American ginseng - Panax quinquefolius
Chinese ginseng - P. ginseng
Pseudo ginseng -P.otoginseng
Bastard ginseng - Codonopsis pilosula
Siberian Ginseng - Eleutherococcus senticosus
Names such as wonder-of-the-world, root-of-life, seed-of-the-earth, and life-forever-lasting make it easy to see: Ginseng has quite a reputation. Ginseng's use dates back to prehistoric times; the Chinese have called upon it for at least five thousand years. A Chinese medical document, written during the first century, stated ginseng is useful for "enlightening the mind and increasing wisdom...continuous use leads to longevity."
All the ginsengs are in the same family and are relatively interchangeable as rejuvenating tonics. Many people believe ginsengs are a cure-alls. Science agrees: Ginseng roots are energizing, rejuvenating, immunoprotective, and adaptogenic.
Ginseng roots are loaded with antioxidants, phytosterols and glycosides, and offer an abundant supply of essential fatty acids, minerals B vitamins, and vitamin E, plus saponins. Beneficial effects are cumulative. I suck or chew on a piece of dried root about the size of my pinky nail, drink half a cup of infusion, or take 10-40 drops of tincture, one to three times a week. Honey with fresh ginseng roots is a special, energy -nourishing boost. The effects of ginseng are neutralized by vitamin C, so I avoid vitamin C rich foods for three hours before or after taking my ginseng. Ginseng's effects are doubled when taken with foods high in vitamin E, such as nuts, sunflower seeds, fresh nut butters, or olive oil.
Ginseng root is a superb ally for mature women. Its phytosterols and nutrients are especially nourishing to the endocrine (hormone) glands. Regular use relieves hot flashes, night sweats, menopausal headaches, emotional swings, and digestive upsets. I often combine it with dong Angelica.
Many American Indians, including Cherokee and Penobscot, revere ginseng as a womb-strengthening, fertility-enhancing female tonic. As a panacea, ginseng was used in treating a wide array of disorders. The Creek called upon it to stop hemorrhage.
An ancient Chinese legend about the origins of ginseng recalls its use as a fertility aid. Long ago and far away, a young childless wife, frantic to become pregnant before her husband took a concubine, had a dream. An old man living on a mountain, actually a divine being, gave her ginseng. When she bore a child, her gratitude so moved him, he filled the woods with ginseng in her honor.
Ginseng has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, enhancing libido and providing the energy needed to follow through. regular use nourishes and energizes female and male sexuality, even successfully treating impotence. Combining ginseng with ginkgo insures adequate peripheral circulation to the sex organs. Delaware, Mohican, Fox, and Appalachians all used ginseng as an aphrodisiac, and to treat a variety of sexual ills.
Ginseng's ability to nourish the nervous system and adrenal glands makes it an excellent ally for those under physical or mental stress. Regular use rebuilds vitality, increases energy and stamina, reduces fatigue, promotes deep sleep, and improves memory, clarity, and ability to concentrate. Menominee used ginseng as a mental stimulant.
Ginseng is an invaluable aid in regulating blood sugar. Regular use helps reduce risk of adult onset diabetes and eases hypoglycemic mood swings. Clinically proven to lower blood pressure, ginseng nourishes and strengthens the heart and circulatory system, increasing beneficial high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and reducing harmful low-density ones (LDL).
Athletes and body builders use ginseng to enhance muscle growth and efficiency without pushing the body's natural limits (the way synthetic steroids do). Synthetic anabolic steroids can cause liver damage, enlarged prostate, breast enlargement, testicular atrophy, and sterility or greatly decreased sperm count. Health-promoting ginseng, which contains steroidal saponins, precursors to anabolic steroid production in the body, is a superior choice.
Ginseng is considered a yin tonic by the Chinese. Some claim ginseng is a yang tonic, to be used only by males, but this is quite simply, not true, although ginseng definitely does have special gifts to offer men. My experiences agree with those of Chinese and traditional American Indian herbalists: ginseng's energies help both sexes. Two of the healthiest people I know run a small general store in town. Although over 80, they both have radiant smiles and incredible energy. They use ginseng regularly, and have done so for years.
