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Ginseng: Herbal Remedies

Medicinal Uses of Ginseng

As you learned on the previous page, ginseng has been used in herbal remedies for centuries -- now it's time to find out why. Below, you will find the medicinal uses of ginseng and how to prepare it.

Uses of Ginseng

Asian ginseng is used as a general tonic by modern Western herbalists as well as by traditional Chinese practitioners. It is thought to gently stimulate and strengthen the central nervous system in cases of fatigue, physical exertion, weakness from disease and injury, and prolonged emotional stress.


Ginseng's most widespread use is among the elderly. It is reported to help control diabetes, improve blood pressure and heart action, reduce cholesterol levels, and reduce mental confusion, headaches, and weakness among the elderly. Asian ginseng's affinity for the nervous system and its ability to promote relaxation makes it useful for stress-related conditions such as insomnia and anxiety.

Serious athletes may benefit from the use of Asian ginseng with improved stamina and endurance. The Asian species also is reported to be a sexual tonic and aphrodisiac, useful in maintaining the reproductive organs and sexual desire into old age and to help prevent or reverse erectile dysfunction associated with prostate diseases or stress. Animal and human studies have shown Asian ginseng possibly reduces the occurrence of cancer: Ginseng preparations increase production of immune cells, which may boost immune function.

Ginseng contains many complex saponins, referred to as ginsenosides and panaxosides. Ginsenosides have been extensively studied and found to have numerous complex actions, including the following: They stimulate bone marrow production, stimulate the immune system, inhibit tumor growth, balance blood sugar, stabilize blood pressure, and detoxify the liver, among many other tonic effects. Ginseng also contains numerous other constituents, yet no one constituent has been identified as the most active.

In fact, many of the individual constituents have been shown to have opposite actions. Like all plant medicine, the activity is due to the sum total of all the substances.

Ginseng Preparations and Dosage

Due to the widespread and age-old use of ginseng, ways to prepare, ingest, and dose it abound, thus no single recommendation can be made. Ginseng is dried for teas, powdered and encapsulated, candied, tinctured, and made into concentrates and syrups.

Many herbalists recommend using ginseng in an on-and-off pattern of several weeks on and then a week or two off. Not only does ginseng seem more effective this way, but this regimen reduces the likelihood of overstimulation and side effects.

Gingseng Precautions and Warnings

Ginseng is one of the better-researched plants, and no serious toxicity has ever been reported. Many of the symptoms of toxicity associated with taking large doses of ginseng products (such as sleeplessness and irritability) can be traced to adulteration of the ginseng with the toxic herb aconite.

Due to its purported hormonal activity, ginseng should be avoided during pregnancy. Some cases of hypertension are aggravated by ginseng, while others are improved; consult an herbalist, naturopathic physician, or other practitioner trained in the use of herbal medicine for the use of ginseng in hypertension.

Side Effects of Ginseng

The Chinese consider the Asian species Panax ginseng a yang tonic, so it is not used in those who have what traditional Chinese medicine refers to as yang excess, or excess heat. This means that people who are warm or red in the face (such as menopausal women) or those who have high blood pressure or rapid heartbeat should not use Asian ginseng.

American ginseng is much better suited to this type of person. But conversely, American ginseng should not be used in those who are cold or pale or in those with a slow heartbeat. Possible side effects of Asian ginseng use include, curiously, some of the symptoms it is prescribed for: hypertension, insomnia, nervousness, and irritability. Acne and diarrhea are also occasionally reported.

Seek advice from an herbalist or naturopathic physician who can determine if ginseng is appropriate for you and, if so, can recommend an appropriate dose. Due to potential hormonal activity, Asian ginseng can promote menstrual changes and breast tenderness on occasion. The side effects caused by ginseng resolve quickly once the herb is discontinued.

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Jennifer Brett, N.D. is director of the Acupuncture Institute for the University of Bridgeport, where she also serves on the faculty for the College of Naturopathic Medicine. A recognized leader in her field with an extensive background in treating a wide variety of disorders utilizing nutritional and botanical remedies, Dr. Brett has appeared on WABC TV (NYC) and on Good Morning America to discuss utilizing herbs for health.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.