Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), which includes Chinese and Korean varieties, has great worldwide renown. Even its scientific name, “Panax”, alludes to its curative effects. Panax derives from the Greek roots, pan meaning “all”, and akos, “cure”, referring to the “cure all” or “panacea.”
According to Prof Shiu-Ying Hu, the earliest written account of Asian ginseng is from Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (approx. 1st century A.D.). There it states, “It is used for repairing the five viscera, quietening the spirit, curbing the emotion, stopping agitation, removing noxious influence, brightening the eyes, enlightening the mind and increasing wisdom. Continuous use leads one to longevity with light weight.” In 1714, the first description of the plant by a Westerner was provided by Pere Jartoux, a Jesuit missionary stationed in Beijing. “Nobody can imagine that the Chinese and Tartars would set so high on this root, if it did not constantly produce a good effect. Those that are in health often make use of it, to render themselves more vigorous and strong…”
According to the tenets of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the taste of Asian ginseng is sweet bitter and warm in nature. It is a tonic used to increase strength, increase blood volume, promote life and appetite, quiet the spirit, and give wisdom. It is used alone or in prescriptions for general weakness, deficient qi patterns, anemia, lack of appetite, shortness of breath with spontaneous perspiration, nervous agitation, forgetfulness, thirst, and impotence.
Ginseng’s ability to boost qi (vital energy) in the body is not insignificant. When a person’s qi is completely exhausted, death will occur. For this reason ginseng is often used as a second line of defense in emergency situations especially for shock and coma characterized by an inability of the body to supply enough oxygen to meet tissue requirements and hypotension (low blood pressure). With this condition, a severe depletion of qi has occurred and ginseng along with other herbs can help to resolve that deficiency in a short time.
Improper Use of Ginseng
Asian ginseng’s reputation for prolonging life has lead to its consumption in a variety of forms such as an ingredient in cooking, health supplements or in teas. It is important to remember that its medicinal effects can create undesirable health effects if not used properly. Overuse of ginseng is dubbed as “Ginseng Abuse Syndrome” (GAS). Some notable undesirable effects include hypertension, nervousness, sleeplessness, skin eruptions, edema, and morning diarrhea. People have also reported feelings of depersonalization and confusion, as well as euphoria, restlessness and agitation associated with its use.
Which Ginseng Should I Use and When?
It is important to know the area from which your ginseng originates. Although Chinese and Korean ginsengs are both known as Panax ginseng, the power of tonifying qi energy from Korean ginseng is much stronger than its Chinese counterpart. Korean ginseng is best used in cold climates for health maintenance and may not be suitable for people living in warmer regions such as southern China or Asia.
There are some guidelines for using ginseng as a health supplement. It is best used during winter for someone lacking qi energy. Some signs of qi deficiency include shallow respiration, shortness of breath and cold extremities. Ginseng should not be used if a person is suffering from a cold or flu because it not only promotes their vitality but also that of the pathogen infecting the person. For someone who has a mild qi deficiency, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) can be a nice choice since it has a mild nature.