Ginseng

Pamax ginseng, Araliaceae. The part that is used is the root.

Ginseng root also known as 'man root' because of its shape, is taken to alleviate conditions ranging from old age to sexual debility. It is 'adaptogenic', that is, it acts according to the body's needs.

Functions of ginseng

Ginseng:

  • stimulates the nervous system and boosts energy,
  • stimulates hormone secretion,
  • lowers blood cholesterol level,
  • protects cells from damage due to radiation and exposure to toxins,
  • enhances memory, concentration and learning,
  • helps to lessen the effects of stress,
  • improves liver detoxification function, and
  • improves appetite, mood and sleep.

Therapeutic uses

Ginseng has an ancient history and has accumulated much folklore about its functions and uses. Many of the claims that surround it are inflated but it is clear that it is a unique plant. It is able to move a person to their physical peak, generally increasing vitality and physical performance. It will raise lowered blood pressure to a normal level and can be used in general for exhaustion and weakness.

Notes on ginseng

  • Ginseng is a source of vitamins, amino acids and trace elements, and acts on both the cardiovascular and central nervous systems, helping to alleviate blood pressure and maintain blood sugar.
  • In Chinese medicine it is used to increase deficient 'chi' or the vital energy of the body.
  • Siberian ginseng is also used as a tonic to enhance balance, and it also has additional functions in the body including making you less susceptible to motion sickness.
  • Ginseng should be taken according to the directions on the packet and should be taken three weeks out of four for the best effect.
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants when taking ginseng.
  • Occasionally, the use of this herb can cause headaches.
  • Avoid large doses or prolonged treatments if you have high blood pressure. Check with your health professional before taking this herb.
  • Do not give products containing ginseng to small children.
  • Ginseng may lower blood sugar levels and thus interact with oral anti-diabetic medications, increasing their effects. Monitor your blood sugar levels closely.
  • Ginseng may interfere with normal blood clotting. Avoid combining this plant with medications that thin the blood, such as aspirin or warfarin. If you are scheduled for surgery, suspend the use of this herb or supplements containing it, at least one week prior to the operation.
  • Do not use continually for more than 3 months, unless under the supervision of a health professional.
  • Avoid taking ginseng at night if you suffer from any sleeping disorder, such as insomnia.

Dosages

The root is often chewed or a decoction is made. Put 1/2 teaspoon of the powdered root in a cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes. This should be drunk three times per day.

For the gardener

Ginseng can be difficult to grow, particularly from seed. It prefers a shady area with a a good loam soil.

Seedlings can be planted out when they are about 6 inches (15 cm) tall. Plant the seedling about 12 inches (30 cm) apart. They need plenty of mulch and water regularly when it is dry.

They need to grow for 4 or 5 years before they are ready for harvesting. The Siberian variety will have stolons (horizontal underground stems). You can dig a trench next to the plant and remove the stolons while leaving the rest of the plant intact.

References

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Hoffmann, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

McIntyre, A. 1995, The Complete Women's Herbal. Henry Holt Reference Books.

Mills, S. Y. 1989, The A-Z of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Thorson.

Sullivan, K. 2002, Vitamins and Minerals: A Practical Approach to a Health Diet and Safe Supplementation. Harper Collins.

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