There are a number of plants called ginseng; a websearch (I don't recommend it, you'll get from 16000 to 90000 pages to wade through) will turn up a lot of different plants, not always correctly named:
- Ginseng, Asian (Panax ginseng)
- also including Korean Red Ginseng, which is processed, making the root red and giving it a bit differing properties from the unprocessed yellowish-white ginseng root
- Ginseng, American (Panax quinquefolius)
- Ginseng, "Siberian" (Eleutherococcus senticosus) - better to call this Eleuthero, as it isn't a true ginseng.
- Ginseng, "Brazilian" (Pfaffia paniculata) - better to call this Suma, as it isn't a true ginseng.
- Ginseng, "Indian" (Withania somnifera) - better called Ashwagandha, as it isn't a true ginseng
While not all of these are ginsengs, they are all adaptogens. Adaptogens help you with your general stress response. The definition of an adaptogen is that it lets mice swim for longer in their bucket of water before they drown; it will also give you more stamina.
Further adaptogens are for example:
- Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
- Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
- Rose root, gold root (Rhodiola rosea or Sedum roseum)
- Maral root (Stemmacantha carthamoides. (Leuzea rhaponticum, L. carthamoides, Rhaponticum carthamoides)), a Russian plant - you use the root and/or seeds.
This is only a partial list. In any list of adaptogens you will find at least one plant that isn't found in any other adaptogen list.
There are some practical considerations:
On the herblist Aug. 1994:
>Could someone be kind enough to summarize the possible adverse effects of ginseng? I've been taking a popular brand for a month now and am generally happy with the effect on a chronic sinus problem and energy levels, but beginning to feel kind of strung out ... I am drinking caffeine and wonder if this could be a problem. Also need to know about possible adverse interactions with prescription drugs such as blood pressure medications.
From Jonathan Treasure <jonno.teleport.com>:
Woah...."Ginseng Abuse Syndrome" is even recognised by the AMA. You do not mention what kind of Ginseng or how much. I will defer to the TCM people on this list to give wither you from the Chinese view but ... surely you're not really doing coffee and ginseng? Oh dear oh dear ... tut tut.
- It is nonsensical to take caffeine and ginseng together regularly. You will stress your adrenals (*get strung out*) and possibly raise your *stress threshold* to a danger point.
- Ginseng should be used with extreme caution in hypertensive situations especially if under medication.
- Sinusitis? Not the *usual* prescription. Pass.
- Toxic signs - not uniformly predictable but can include hypertension, euphoria, nervousness, skin eruptions, morning diarrhea.
- Contraindications - nervous anxiety, nervous tension, hypertension, disturbed menstruation, stimulant or rec. drug abuse, good vitality in younger persons.
Most recommend taking as a tonic for a period then alternating without e.g. 3 weeks on 2 weeks off.
> the Peterson guide I have on edible wild plants recommends wild American ginseng as a trail nibble...
If you did happen to find a Wild American ginseng, you should leave it right where it is! Shame on Peterson. The plant is rare, and probably endangered throughout its range.
On alt.folklore.herbs June 1995:
> I've heard the ads for ginseng pills - are they worth the money? If so, are all brands the same?
You definitely want to buy from a reputable company. According to Professor Wang at the University of Alberta, researchers found that many prepackaged ginseng products had a major shortcoming designed to fool the consumer. You guessed it ... no ginseng.
The UP side of poison ivy
Rarely mentioned but soon enough found out, ginseng and poison ivy are childhood sweethearts: they grow up in the same neck of the woods. If you go digging ginseng in the Cumberlands of Tennessee, you will get poison ivy -- all over your fingers. With common roots in the forest loam, the one looks out for the other.
But if that's not sufficient protection, the 'sang has yet another look-out in the plant kingdom: Virginia creeper. A master of disguise, ginseng sets up housekeeping in the thick of creeper beds. Takes a covite to tell them apart; the untutored need not apply.
Cumberland ginseng endangered? Don't think so. Most of the knowledgeable diggers have sense enough to harvest after the seeds have matured, and don't have to be told to replant from what they've dug. If there's to be "more where that came from" (talking car payments), they know they have to replant. It's city slickers, out for a test drive of their bean boots, we got to look out for. For their advancement, thank we heavens, there is poison ivy.
Alex Standefer (astandef.seraph1.sewanee.edu)
> I had read somewhere that women should not take ginseng on a regular basis (I'm cutting back from six capsules to two per day), but was told by a friend that Siberian ginseng is suitable for women to take.
Ginseng shouldn't be used as a stimulant, but where needed it can be taken for comparatively long periods by children, women, old people, anyone.
I have many female clients who take ginseng on a regular basis, in formulas appropriate to their health pattern.
As a general rule Chinese herbalists don't use ginseng by itself.