What Is Ginseng?
Ginseng is a plant. Different varieties of ginseng root have been used as treatments in Asia and North America for centuries. Ginseng is one of the most popular herbal medicines in the world.
Ginseng Health Benefits
There are two main types of ginseng: Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Studies have found that the different types have different benefits. In traditional Chinese medicine, American ginseng is considered less stimulating than the Asian variety.
Although many other herbs are called ginseng -- like eleuthero, or Siberian ginseng -- they don’t contain the active ingredient of ginsenosides.
Ginseng has traditionally been used for a number of medical conditions. However, its benefits for most of them haven't been seriously researched. These include:
- Build immunity. Some studies have found that ginseng may boost your immune system. There’s some evidence that one particular type of American ginseng extract might decrease the number and severity of colds in adults.
- Regulate blood sugar. Several studies in people have also shown that ginseng may lower blood sugar levels.
- Improve focus. There’s some early evidence that ginseng might give a small, short-term boost to concentration and learning. Some studies of mental performance have combined ginseng with extract from leaves of the ginkgo tree, another traditional remedy said to help with dementia. While these studies are intriguing, many experts feel we need more evidence.
Ginseng has also been studied as a way to improve mood and boost endurance as well as treat:
- Heart disease
- Erectile dysfunction
- Hepatitis C
- High blood pressure
- Menopausal symptoms
While some of these uses are promising, the evidence isn’t conclusive.
Standard doses of ginseng haven’t been established for any condition. Quality and active ingredients in supplements may vary widely from maker to maker. This makes it hard to establish a standard dose.
Always buy ginseng from a trustworthy company. Because it’s an expensive root, there’s a risk that disreputable manufacturers might sell ginseng with other things added in or include less than advertised on the bottle.
You can get ginseng as a dietary supplement in the form of tea, dried herbs, powder, or capsules.
Ginseng in Food
There are no natural food sources of ginseng. Ginseng is sometimes added to energy drinks and foods.
- Side effects. Ginseng side effects are generally mild. It has been reported to cause nervousness and insomnia. Long-term use or high doses of ginseng may lead to headaches, dizziness, stomach upset, and other symptoms. Women who use ginseng regularly may experience menstrual changes. There have also been reports of allergic reactions to ginseng.
- Interactions. Don’t take ginseng without consulting your doctor if you take any medications. This is especially true if you take drugs for diabetes, because ginseng may affect blood sugar levels. It can also interact with warfarin and with some medicines for depression. Caffeine may amplify ginseng’s stimulant effects.
- Risks. To avoid side effects from ginseng, some experts suggest you shouldn't use it for more than 3 months -- or sometimes just a few weeks -- at a time.
Given the lack of evidence about its safety, ginseng isn’t recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.