Thursday, April 15, 2010

Adaptogens Part 3: Ginseng

Happy Thursday!

What do you think about maca? Pretty powerful stuff, I'de say, and I'm so glad to be able to use it in my life. I'm going to be honest, I was pretty emotional and distant this morning because I let some stuff get to me. So, I decided to add some maca on top of my toast. Yep, toast! I put almond butter and cinnamon usually but I actually enjoyed having the maca on there as well. You know what? I do feel better, my emotions don't feel like they are at the top of my throat trying to force out the tears. So, ya I'm thinking there is something to rave about here! Today, I want to talk about ginseng and what it has to offer.

Ginseng has been used for thousands of years primarly in Asian nations, but in North America as well. The English word "ginseng"derives from the Chinese word renshen which literally means "man roots"referring to the shape of the root which resembles the legs of a man. Ginseng is one of 11 distinct species of slow-growing perennials with fleshy roots. Ginseng belongs to the Genus Panax which means "all-heal." Ginseng is considered to be the quintessential adaptogenic herb. In Chinese health practice there is a theory of li qi which means "balance of energy." Lab animals and humans that consume ginseng have been found to adapt to dark and light more easily, perform work more efficiently, and in general, adapt to a wide range of stressors more efficiently.

The mechanism by which ginseng helps humans cope with stress is believed to be due to the peripheral and neurogenic stimulation of the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex is located on top of the kidneys. Check my previous post to see more about this.

The main active components of ginseng are its saponins, known as ginsenosides. Thirty six of these have been discovered in Panax ginseng. Ginseng contains the following phytochemical constituents:

  • Panaxin and related compounds which act as stimulants to the midbrain, the heart, and blood vessels

  • Panax acid which is a stimulant for the heart and general metabolism

  • Panaquilin which acts as a stimulant for internal secretions

  • Panacen and other volatile oils which stimulates the central nervous system

  • Vitamin A, B1, B2, and C

  • Lowers blood sugar

  • Bio-organic germanium (GE) which is a powerful immunostimulant

  • A glycoside fraction that has been demonstrated to possess significant antioxident activity

The uses of ginseng is beyond what I expected! Ginseng tonics are used for:

  • General weakness

  • Poor appetite

  • low sex drive

  • shortness of breath

  • cold limbs

  • spontaneous sweating

  • premature aging

  • increased physical and mental efficiency

  • improved concentration

  • a sleep aid

  • improved memory

  • improved mental ability in the elderly

  • speeding up recovery from illness and surgery

  • its cancer fighting abilities

  • tonifying the kidneys

When ginseng is taken for an extended period of time, the physiological changes that take place last for a long time after the ginseng is discontinued. For example, people who take ginseng to help regulate their blood sugar level will maintain normal blood sugar for several weeks after discontinuing the ginseng. Pretty cool, hey?

Also, ginseng shows double-direction activity at virtually every level of action. For example, many studies have show that ginseng elevates blood pressure in cases in cases of hypotension or shock, but restores blood pressure to its normal levels in cases of hypertension. Again, an example of adapting to whatever needs the body has. Another example is the significatantly improved utilization of gycogen and the reduced accumulation of lactic acid and acetoacetic acid. This reduces fatigue from metabolic activities.

Here is another list of what ginseng has to offer:

  • Counteracts the shrinkage of the adrenal glands caused by corticosteroid drugs
  • Increases RNA and protein content in the muscle and liver tissue of lab animals
  • Extracts of ginseng have been shown to be mild tranquilizing, analgesic, and relaxant of muscles
  • Has gonadotropin-like action (influential on the gonads)
  • Human studies have shown ginseng is effective in the treatment of impotence and some types of infertility
  • antagonizes convulsions caused by cocaine and strychnine

No other herb in the world comes in more varities and grades than ginseng. The older, the richer the flavor, the wilder, and the more aromatic, the better the quality of the ginseng. Below is a list of some forms of ginseng that belong to this genus:

  • Wild Ginseng Root
  • North Korean Red Ginseng
  • South Korean Reg Ginseng
  • Chinese Shih Chu Red Ginseng
  • Changbai Mountain Red Ginseng
  • Jilin Commerical-grade Red Ginseng
  • White Ginseng

Another member of this genus is Panax quinquefolius or American Ginseng. This variety performs differently than its Asian cousins. It contains the qi tonic which provides energy, adaptability, and heightened alertness. This form is especially good for endurance due to its increasing capacity. It is also a yin tonic which is cooling by nature. This is good for people who have high metabolisms, high energies, aggression, high blood pressure, or have ruddy complexions. In China they use the American Ginseng to help tonify the lungs in people with dry coughs caused by smog or smoking. It also promotes secretions of bodily fluids. This is especially strengthening to new mothers.

Siberian Ginseng or Eleutherococcus senticosus is actually not true ginseng but is a different plant that was named for marketing advantages. Instead of having a fleshy root, it has a woody root. It still contains powerful compounds that are considered adaptogenic. But for simplicity sake I'm not going to go into them here.

Ginseng is available everywhere (online and in stores) and as you can see it offers some amazing benefits. Do you use ginseng? I currently don't use it but after doing the research for this post, I'm thinking I should!

Have a wonderful Thursday everyone. Last but not least in the adaptogen series is Tulsi!


Lauren said...

I'm loving your adaptogen series! I'm learning so much.

I am a huge fan of tea and I have so many different kinds, lots of herbal blends and such. The thing is, I've always avoided drinking the ones with ginseng at night because I thought that ginseng was a stimulant (which, as you say, it is) and I have bad insomnia. But you also said that ginseng is used as a sleep aid. So now I'm wondering if I should rethink my no ginseng at night rule?

Thanks for another awesome post! <3

Melissa said...

Lauren- Thank you so much for reading, I appreciate it soo much:) I love, love my tea too. It's such an amazing world of flavors and health benefits!
So, I checked about the ginseng and my sources say that it is an inhibitor of the higher nervous activity but it is a greater stimulant. My other source confirmed this as well. So, yes ginseng would not be suitable if you have insomnia..sorry for the confusion!

Nelly said...

hi melissa, not sure how i missed this one!

i knew that ginseng had many many healing properties...

have you heard of the benefits of turmeric tea???


kelli said...

great information! i love ginseng. with veggie sushi...mmm!