Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
The root of real ginseng (Panax ginseng) has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for about 2000 years to strengthen life energy. The ginseng root has also been known in Europe since the 17th century. It was used by kings and nobles and was extremely popular at the court of Louis the Fourteenth. There it was considered a life-prolonging and potency-promoting agent. Also the genus name Panax shows the major healing effect of the plant that was attributed to it at that time: The name derives from ancient Greek and means something like all-healer. Find out more about the use of ginseng as a medicinal plant and its proven effect against fatigue and declining performance.
Natural Occurrence and Distribution of the Ginseng Plant
Real ginseng (Panax ginseng) belongs to the family Araliaceae. They are found wild in numerous regions of Asia. These include, among others, north-eastern China, northern Korea and some southern areas of Russia. The plant grows mainly in higher mixed and deciduous forests. Because of its healing effect, it is also grown in many places to harvest the ginseng root.
Large plantations can be found, for example, in Japan, China, Ukraine, Korea and Australia, but also in Central Europe (among others in Switzerland, Germany and Austria). For commercial cultivation, cultivars are mostly used, which have been further developed by growers and differ more or less from the wild form. Nevertheless, the cultivation of Panax ginseng is still challenging today. Many steps have to be performed by hand. Protection from sun and pests is required. In addition, it is slow growing. The germination period is two years. After that, the root must grow for several years before it can be harvested.
Appearance and Description of the Plant
The ginseng plant grows between 30 and 60 centimetres high. It grows upright and has leaf whorls with five elongated leaves each. The edges of the leaves are serrated. Depending on the size of the plant, the leaves grow between five and 15 centimetres long. The flowering period lasts from June to July. The flowers are small, of greenish colour and stand together in spherical umbels. Round red fruits the size of a pea develop from the flowers.
What makes ginseng so well-known and popular in Asia and also in our country, however, can be found underground. The medically usable ginseng root is spindle-shaped and divides at the top. As a result, it sometimes resembles the shape of a human being. Numerous myths arose about the meaning of this shape: In Asia it is considered a miracle plant, while in this country it – like the native mandrake, which has similar roots – was at times associated with magic and witchcraft.
The History of Ginseng
In Asia, the ginseng root has symbolised health and a long life for millennia. Even today it is one of the most widely used medicinal plants in China. It is credited with numerous positive effects on mind and body. At times, the root was so coveted, that it was traded at the price of gold and its application was reserved for kings and nobles. Sailors brought ginseng roots to Europe from the 17th century onwards. Since then, it has become known to us as a medicinal plant and a natural tonic. In Asia, however, it is used more widely and is also used in part as food, for example in the traditional Korean dish Samgyetang, a chicken soup with ginseng. Candied or fried ginseng roots and ginseng drinks are also part of the menu in northern China and South Korea.
Active Ingredients of the Ginseng Root and Their Effect
There are certain triterpene saponins in the root of Panax ginseng, which occur exclusively in the genus Panax. These active ingredients are called ginsenosides. So far, about 30 different ginsenosides have been identified. Researchers believe that these are largely responsible for the effect of the root. In addition, the roots also contain essential oils and other ingredients, such as peptidoglycans, in smaller amounts.
Dried roots or ginseng tea can be used for medical applications. However, the dosage and active ingredient content are not easily estimated in that case. It is, therefore, recommendable to use standardised extracts, for example in the form of capsules. Ginsana® capsules contain the dry extract G115 with a standardised content of four percent ginsenosides. As a result, the dosage is constant and the effectiveness is consistently high. At the same time, the risk of side effects is lower than with preparations or dietary supplements of poor pharmaceutical quality.
The so-called white ginseng is used for medicines and standardised extracts: the peeled, bleached and dried ginseng root. In addition, red ginseng is also available in the retail trade. Treatment with water vapour gives the root a reddish colour. The heat treatment reduces the content of the active ingredients. Red Panax ginseng extract is mainly used for dietary supplements.
Application and Areas of Use of Ginseng Extract
In traditional Chinese medicine and Asian folk medicine, the root of the Panax ginseng is still considered a real panacea. Panax ginseng is said to slow ageing and help against numerous diseases. In our case, ginseng preparations are sometimes used for depression and anxiety or are used to stimulate the immune system, relieve hot flashes during menopause or treat erectile dysfunction (potency disorders). A use against cancer is also currently being investigated. However, these effects have not yet been fully scientifically studied.
However, the effect of Panax extracts on listlessness, lack of energy and fatigue is well studied.
Ginseng Against Exhaustion and to Increase Performance
Ginseng roots are approved for increased performance and concentration. They can work against fatigue, exhaustion and lack of energy. As performance decreases, they can have a strengthening effect and increase concentration. In convalescence, i.e. in the recovery phase after illness, ginseng root can be used to support recovery. Laboratory tests also indicate that ginseng can help protect against stress and infections. Exactly how the strengthening effect is achieved is not yet clear. Presumably, the ginsenosides contained in it (or substances created in the body during their conversion) play a major role.
Ginseng capsules such as the proven herbal supplement Ginsana can help with fatigue, listlessness and diminishing performance. However, you should always have ongoing fatigue or increasing symptoms you checked by a doctor to rule out serious illnesses.
Please note: Even herbal medicines can have unwanted side effects. Please read the package insert and talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you require further information.