hat is Ginseng? There is good reason why you may not know your ginseng so well. Although ginseng is one of the most well known herbs or supplements it is also the most misunderstood. Most people have heard of “ginseng”, for example it ranks #1 in the Ebay search word for “herbs and botanicals”.
Ginseng has a remarkable history going back over 2,000 years in written medical documentation, and many estimates place its use as a natural healing herb going back over 5,000 years! Ginseng has been used to prevent and cure an extraordinary catalog of human ailments, from diabetes to mental/neural dysfunction, to sexual function and waning libido, fatigue, cardio vascular health, adrenal stress, and even cancer. Ginseng is considered by many herbalists as the world’s most complete adaptogen. Wait!!! Before you compare ginseng to your favorite adaptogen, one point needs to be clarified: not all ginseng is the same!
Over 5,000 Clinical and Research Studies
In the 20th Century, Japanese and Russian scientists discovered and cataloged the active ingredients unique to ginseng: plant saponins called Ginsenosides. This began an explosion of research, resulting in over 5,000 published clinical and research studies to date and growing. There is a substantial body of scientific literature published primarily in Korea, Japan, China and Russia. In the last 15 years there has been a growing number of German and American studies.
What is Ginseng? Is All Ginseng the Same? What Does It Do?
First let’s look at ginseng’s official classification, which is revealing: “Panax Ginseng”. Panax comes from the Greek word Panacea, which, according to Webster’s, is “a remedy for all ills or difficulties, a cure-all.” Wow, that is quite a name. Why this name? For over 2,000 years ginseng was used as the leading medical treatment for both physical and mental illness. In the last 30 years much of ginseng’s efficacy has been verified by scientific research.
The Ginseng Challenge
Here is the ginseng challenge: Not all ginseng has the same efficacy. In fact, its efficaciousness varies widely depending on classification and how it is processed. So let’s take a look at what makes the difference.
Classes of ginseng vary primarily according to where it grows. What are the different types? Korean Ginseng: “Panax CA Meyer”, Japanese Ginseng: “Panax Japonicus”, American Ginseng: “Panax Quinquefolius”, Chinese Ginseng (AKA Pseudo-Ginseng or Tianqi in Chinese): “Panax Notoginseng”. Are we missing Indian Ginseng? No, that’s not ginseng it is “Ashwaganda”. Surely we are missing Siberian Ginseng? No, that’s also not ginseng, that is “Eleuthrococcus senticosus”.
How do classifications compare? Classifications are determined mainly by where the Ginseng is grown which affects the shape and the ingredients. The key difference is the number of different types of main Ginsenosides. Korean Ginseng has 38, American has 13, Chinese has 14 and Japanese has 6. Why is this important? At its core ginseng is an adaptogen which brings your body into homeostasis, where healing is optimized. The more types of Ginsenosides, the broader range of adaptogenic effect. In this limited article we will focus on Korean Ginseng, “Panax Ca Meyer” which has the most types of ginsenosides. We also will focus on cultivated ginseng since wild-grown ginseng is very rare and not generally available.
Processing of Korean Ginseng
Here is one of the main ginseng misconceptions: Most people think that Red Panax Ginseng from 6 year roots that are peeled is the best ginseng. However, science tells a completely different story. Red ginseng is processed with high temperature steam that creates the red color. White ginseng is only sundried with no extraneous heat, creating the white color. The optimal harvest time is 4-5 years for maximum Ginsenoside density and balance, by 6 years the root has less density and balance. Whole roots are far superior to peeled roots, as the fine rootlets carry some of the most important ingredients. The hot steam used to make red ginseng does help to liberate Ginsenosides, but it destroys all of the vitamins, removes all of the organic Germanium, and degrades the amino acid profile.
There is a very important final process used to create high-efficacy white ginseng extract. This is a slow, low-heat vacuum extraction process which results in the extract providing more Ginsenosides than red ginseng extract. (Analysis of Ginsenosides of White and Red Ginseng Concentrates, Chung Ang Department of Food Science and Technology, Chung-Ang University, 4/14/03)
One point is very important regarding why Ginseng works. It is not just the Ginsenosides, it is all the ingredients in combination which provide such a remarkable effect: the phenols, lipids, 18 essential fatty acids, 6 vitamins, 7 amino acids, 8 essential amino acids, fatty acids, and 18 minerals, including organic gemanium and polyacetylene. Many of these ingredients are reduced and lost with the high heat steaming used to make red ginseng.
A key word in considering the efficacy of ginseng extracts is “balancing”. The most efficacious ginseng extract comes from whole unpeeled 4- or 5-year-old roots extracted using slow low-heat vacuum extraction. This kind of extract has the broadest range of Ginsenosides and retains all the other ingredients and the broadest adaptogenic affect.
This combination of 4-year roots, not peeling, sun drying, slow low-heat vacuum extraction is a very expensive and time-consuming process. The result is a ginseng extract that provides the most powerful, uniform and reliable homeostatic results.
A Common Misconception about Korean Panax Ginseng
When we study the history of Korean Panax Ginseng we find that it is a completely balancing herb and considered a sweet herb with both Yin and Yang characteristics, depending on how it is processed. “Sheng Nung Pen Ts’ao Ching” (book of herb)
However, in today’s red-ginseng-dominated market, there is a broad consensus among herbalists, chiropractors, and TCM physicians that Korean Panax Ginseng is a very Yang and heating herb and therefore it should be used for a toning purpose for a short time, mainly for those who are “Yang deficient”. The concept is that American Ginseng, “Panax Quinquefolius”, is a less Yang affecting and more Yin herb and should be used for ongoing daily use. However, the concept applies to the predominant red ginseng and red ginseng extract. It does not apply to the white ginseng extract process described above.
Confusion in Ginseng Research
In reviewing the clinical research on ginseng you will find that many studies offer mixed results. As you have learned above, there is a broad difference in efficacy between the different types and processes for ginseng. Another significant factor surfaces when you study the clinical research. The amount of ginseng used in Western studies is normally only 1/3 or less than the amount used in Eastern studies. This also creates lack of consistency in the findings.
A final area of concern is the predominance of in vitro in animal studies, a common problem with natural products vs. pharmaceuticals due to the well-known financial structure of our healthcare system. However, ginseng results are so universal that more human trials are underway.
Today, Doctors can participate in a longitudinal case study being performed by the Bio Energy Medicine Research Institute “BEMRI”. Each participating physician receives over $1,200 worth of an enzyme fermented high-absorption ginseng (patent pending) for testing with 3 patients.
To learn more Contact BEMRI at (440) 463-1083 or go to www.BEMRI.com
Ronald K. Gilbert, D.C., CCSP, NMD
B.S. 1984, Va Commonwealth Univ.
1985, Diplomate, National Board of Chiropractic Examiners
D.C 1986, Northwestern College
CCSP 1988, Parker College, Sports Medicine
1992 , American Board of Chiropractic Orthopedics
NMD 2002, St Luke School of Naturopathic Medicine,,
ND 2002, Commission on Certification of Naturopathic Physicians
2002 ,100 hr. Post-Grad Internal Medicine, National University of Health Sciences.
David C Konn
Double Major Psychology and Kinesiology
Macalester College, St Paul MN
CEO Neuro Energies Inc.
Regional President of Empowered Doctor
Managing Director, Ilhwa North America