Ginseng: The King of Herbs

Public interest in herbs has steadily increased during the past few
years, as has the consumption of herbs both as foods and as medicine.
And of all that have been promoted lately there is one that has
attracted more attention than any other. Ginseng Root. This age-old
root conjures up visions of unending energy, stamina, vitality and
enhanced longevity for those who use it faithfully. Interestingly
enough, when the facts are examined it becomes readily apparent that
there is a strong basis for these attributed claims!

Ginseng is one of those herbs that can be truly called an adaptogen. Two
early researchers, Brekhmman and Dardymov, both of the former Soviet
Union, defined an adaptogen as one that:

1. possesses normalizing action irrespective of the direction of the
previous pathological change,
2. whose action should be non-specific, increasing resistance to the
adverse influence of a wide range of factors,
3. and is innocuous, causing minimal disorder in the physiological
functioning of an organism.

As the term suggests, an adaptogen helps the body and its viscera to
adapt to a variety of stresses -- physiological, bio-chemical,
emotional, etc. The ginseng products sold in the marketplace today
(providing they are of guaranteed purity) all demonstrate varying
degrees of these adaptogenic qualities. The normalizing influence has
been researched by Canadian, American and European scientists, who
have studied the seven primary, and eight secondary ginsenosides found
in the Asiatic and North American roots. It is these ginsenosides (or in
the case of Siberian ginseng, the eleutherosides) that provide the
majority of the healing benefits.

Studies by scientist Dr. Wang at the University of Calgary done on
individual fractions such as RB1 and RG1, suggest that RB1 is of
significant benefit in the management of Alzheimer's Disease; other
research suggests that RG1 is more suited for poor circulation, brain
fatigue and general tiredness. While RG1 is found in higher amounts in
the asiatic ginseng, the North American species demonstrates a higher
curve of the remaining ginsenosides, suggesting a wider, if not more
effective, range of adaptogenic benefits.

Due to these and other findings, some companies are now
standardizing or extracting particular fractions of the ginseng
root. Whether this is valid or simply just a marketing ploy remains
to be seen, however, I believe that the benefit is in the
synergistic blend of all the constituents, not just one or two.

In spite of the similarities between the various ginsengs, there are
important differences that the consuming public should know. Whereas
the Chinese ginseng root (white) is slightly warming and
invigorating to an underactive system, the Korean root (red) is much
more invigorating and "hot," as oriental medicine would characterize
it. This may be suitable for those who are young and active,
especially those involved in strenuous physical activity such as
construction work, body building, or athletics, however, it should
be avoided by those who are older, of a weaker disposition, and
inclined to heart and blood pressure problems.

The one that is generally suited for our "over-amped" and
stressed-out nature in this fast-paced society, is literally the one
that is found in our own geological backyard -- Panax quinquefolium,
the North American/Ontario ginseng root. This has been found to be
quite beneficial for ailments ranging from blood sugar disorders,
hypertension, circulatory weakness, fatigue, nervous exhaustion and
disturbed sleep. It should be pointed out that research is still
ongoing, and that the aforementioned is only a representative
sampling of benefits experienced thus far. While some have noted
increased immune response, even to the point where cancerous cells
have been found to return to normal, this is not an absolute for
anyone with this condition.

Finally, Siberian Ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus, while
somewhat weaker in effect, I find most suitable for treating adrenal
exhaustion. The eleutherosides are structurally similar to the
ginsenosides, and do provide a similar range of benefits. For those
who feel that their health or their lifestyle is in need of a
general all-round tonic, ginseng may well be the solution they are
seeking. I recommend a consultation with a qualified herbal
practitioner to advise further.

One final word of caution: simply as a matter of principles, I would
get advice before taking ginseng (or any herb) while pregnant. While
it has been used in the Orient to strengthen the reproductive tract,
there are some pre-cursors to hormones found in ginseng that might
make it inadvisable for use during pregnancy, other than in small
quantities of one capsule per day. As always, check with your
practitioner before use.

Other Alternative Therapies

(Richard DeSylva, Healing Arts Magazine Online, 1995)