Ginseng should be incorporated into your diet for many reasons. Ginseng benefits include its ability to improve mood and memory, its cancer-fighting properties, its energy-boosting properties, its ability to help strengthen the cardiovascular system, and even the prevention of diabetes.
For well over 2,000 years, ginseng has been an indispensable herb found in most apothecaries across Asia, often used to remedy various ailments and health conditions. An important component of Chinese medicine and utilized by Native Americans in North America, ginseng benefits have been consistently proven, as has its effectiveness in healing a wide variety of ailments.
There are numerous species of ginseng, chief among them being Panax ginseng, found in China and Korea; Panax japonicum, found in Japan; and Panax quinquefolium, native to North America. Another similar plant, Eleutherococcus senticosus, also known as Siberian ginseng or Eleuthero, is not actually related to true ginseng but exhibits many of the same benefits and healing properties. For our purposes, we will focus on the most commonly used American and Chinese/Korean species.
Ginseng is a perennial herb that grows best in moist, rich soil in mature hardwood forests. The total time from seed to maturation may be several years, and its market value is quite substantial, ranging from $300-$1,000 per pound of dried root. Once found in high concentrations across North America, it is now more difficult to wild harvest, due to its status as an endangered or protected species in some states. “American ginseng was added to the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES treaty) in the 1970’s to help ensure that the harvest and sale of ginseng roots would not be detrimental to the survival of the species,” says Tanner Filyaw, Non-Timber Forest Products Manager for the non-profit Rural Action.
Many organizations, including plant and herb nurseries, sell seeds and rootstock for home production in an attempt to reduce the impact of harvest on plants in the wild. According to Filyaw, part of the focus of these organizations is “encouraging private forest landowners to grow wild-simulated ginseng in their woodlands as a way to earn supplemental income, and help conserve wild ginseng populations by providing the market with sustainably cultivated alternatives.”
Ginseng root (the part of the plant that is used) contains a variety of important vitamins and minerals, as well as active compounds called ginsenosides. Although numerous different ginsenosides have been identified, there are nine main compounds that have thus far shown the most healing potential. The root is often dried, powdered, and put into capsules, or taken as a tincture, tea, or decoction.
Although by no means exhaustive, the following list highlights several of the most common ginseng benefits. As with all herbal supplementation, it is always a good idea to do further research on the herb using reputable sources, as well as check with your doctor to make sure there will be no adverse effects with medications or other treatments you may be taking.
Ginseng Benefits For Healthier Living
1. General Energy Tonic
For thousands of years, ginseng has been used as an all-around energy tonic and wellness booster. Because of its adaptogenic properties and many healing attributes, ginseng can help with a wide range of ailments, from low energy and reduced libido in men, to promoting relaxation and fighting cancer. Ginseng is also believed to be an all-around immune booster and can be an effective addition to an existing preventative health regimen.
The root of this plant (sometimes called man-root because of its resemblance to the human body) is where the powerhouse of healing potential is stored. Healthcare providers who incorporate ginseng recommend taking it in small doses over a long period of time for best results, although some people might experience almost instantaneous energizing effects after taking it.
2. Helps Fight Cancer And Ease Side Effects Of Cancer Treatments
Multiple ginsenosides, the active, healing compounds found in ginseng, have shown promising results in both inhibiting tumor growth and reducing inflammation (one of the precursors to cancer and most other diseases) in the body. Radiation and chemotherapy are the most common conventional forms of cancer treatment, and, although generally effective, they do bring a host of debilitating side effects, chief among them extreme fatigue. Ginseng’s ability to act as an overall energy booster and immune supporting tonic is thought to be effective in the prevention of cancer treatment-related side effects.
3. Beneficial For Those With Diabetes
No longer just a health problem associated with the West, Type 2 diabetes is now affecting people in countries around the world, with the highest growth rates showing up in predominantly Asian countries. Many factors contribute to the spread of diabetes, but the most common are changes in dietary habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Studies with ginseng show that the herb can help in lowering and stabilizing blood sugar levels because it decreases the amount of cortisol found in the blood. Although cortisol has many important functions, when found in high concentrations it can negatively impact metabolism and insulin absorption, two important factors related to diabetic health.
4. Helps Fight Cardiovascular Disease
Much like diabetes, cardiovascular disease was once thought to primarily affect developed countries, due in large part to diet and lifestyle choices. It is now the leading cause of death worldwide. Cardiovascular disease is an ailment related to vascular dysfunction and often manifests as high blood pressure or clogged arteries. When blood flow is impaired, organs can be damaged, causing strokes, heart attacks, and sudden death. Ginseng is helpful in the treatment of cardiovascular disease because it can lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels, relax constricted blood vessels, and it has a general calming effect on the entire body.
Interestingly, ginseng has been shown to both lower and raise blood pressure levels. While no conclusive reason has been found, studies suggest that in low doses, ginseng raises blood pressure but in higher, more concentrated doses, it has the opposite effect and lowers blood pressure. Until there is more definitive evidence, it may be advisable for people with high blood pressure to stay away from ginseng, or at the very least consult a healthcare professional before taking it.
5. Improves Mental Clarity, Mood And Reduces Anxiety
Regular use of ginseng can also help relieve foggy brain, forgetfulness, and general anxiety. As an adaptogen, ginseng helps to process cortisol and other hormones that are produced during periods of high stress or anxiety. That, combined with its remarkable ability to provide mental clarity and focus, makes it a good herb to take in preparation for a busy or stressful day. Ginseng can also be combined with other cognitive enhancing herbs like ginkgo and gotu kola to provide an extra daily boost of focus and energy.
6. Natural Anti-Inflammatory
Ginseng is commonly referred to as nature’s anti-inflammatory. Scientific research has proven ginseng’s anti-inflammatory benefits, and test-tube studies have shown that ginseng extracts and ginsenosides are able to inhibit inflammation and increase antioxidant capacity in human cells. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, foreign bacteria, viruses, and infection, but inflammation in itself is linked to various other health conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic inflammation, caused by things like food allergies, persistent injuries or chronic stress, can cause several health problems over time. Chronic inflammation can damage muscles and internal tissues, cause high blood pressure, cause stiff joints, and encourage the growth of abnormal cells. Luckily, recent research concludes that ginseng can reduce inflammation in patients with health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
Incorporating healthy dietary habits and taking immune-boosting herbs and supplements like ginseng can help provide a sustainable foundation for overall health and wellness. Whenever you can incorporate it into your diet, you certainly should.
Rosanna Keyes is a freelance writer, editor and non-profit office administrator living in the Asheville, NC area. She has a B.S.S. from Ohio University with concentrations in English Literature, Creative Writing, and Geography. She is a passionate advocate for sustainable food production, herbalism and the preservation of wild spaces for plant and animal habitat.
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