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What is ginseng used for?

The genus Panax includes many varieties of this small perennial herb. The common names of Panax ginseng include Oriental, Chinese or Korean ginseng; Panax quinquefolium is the strain that grows in North America. Herbal extracts of ginseng are prepared from the dried root and root hairs of the plant.

Herbs other than those belonging to the genus Panax also are called ginseng: Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and Brazilian ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata). Neither Brazilian nor Siberian ginseng contains ginsenosides, the presumed active components of ginseng.

Ginseng can be used as a substance that exerts a mild strengthening effect on the body (tonic). Possible conditions for using extracts of ginseng as a tonic are during convalescence, fatigue or debility or for declining capacity for work and concentration.

Dose: Ginseng is available in a variety of product types.
  • The recommended daily dose of ginseng is the equivalent of 1 to 2 grams of dried roots.
  • Because more than half of the commercially available ginseng products contain less than effective levels of ginseng, it is advised to buy ginseng from reputable suppliers.
  • Ginseng may be used up to 3 months at a time and use may be repeated.
Cautions: Situations in which use of ginseng is not advised: None.

Side Effects:
  • Ginseng may have possible estrogen-like effects, including postmenopausal bleeding.
  • Early reports that high doses or prolonged use of ginseng could cause sleeplessness, nervousness, diarrhea and elevated blood pressure are now discredited.
  • Many sources still mention other side effects based on a report by Siegel. Several authors have since rejected the conclusions of this report because of flawed research methods.

Drug interactions: Ginseng may interact with the antidepressant prescription medication phenelzine. Ginseng may interact with some migraine medications.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Ginseng is a root that has been used for a long time in Eastern medicine to increase energy. Recently, medical reports claim that ginseng can boost the immune response and white blood cell count. As with most herbs, ginseng has undergone very few rigorous studies, so most of our information comes from personal testimonials and word-of-mouth. One study linked ginseng to a reduced incidence of the common cold and flu, but another showed that mice fed ginseng actually had damage to the immune system. The ginseng mice had more illness and aged more rapidly than they would have normally. Some claim that the American variety of ginseng, not the Asian variety, has more active properties. Some reports indicated ginseng should not be used for more than approximately two weeks at a time.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.