Magical lore casts ginseng as an herb of protection and wish manifestation, especially as regards love, sexual potency, and health. Old wives hold a small piece of root in hand and visualize the wish or desire and then toss the root into a body of water. The Creek believe ginseng root, used as an amulet, deters ghosts.
Wild roots of either the Chinese or American species are considered the most potent and effective and are therefore the moct sought after. But due to over-harvesting, ginseng root is now rare in the wild, even in the areas where it once grew abundantly. If you find ginseng growing wild, honor it, examine it closely and thank it for showing itself to you, but do not dig it up. If it is fall and you see red berries ripe with seed, scatter and bury these seeds in the forest floor.
For your own use, I suggest you find commercially available roots that are woods-grown and organic. Due it its susceptibility to fungal growth, cultivated ginseng is frequently heavily sprayed. To make medicine, use the best quality roots you can find, whether fresh or dry. Those ginseng roots that most closely resemble the human body are believed to be the most potent of all.
I buy only whole ginseng, not ginseng products. In 1978, scientists at Philadelphis College of Pharmacy and Science reported 25 percent of the ginseng products tested contained nary a trace of the herb. A year later, Whole Foods magazine agreed, adding "60 percent of the ginseng products were judged worthless." These studies are almost twenty years old, but you know the old saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
If you have a well-drained place near the edge of some wiids, especially a northern or northwestern slope by a hardwood forest, you may have a spot to grow your own ginseng. Prepare a humus-rich bed with compost and leaf trimmings worked well into the top layer of soil, and plant seed or year-old roots in the fall. It takes up to seven years to get a ginseng root substantial enough for harvesting, but the longer it grows the stronger it will be. One Russian ginseng root was reported to be 400 years old.
We have a dream that the once plentiful American ginseng plant will again grow abundantly, at least in our little area of the world, and we work to make this dream a reality. First we planted one-year-old roots using a dibble (a straight planting tool that makes a hole in the earth so you can put a root in) and had only fair success. Then we planted tow pounds of seed under latticework. These germinated beautifully and filled four beds quite densely with ginseng seedlings. We carefully tended then throughout the summer and by fall we had exquisite, white, baby ginseng roots about as long as a pinky finger and half as thick. We dug some of these to be sold as year-old roots, but left the remainder in the beds to winter over. They looked so cozy, sleeping under the earth all snugly together, that we thought it vest not to disturb them. Now we plant American ginseng seed, as well as come Eleutherococcus and Codonopsis too.
A ginseng plant emerging from the soil is powerful. It comes up in a tightly wound spiral, like a claw, and gradually opens into a beautiful plant lide no other with two sets of five fine-toothed leaves. As the plant matures, further sets of leaves extend. A single terminal umbel with greenish-white flowers blooms from the second or third year onward, becoming bright red berries by fall.
I dig roots in the fall. Dry by hanging or on screens. Ginseng tinctures in alcohol fresh or dry. Infuse it in honey only when fresh.
• Panax quinquefolius relieves exhaustion, rebuilds vitality, and is an adaptive with immune enhacing and rejuvenating properties.
• Panax ginseng or xi yang shen (20-40 drops of fresh tincture daily) relieves fevers and exhaustion due to wasting diseases.
• Panax notoginseng, tienchi ginseng or san qi, is used as apain rekiever and to stop internal and external bleeding. The Vietnamese use it to accelerate wound healing and to strengthen the immune system. Internally, a pain reliever; externally, poultices or compresses heal wounds and stop bleeding.
• Codononopsis pilosula or dang shen strengthens the immune system energizes and rejuvenates. I love this tender looking trailing vine with its interesting white flowers. Actually quite hardy, it survives severe Maine winters and drought if given a shady, somewhat moist place with a support to cling to.
• Eleutherococcus senticosus enhances energy, stamina, endurance, and mental and physical performance. Siberian ginseng grows as a shrub, with soft prickles up the stem and finger-like leaves. It also is extremely hardy. Root can be harvested after four years of growth, but the older the better.
Do not use ginseng
if you are pregnant,
have hypertension, or
are suffering a fever.
If you feel jittery or
over stimulated when
taking ginseng, dis continue use.
You'll find American ginseng and Eleuthero here as simple extracts. American ginseng is in our Antiinflammatory formula, 13 Sisters Restorative Elixir, Studly Brothers Manly Elixir, and all of the Adaptogen Blend Formulas.