Properties and Benefits of Ginseng: While its roots may look like eerie little humans, the ginseng plant (Panax ginseng) ranks high as a favorite medicinal herb worldwide, with China being the largest consumer. The biologically active compounds in ginseng are ginsenosides, saponin terpenes to which the plant owes much of its curative properties.
Although ginseng has been attributed a wide variety of health benefits, not all claims are founded on sound scientifical evidence. For instance, consuming ginseng root will definitely help increase alertness and improve cognitive performance. Moreover, the plant appears to increase stress resistance and immunity and help us keep up with today’s considerably more active living. Unfortunately, ginseng is not for everyone as it can trigger a series of unpleasant side effects if taken in moderate to high doses.
What does ginseng look like? The ginseng plant is a green, broad-leaved bush with clusters of bright red berries resembling a sort of flower. Ginseng roots, the most prized parts of the plant, look like distorted little humans of a creamy white or brown, even reddish brown color, depending on the age of the plant, but most importantly on the variety (American, Korean, etc). In most cases you can easily distiguish major body parts such as the legs, torso, arms, neck and a diformed head which will leave you at least impressed, if not simply weird-out. Apparently, ginseng roots, stems, leaves and berries are all edible.
There are about 11 varieties of ginseng the most notable of which are: Panax ginseng, Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng), Panax notoginseng (or Notoginseng), Panax vietnamensis (Vietnamese ginseng) and Panax zingiberensis.
What does ginseng taste like? Ginseng roots are bitter-spicy with earthy un
dertones. Although the flavor is not overwhelming, chewing on a piece of raw root might need some getting used to. The berries don’t have much of a taste as one might expect. Ginseng root can be eaten as such, made into soup, turned into powder and added to tea and other drinks and foods. Ginseng leaves are dried and used for herbal infusions. The berries can be eaten raw and so can the tender stalks apparently.
However, you need to pay close attention on the amount of ginseng you eat. Moderately small amounts work best.
What are the benefits of ginseng? When consumed in moderation, ginseng boasts several great health benefits such as:
1) Increases alertness.
2) Improves cognitive performance.
3) Increases stress resistance and improves the body’s natural stress coping mechanisms.
4) Stimulates immunity.
It is a well known fact that taking ginseng regularly has an overall potent revitalizing effect on one’s body, boosting endurance and stamina. As a result of its action, it improves both cognitive performance and resistance to physical effort. Moreover, it would appear that ginsenosides, the natural compounds to which ginseng owes its health benefits, help our body deal better with stress, limiting its harmful effects on our health and general well-being. For this reason, ginseng is considered to be an excellent adaptogen. Some studies also suggest that regular consumption of ginseng can help delay aging and even stimulate immunity in view of a better response to bacterial and viral infections causing colds and flu.
Nevertheless, as stated above, ginseng ought to be taken in moderately small amounts. Just as important, you need to make sure that what you are putting into your body is actually ginseng. Numerous brands have been shown to add completely different plants, even dirt or synthetical compounds to so-called ginseng supplements. I recommend you go for the root and, if possible, grow it yourself. If climatic conditions or lack of garden space worry you, then keep your ginseng in a pot. Foraging it from the forest can be an alternative, provided you live in an area where ginseng grows naturally and you known exactly how it looks.
What are the side effects and interactions of ginseng consumption?
1) Possible insomnia, irritability and headaches.
2) Diarrhea and other minor gastrointestinal problems such as nausea and vomiting.
3) Hypertension (high blood pressure), tremors, palpitations, extrasystoles.
4) At the opposite pole, hypotension (low blood pressure), blurred vision and fatigue.
5) Lack of appetite, eczema, bruising and bleeding.
6) Mammary gland sensitivty and possible pain.
7) Seizures and severe mental confusion.
The larger the dose, the more dangerous and prominent the side effects. If you experience any of the above mentioned side effects while taking ginseng, interrupt treatment and seek medical advice at once.
Being quite a powerful natural stimulant, ginseng can alter normal heart rhythm and even blood pressure levels and interfere with sleeping cycles and even emotional stability. Ginseng also contains phytoestrogens, plant compounds similar to the female hormone estrogen, which is why it may alter hormal balances in more sensitive people and cause mammary glands pain or sensitivity. It is recommended that you restrain from eating ginseng if you are prescribed either antidepressant medication or anticoagulants (Coumadin, Uniwarfin and so on). In the latter case, constant or excessive intake of ginseng will cause bruising and bleeding.
Also, pregnant and nursing mothers are advised to avoid ginseng because it may prove harmful for the fetus or newborn baby. In addition to this, the plant may trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals.
As you can see, ginseng is not at all a win-win herb. Despite having several great health benefits, it can do a lot of harm when taken in excessive amounts. If you are lucky enough to be able to enjoy it without suffering the side effects, then good for you. Nonetheless, as with all things, moderation is in order. Use it wisely so you won’t have to deal with its awful side effects.