Ginsengs and saponins.

Date: Sun, 4 Jun 1995 17:54:29 PST
To: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants discussion list <HERB.TREARN.BITNET>
From: Paul Iannone <p_iannone.POP.COM>
Subject: Re: Richters HerbLetter 95/06/05

: Under chemistry professor Russell Bell, the students conducted a two- stage experiment that showed that the type of steroid compound called saponin in ginseng (Panax) is a vaso-dilator. That is, it opens up the veins and arteries and improves blood flow.

Ginseng saponins are NOT steroid compounds. They are triterpene saponins. Phytosterols, which is what is being referred to as 'steroid compounds,' are a particular subclass of chemicals from the OTHER class of saponins, the steroid saponins. I'm no biochemist, but this misconception, especially in an article on something like impotency, which is almost NEVER treated with ginseng, is especially galling. Impotency is treated most commonly by nourishing the Liver Yin and by REST. Very few cases of modern impotency should be treated with stimulant herbals.

The rest of this article is equally bad. The final paragraphs are particularly distorted:

: It's as a tonic that ginseng is mainly used. It's considered one of the most powerful of medicinal herbs because it helps both Yin and Yang conditions.

The word 'tonic,' though frequently misused as here, is a very poor translation of the word 'Bu,' which means supplement or booster. 'Tonic' means 'increases muscle action'--something ginseng does, but not something that characterizes 'boosters' altogether.

: Yin (passive) and Yang (active) represent the Oriental concept of duality in all things. If they're in balance, you're healthy.

A pretty gross exaggeration, especially given to promote the intake of a single herbal substance never used as such in East-Asian traditional healing.

: If a patient is "low" -- lacks energy and is "passive" -- Chinese doctors diagnose this as a Yin condition and a dose of "hot" ginseng is prescribed as a stimulant.

Such a condition, if Yang Depletion is the reason for it, is not called 'Yin' except by Macrobioticists (it is called Yang Depletion). The only condition under which ginseng is administered without accompaniment is severe blood loss. A dose of 'Hot' ginseng neat is not a common therapy.

: If a patient is hyper, that indicates a Yang condition and "cool" ginseng is prescribed to strengthen their Yin.

American ginseng, _Panax quinquifolium_ , the only Cool form of ginseng, is NOT given to Boost Yin per se. It is given when the Stomach and Lung Qi is depleted and there is also Dryness. Qi Depleted people are NOT hyper. Hyper patients should NOT be treated with ginseng of whatever class. Yin Boosters are used to reduce the hyperactivity--not Qi Boosters.

: "Hot" ginseng comes from Korea and northern China and is used to improve men's sex life.

_Panax ginseng_ comes from Manchuria, yes. Only PREPARED _P. ginseng_ is Hot.

: Canada's ginseng, despite Bell's work, is considered "cool."

And so it is.