Ginseng is an herbal medicine derived from the root of plants in a large family. It comes in many forms (we have a list of all types of ginseng below) and has played a major role in traditional medicines for many hundreds of years. This is one of those herbal medicines that has been widely available for generations now. We have all heard of it, most of us have tried it, and it seems to be included in countless herbal supplements and energy drinks.
But is ginseng effective, what kind of health benefits does it provide, and is it safe?
Benefits of Ginseng
There are many claimed health benefits of ginseng, but not all of these have any basis in actual science. Some of the benefits that have been backed up by scientific research include:
- Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant: When given to athletes following intense exercise, ginseng proved to be more beneficial than placebo at reducing inflammation in one study, while another found it to be a potent antioxidant, drastically improving levels of these healthy compounds and reducing the amount of oxidative stress as a result. (1)
- Immune Boosting: Studies have shown ginseng to be effective at improving immune system markers, suggesting that it could help protect the body from colds and flu as well as chronic diseases. Other noteworthy studies have suggested that ginseng could be beneficial in as an anti-cancer drug. (2)
- Libido and Function: Studies on red ginseng suggest that it was comparable to many erectile dysfunction medicines and that it may also help improve libido in both sexes. (3)
- Stimulant: Ginseng is often praised for its stimulant effect, and these claims are not just anecdotal. Many studies have shown it to have a positive impact on indicators of fatigue. It may not induce an instant, stimulating high like caffeine, but it seems to be effective at reducing tiredness and increasing alertness.
Other Ginseng Benefits
There are many suggested benefits of ginseng, and each new study brings with it a new and exciting claim. This is a very exciting herbal medicine, and one that could hold a wealth of secrets. Only time will tell in that regard, but in the meantime, it serves as a relatively safe and potentially effective herbal medicine that is abundantly available.
Is Ginseng Safe?
Common forms of this root are generally very well tolerated and do not cause many side effects. There is a risk of overuse and even overdose, with excessive consumption triggering everything from increased blood pressure and nausea to convulsions and delirium, but in recommended doses, there have been very few reported side effects.
Of course, as with everything, it is possible to be allergic to ginseng and it is also possible to have an adverse reaction whether because of preexisting health conditions or medications you are taking. Don’t start on a high dose, give it time to take effect before taking more, and consult with your doctor if you are taking any medications or have a preexisting health condition.
You should avoid it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, and if you are worried about adverse reactions, then you should start small and build your dose from there. This is always good practice—it doesn’t hurt to assess tolerance.
Ways to Consume Ginseng
You can take it in tablet or powder form, but some of the most common ways to consume this herb are as a drink. It is added to energy drinks, but it can also be taken as a tincture or brewed into a tea much like you would with ginger or turmeric. It has an earthy and somewhat bitter taste, so don’t expect it to be as fiery and pleasurable as ginger or as smooth as turmeric, but it can be made more palatable with honey or sugar.
We don’t sell it here on Shelgo Tea because it doesn’t really fit with our range. We put flavour and health benefits first, and while ginseng has the health benefits, we’re not convinced about the flavour, at least not when it’s consumed on its own.
Types of Ginseng
There is no single type of ginseng; it is a family of plants with many different varieties. These are all similar in the claimed health benefits, as they contain similar compounds, but the potency may be different. It’s a similar story with other herbs and plants we have covered before, including sideritis.
What follows is a list of the different types of ginseng to give you an idea of what is on the market and what you should be spending your money on.
Panax is supposed to be good for providing a stimulating effect that can also boost libido. There are other slight differences as well, depending on which variety of panax ginseng is consumed. Many other names (discussed below) are simply different ways of describing this variety as opposed to different varieties.
This is also known as Wisconsin ginseng (Latin name Panax quinquefolius) because that’s where they grow most of it. We have a guide to Wisconsin ginseng if you’re interested in taking a closer look at that particular type of ginseng.
This is the original and one of the most common. It’s said to be good at increasing metabolism as well as providing an uplifting boost and increasing the libido.
Korean ginseng is just another name for the red variety mentioned above, one that is also labelled as Asian or Chinese ginseng.
Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Native to both Russia and China, this type of ginseng has been popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for hundreds of years and is used for its invigorating effects. One famous TCM practitioner, Li Shih Chen, hailed it as a truly miraculous herb unmatched in nature.
Brazilian Ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata)
Also known as Suma, this variety of ginseng grows in South America and its leaves and berries are consumed as opposed to the roots. It is supposed to aid with overall wellbeing and health as opposed to any notable stimulating effects.
Indian Ginseng (Withania somnifera)
This plant is also known as Ashwagandha and offers a number of health benefits. It has played a significant role in traditional Indian medicine for many hundreds of years.
HSU ginseng refers to the producers/manufacturers of this plant in the United States. They grow American ginseng on a grand scale, as seen in the video linked above.
This term is used to describe pretty much all forms of this plant. However, the vast majority of ginseng that ends up being sold in root, powder, or tincture form is actually cultivated under controlled conditions and not harvested wild.