What Ginseng Is Right For Me?

We see the general herb name, “ginseng,” in grocery store teas, natural
food stores, and even in gas stations. After studying Chinese herbal
medicine, I recommend asking an herbalist before partaking in any
ginseng. Ginseng comes from different regions of China, Korea,
Canada, France, and United States, to name a few, and it is cultivated in
different climates, altitudes, seasons, and soils. Thus, each ginseng has
comparable specific properties and effects on our bodies. The general
public knows that ginseng gives a boost in energy, called Qi
(pronounced “chee”) in traditional Chinese medicine. Note that ginseng
is not caffeine and does not create that caffeine buzz feeling.
We have choices of Siberian Ginseng/Eleutherococcus senticosus (Ci
Wu Jia), American Ginseng/Panax quinquefolii (Xi Yang Shen), Panax
ginseng (Ren Shen), Korean ginseng, Red Ginseng (Hong Shen),
Codonopsis pilosula (Dang Shen), Pseudoginseng/Panax Notoginseng
(San Qi). Red ginseng is cultivated Panax ginseng that has been
steamed to become red and has weaker effects than Panax. Red ginseng
raises more heat in the body and is good for cold interior conditions.
Korean ginseng creates even more heat in the body from how it is
processed with other medicinal herbs. These two ginsengs are great for
warming and raising whole body energy, but should be taken with
caution if one has high blood pressure or fluid deficiencies.
Pseudoginseng/Panax Notoginseng has a special component that
invigorates blood circulation and also stops bleeding. This herb helps
stop pain and swelling, reduces blood pressure due to raising coronary
blood flow, has a blood thinning effect, and has shown to lower serum
cholesterol levels. Overall, Notoginseng is great for cardiovascular
health, but has less effect for strengthening whole body energy (Qi).
For strengthening our energy, let’s compare Panax ginseng, Codonopsis
pilosula, Siberian Ginseng, and American ginseng. Panax ginseng (Ren
Shen) is the historical leader of ginsengs in most strengthening body
energy tonic formulas. Actions and indications include raising whole
body energy from collapse with symptoms as shortness of breath,
profuse sweating, cold limbs, weak pulse, and severe blood loss (postpartem
is an example). Panax also boosts lungs and digestion, immunity,
energy, and endurance, and has an anti-aging, anti-stress, anti-cancer
effect. Panax has a strengthening and calming effect at the same time.
Anxiety, palpitations, forgetfulness, insomnia, and restlessness are
symptoms of the mind/heart connection, and Panax ginseng relaxes
these control centers in the brain. From a pharmacological standpoint,
Panax has a central nervous system effect by enhancing both the
parasympathetic and sympathetic response centers in the brain—aka the
fight or flight response from stress. Panax improves the adaptability of
the nervous responses. Our endocrine system, hormones, can be treated
by Panax ginseng, specifically for diabetes and hypothyroidism. Results
showed that Panax lowered plasma glucose levels by 40-50mg%,
lowered glycosuria (glucose in urine), reduced lassitude and thirst, but
was unable to completely reverse the damaged pancreas, thus insulin is
still needed but in less doses. The herb is used for raising basal
metabolic rates (raising thyroid function for metabolism), and is an antifatigue/stress
herb. Panax ginseng is one of the few Chinese herbs that
can be used alone or blends wonderfully with other herbs. Some
research shows that Panax ginseng’s contraindication is high blood
pressure, depending on the dose and duration. Please consult with your
Codonopsis pilosula (Dang Shen) is a mild version of Panax ginseng and
can be substituted for Panax for more mild cases of Qi deficiency:
symptoms like fatigue, low appetite, diarrhea, chronic illness. Dang
Shen can also nourish fluids, specifically for dry lung coughs and thirst.
Dang Shen is not as strong as Ren Shen (Panax ginseng) and can be
taken alone and with other tonics.
American ginseng/Panax quinquefolii (Xi Yang Shen) is another
ginseng, but is in the nourish fluids category of Chinese herbs. It can
strengthen Qi, but more predominately, American ginseng generates
fluids and nourishes lung dryness. Use this herb for chronic fevers, hot
flashes/night sweats, and aftermath of a heat illness like sore
throat/bronchitis/fever. This herb is safe and can be taken alone and with
other tonics.
Siberian ginseng/Eleutherococcus senticosus (Ci Wu Jia) is not actually
considered a real ginseng, but still has great anti-fatigue and anti-stress
effect. I call this herb the “enduro” herb for stress. Siberian ginseng’s
anti-fatigue effect is stronger than other ginsengs and improves
immunity. It proves itself in treating chronic lung inflammation, low
libido, low white cell count after radiation therapy, stress, low immunity,
cancer, aging, low adrenal function, and insomnia. Note that this herb is
not meant for diabetes patients and those who have night sweats, big
thirst, and fluid deficiencies. Take American ginseng and Dang Shen
instead. According to the School of Food and Nutrition of Fu Ren
University in Taiwan, Siberian ginseng improved oxygen uptake up to
8.2% on 20 athletes after taking 400mg/day for four weeks. Take
Siberian ginseng for 60 days, followed by a 2-3 week break before
resuming again.
I often mix 2-3 ginsengs together depending on each person’s needs,
which works great for the overall building blocks of immunity,
endurance, energy, nourishment, and adrenal function. Again, consult
with your acupuncturist/herbalist for recommendations and we can find
the right herbal fit for you.
1. Herb Toxicities and Drug Interactions Fred Jennes with Bob Flaws
2. Chinese Natural Cures Henry C. Lu 1994
3. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica Dan Bensky, Andrew
Gamble, Ted Kaptchuk 1993