean medicine which have used Ginseng for thousands of years as a cure for erectile dysfunction.
Ginseng and Menopause
Scientists have also shown that Ginseng contains Phytoestrogens which are a form of plant-derived or dietary estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. For centuries practitioners of ancient Chinese and Korean medicine have prescribed Ginseng to menopausal women in an effort to help relieve hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, such as lack of libido and rapid skin aging, which are all a direct result of the significant drop in estrogen levels during menopause. Now, with finding such as this, modern science is backing the wisdom behind these traditional forms of alternative medicine.
Ginseng and Diabetes
Ginseng is recently being studied as a possible cure for Diabetes. Though most studies into the possible benefits of Ginseng for Diabetics are too inconclusive to mention, a recent study, conducted by Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that individuals with type-2 Diabetes can reduce their blood sugar levels by as much as 20% if they take Ginseng before a meal.
Ginseng and Improved Memory
A series of studies conducted in China have concluded that the Ginsenosides present in Ginseng help increase protein synthesis and activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. This finding serves to solidify the ancient Chinese medicine’s claim that Ginseng helps restore memory and enhance concentration.
Ginseng and Arthritis
A study conducted at the University of Hong Kong concluded that seven Ginsenosides present in Ginseng have strong anti-inflammatory properties which can help ease both the pain and destructive ability of arthritis.
Ginseng Side Effects & Overdose Warning
Only individuals who consume large amounts of Ginseng can experience side effects similar to those experienced by people undergoing a caffeine overdose. These symptoms, which include dry mouth, irritability, heart palpitations, dizziness, diarrhea and fatigue are generally not fatal. But, individuals prone to heart and/or lung problems or those with Diabetes and/or a history of low or high blood pressure should seek medical care.
The most common side effect experienced by those who consume large amounts of Ginseng is insomnia brought on by a state of restlessness similar to that caused by caffeine consumption. Women who consume large amounts of Ginseng report experiencing painful breast tenderness, increased irritability, increased energy, nausea, headaches and a remarkable lack of appetite all of which are coincidentally listed as possible side effects on the backs of popular energy drinks.
Photo courtesy of: Wmahan