Herb Blurb
  • Southeast Wisconsin
  • September 2013
Written by 

Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)

Asian ginseng is native to China and Korea, and has been used in various systems of medicine for many centuries. Asian ginseng is one of several types of true ginseng (another is American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius). The herb called Siberian ginseng or eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is not a true ginseng.

Treatment claims for Asian ginseng are numerous and include the use of the herb to support overall health and boost the immune system. Traditional and folk uses of ginseng include: improving the health of people recovering from illness; increasing a sense of well-being and stamina; improving both mental and physical performance; treating erectile dysfunction, hepatitis C and symptoms related to menopause; and lowering blood glucose and controlling blood pressure.

The root of Asian ginseng contains active chemical components called ginsenosides (or panaxosides) that are thought to be responsible for the herb’s claimed medicinal properties. The root is dried and used to make tablets or capsules, extracts and teas, as well as creams or other preparations for external use.

What the science says

Some studies have shown that Asian ginseng may lower blood glucose. Other studies indicate possible beneficial effects on immune function.

Although Asian ginseng has been widely studied for a variety of uses, research results to date do not conclusively support health claims associated with the herb. Only a few large, high-quality clinical trials have been conducted. Most evidence is preliminary — i.e., based on laboratory research or small clinical trials.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) supports studies to better understand the use of Asian ginseng. Areas of recent NCCAM-funded research include the herb’s potential role in treating insulin resistance, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Side effects and cautions

Short-term use of ginseng at recommended doses appears to be safe for most people. Some sources suggest that prolonged use might cause side effects.

The most common side effects are headaches and sleep and gastrointestinal problems.

Asian ginseng can cause allergic reactions.

There have been reports of breast tenderness, menstrual irregularities and high blood pressure associated with Asian ginseng products, but these products’ components were not analyzed, so effects may have been due to another herb or drug in the product.

Asian ginseng may lower levels of blood sugar; this effect may be seen more in people with diabetes. Therefore, people with diabetes should use extra caution with Asian ginseng, especially if they are using medicines to lower blood sugar or taking other herbs, such as bitter melon and fenugreek, that are also thought to lower blood sugar.

Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. 

Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), Herbs at a glance, NCCAM website.

References: Ginseng. Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed at http://naturalstandard.com on May 7, 2009.

Ginseng, Panax. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed at http://naturaldatabase.com on May 7, 2009.

Ginseng root. In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:170–177.

Soldati, F. Ginseng, Asian (Panax ginseng). In: Coates P, Blackman M, Cragg G, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker; 2005:265–277.

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