A perennial plant, ginseng grows between 7 to 21 inches in height when wild. The plant takes only 5-6 years to grow, yet the roots can stay alive for over 100 years. The root is creamy yellow or white in color, and it branches off sometimes in the shape of a person. Ginseng grows naturally on the slopes of ravines and shady, well drained, mountainous, hardwood forests. The root carries all the nutrition and makes it the most widely used herb in the Orient.
Ginseng root is found in three types. American and Siberian ginseng are popular in North America. American ginseng grows from Quebec to Minnesota and to the south to Georgia and Oklahoma. The third kind, Korean or oriental ginseng, is the most widely used ginseng in the world. Some claim that American ginseng has a cooling quality while oriental ginseng warms the body. Siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng but has similar effects. The Chinese named the herb from two words meaning “Man Plant” since the root often gives the form of a person.
The value of this herb has been known for thousands of years. These start with its ability as andaptogen, that is, something that balances the body chemistry. In this way it can be used both to lower high blood pressure and also to raise low blood pressure. Ginseng contains 27 ginsenocides that enable ginseng to balance the effects of stress. At the same time ginseng increases performance and energy levels in people who are constantly exhausted. It benefits those recovering from an illness, experiencing a heavy work load, or who just feel run down all the time.
Ginseng root contains vitamins A, B-6 and Zinc. These help in the functioning of the immune system. Ginseng will increase estrogen levels in women and treat symptoms of menopause. It improves memory as well.
Ginseng helps reduce cholesterol levels in the blood, has anti-clotting effects, reduces the risk of arterial blood clots, and helps control diabetes by reducing blood sugar levels. It is known as an antioxidant, protects the liver from the effects of drugs, alcohol, preventing the cumulative cell damage, and toxins, minimizes cell damage from radiation, and increases intestinal absorption of nutrients.
Traditionally, ginseng has been used to enhance sexual desire by promoting sex hormone production. Recent research shows that regular use of Ginseng is helpful in the slowing down of the aging process. Ginseng’s value is mainly as a preventative though it is also used by some in cures. It should be taken over a long period of time to stimulate rejuvenation and virility.
Root slices can be brewed slowly in a tea pot (silver or glass) for one hour. Generally a bitter tasting root indicates higher potency. Root slivers can also be added to soups or other dishes. In some preparations it is desirable to first grind your ginseng. The resulting powder can be used in meals or can be placed under your tongue where the high concentrations of blood vessels allow the ginsenocides to be absorbed directly into the blood stream. Also, try chewing the dried root like a piece of hard candy. A quick five minute soak in boiling water will make the root more palatable. The optimal dosage of ginseng is two or three grams a day. Ginseng tends to kick in after six weeks or so, and the most significant results can be seen after six months of use. This is especially true in people with pale unhealthy skin, lassitude, and depression.
Ginseng appears to be relatively safe. Korean ginseng is the most potent of the three types, so overdose of it is most possible. Most side effects, such as nervousness, dizziness, mood changes, insomnia, headache and loss of appetite are from people who take more than the recommended dosage. Some say to avoid ginseng if you are pregnant or nursing but others say it is safe for everyone. Of course, always remember to consult your physician before taking this or any other supplement.