June 03, 2014

What Is Ginseng?

Sounding as tho it could be from another planet, what is ginseng? Is a very common question? Ginseng is a small plant that is native to Asia and America; its root is used as an herbal medicine. The most famous varieties being Korean ginseng, Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and American ginseng.

Siberian ginseng is part of the same plant family as Korean & Chinese ginseng, but it is not considered a true ginseng in botanical terms.

It does contain many of the properties that make East Asian ginseng an adaptogen herb. An adaptogenic herb is one known for it healing benefits and is widely used in natural and herbal medicine.

The botanical name of Korean and Chinese ginseng is 'Panax,' which in Greek means "heal all."

Ginseng's Herbal Medicine History

The use of herbs to treat and prevent common ailments is nothing new. Long before shops were crammed with brightly coloured medicine bottles with pictures of happy families on them, nature was our medicine cabinet.

Ginseng benefits are widely acknowledged in Asia as a powerful cure and preventative medicine; the plant provides the body with vital nutrients that it needs to thrive. It has very mild sedative properties that relax and de-stress, while essential oils aid digestion and ease the bowls.

In traditional medicine, the root of the ginseng plant is highly prized for the dense nutrients it contains. The leaves, however are still used to make relaxing elixir's and tonic's that boost vitality, and some consider to have aphrodisiac effects.

Evidence of ginseng being used as an `herbal medicine dates back thousands of years, when Chinese practitioners recommended the herb to prolong life, increase vitality and cognitive behaviour.

While a host of traditional uses have been debunked by modern science, the medical community agrees this herb provides certain health benefits;  the giant pharmaceutical corporations can't remove the nutrients that ginseng contains.

Understanding The Benefits of Ginseng

Today, this innocuous looking plant is added to a wide range of consumer products, everything from energy drinks to face creams contain one variety or another of ginseng.

The benefits of Ginseng are now so widely known that it is used to market products, consumers are becoming increasingly aware that certain natural ingredients help the body remain healthy.

Modern Marketing Methods & Herbal Medicines

The fact that ginseng is the latest 'buzz' ingredient for aggressive marketers to toy, you would think this is a good thing wouldn't you? It isn't, unscrupulous advertising agencies bounding around wild claims only serves to devalue the benefits ginseng can provide.

This plant has been the mainstay of Chinese herbal medicine for millennia, 'corporate barrow boys' stamping it as the active ingredient in everything from face cream to energy drinks, only serves to prompt people to dismiss its benefits.

Corporate Failure

Energy drinks and other such fast paced consumer products contain a minuscule amount of low grade ginseng. This amount of a poor quality ginseng is unlikely to have any positive effect.

Drinking a highly processed, expensive drink that proclaims to contain ginseng is unlikely to impart any health benefits. It is a false comparison to liken an energy drink; that was "once close to some ginseng," to home brewed tea that was made using a fresh ginseng root.

Growing Consumer Awareness

The growing awareness of the wider consumer demographic to herbal medicine and natural cures is a very positive step. Partly due to more freely available information, and lack of confidence in the integrity of major corporations, people are starting to take responsibility for their own health. Power to the people!!! 

Ginseng Home Remedies

Many home remedies and elixirs are made using ginseng, this partly because it is easy to turn a raw fresh root into a pleasant, drinkable tea, and the vast availability of this plant.

The root or leaves of the plant can easily be added to soups and stews to absorb the nutrients it contains In Asia it is often added to clear soups as a flavour enhancer, it has a taste with a similar profile to a mild form of ginger.

Medical Research

Research conducted by the Medical Centre at the University of Maryland, ginseng (both American and Asian varieties) contain ginsenosides, which may act as an adaptogen in your body.

In layman's terms, ginseng supports your mind and body during extreme bouts of mental stress or physical fatigue. As you're probably aware, stress reduces your ability to fight infections, by weakening the immune system, this in turn affect the cognitive ability to think clearly. 

Therefore, if you eliminate the effects of stress, you enhance your ability to fight through these moments. 

What About Ginseng's Benefits?

The notion of ginseng boosting mental clarity and function dates back to its first recorded uses. While the true effectiveness of ginseng can vary from person-to-person, research outlined by the Journal of Psychopharmacology found ginseng significantly improved cognitive function during moments of prolonged activities.

Ginseng RDA (Recommended Daily Intake)

Within this study, subjects were exposed to 200mg of ginseng per day. Upon absorption, participants experienced a significant reduction in mental fatigue while increasing alertness and clarity. 

But what about benefits outside of mental performance? While still under debate, preliminary research found those taking 400mg of ginseng per day had fewer colds or less severe cold symptoms than those not supplementing with ginseng. Other studies found this herb lowers blood sugar levels and may even reduce menopausal symptoms. 

Ginseng is no doubt an interesting and beneficial herb. While true medicinal qualities are still under investigation, what has been discovered is promising. Although safe, always talk with your doctor before adopting a ginseng regime as this herb can cause complications such as high blood pressure, diarrhoea and nosebleed. 


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