Ginseng

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Panax ginseng (Meyer)

Synonyms: Panax schinseng (Nees), schinsent, ninjin, jintsam, ren shen, Korean ginseng, Chinese ginseng, oriental ginseng, wonder of the world

Order: Araliaceae

Description: Panax is a perennial plant indigenous to the mountainous forests of the northern temperate zone of Eastern Asia and is cultivated in China, Korea and Japan. It has a thick, spindle-like brown-yellow root, often divided at the end. The simple glabrous stem bears a whorl of three or five palmately compound leaves consisting of five oblong-ovate, finely double-serrate leaflets. From June to August it is topped with a single umbel of greenish-yellow flowers. The fruit is a small edible drupe-like pale red berry. The activity of young cultivated roots is said to be up to half that of old roots grown in the wild. Commercially produced Panax is either grown as undergrowth in shady forests, or shaded by mats in the open. Two forms are available, - 'white' Ginseng (often with the outer skin peeled off) and 'red' ginseng, prepared by steaming the root before drying. Red ginseng contains all the saponins so far isolated from white ginseng, and others which are probably formed during the steaming process. 

Parts used: Dried root

Collection: Commercially grown roots take at least seven years to reach a weight of 60-100g at which point they can be harvested. The wild plant achieves that weight only after 150-200 years.

Constituents: steroidal glycosides known as panaxosides or ginsenosides which, on extraction or drying, may be hydrolysed and the aglycones converted to panaxadiols and panaxatriols. At least 25 ginsenosides have been identified: triterpene glycosides (hormone-like saponins). Also acetylenic compounds: panaxynol (falcarinol), panaxytriol (falcarintriol), panaxydol and others; peptidoglycans (panaxans A-E); sesquiterpenes, including b-elemene; amino acids, peptides, volatile oil, sugars, sterols, starch, pectin, choline, fats, vitamins B1, B2 and B12, and minerals (zinc, copper, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, vanadium). The wild root, but not the cultivated one, is said to contain oestrogenic principles.

Actions: thymoleptic, adaptagenic, stimulant, tonic, demulcent, stomachic, cardiotonic, hypoglycaemic, reputed aphrodisiac

Indications: physical or mental exhaustion, stress, inadequate resistance to infections, neurasthenia, neuralgia, insomnia, hypotonia. Specifically indicated in depressive states associated with sexual inadequacy.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology

Panax is an adaptagenic herb - it enhances the body's resistance to external stresses and improves physical and mental performance. It acts on the central nervous, cardiovascular and endocrine systems, promotes immune function and metabolism, and has biomodulation actions. The hormone-like substances in the plant account for its simultaneous sedative and stimulating (adaptogenic) effect on the central nervous system. Panax improves the responses of the adrenal cortex in secreting the stress hormones possibly by interacting with receptor sites at the cortex and at the hypothalamus, variously stimulating and relaxing the central nervous system, affecting hepatic metabolism and glycogen utilisation by skeletal muscle. . It has been found to have a beneficial effect on carbohydrate tolerance in diabetic patients. In general, Panax improves the balance of functions in the body. It is a valuable general plant drug for geriatric care. In China, it is also used during labour. As a demulcent, it is helpful for coughs, colds and various chest problems. Enhanced blood alcohol clearance has also been demonstrated.

Combinations: Panax may be combined with Turnera and Serenoa in glandular weakness. In China, it is rarely used on its own, but is usually combined with liquorice or Chinese dates. 

Caution: No significant toxicity or drug interactions are known but excessive use can lead to sleeplessness, hypertension, headaches, oestrogenic effects, irritability or other side effects. It should not be used in pregnancy, menstrual irregularities, acute illness, hypertension, or in conjunction with other stimulants (including caffeine-containing drinks). It should not be taken continuously - occasional use or courses of 1 month followed by a 2 month interval are recommended.

Preparation and Dosage:

Regulatory Status: GSL Schedule 2

Single dose in morning

Dried root: 0.6-2g or by decoction

Additional Comments: The name panax is derived from Panacea, the Greek goddess able to 'heal all'. Ginseng has been used in China for over 5000 years. It was known to 9th century Arab physicians, Marco Polo was familiar with it and, when a delegation from the King of Siam visited Louis XIV, they presented him with a root of gintz-aen. The Chinese renshen means 'man root', named after the shape of its thick taproot, and those roots resembling the human form are highly prized, and the best grade roots are worth more than gold. Wild ginseng, particularly that from Manchuria, is considered the best. 

San qui ginseng, Panax notoginseng (Burk.), is probably the most important wound-healing herb in the Chinese pharmacopoeia. It has been used successfully to treat angina pectoris. San qui was also used extensively by the Viet cong during the Vietnam war to increase recovery from gunshot wounds.

Siberian ginseng, Eleutherococcus sentiocosus (Maxim), is reputed to have similar properties to oriental ginseng. It too is a member of the Araliaceae family and grows mainly in eastern Siberia where it is known as the taiga root. It also contains ginsenosides (eleutherosides) and it is said to improve resistance generally, and also provides prophylaxis.

 

Bibliography

Bradley, P.R. (ed.) 1992 British Herbal Compendium, Volume 1, BHMA, Bournemouth.

BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Mabey, R. (ed.) 1991 The Complete New Herbal, Penguin, London.

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The A-Z of Modern Herbalism, Diamond Books, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Polunin, M. and Robbins, C. 1992 The Natural Pharmacy, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.

 

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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ęPurple Sage Botanicals