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The Panax Ginsengs
For hundreds of years, it was believed that plants had some type of clue indicating their therapeutic uses, commonly referred to as "the doctrine of signatures". For example, the flowers of lobelia are shaped like a stomach and are used as an emetic (a medicine that causes vomiting), and the sap of bloodroot is the color of blood and is used as a blood purifier. So what is ginseng's signature? The roots, the part of the plant that is used medicinally, often bear a strong resemblance to the human body. The ginsengs are used for many conditions, but they are most well-known as adaptogens (general tonics) that benefit adrenal function and enhance the body's response to stress. They increase feelings of energy, physical and mental performance and overall sense of well-being. According to animal studies, the stress-relieving effects of ginseng were similar to Valium but without the side effects like sedation, impaired motor activity and behavior changes. When comparing American versus Korean ginseng, there are some differences between the two although they are from the same genus Panax.
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Korean and American Ginseng
Korean ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng and Asian ginseng, is a small perennial plant that grows in Korea. Asian ginseng also grows in China and Japan. This herb has been used for over 4,000 years to revitalize the mind and body. Once, wars in Asia fought over possession of ginseng fields, and today Asian ginseng that grows in the wild has become almost extinct because of its popularity and it can cost hundreds of dollars for older plants (which are believed by some to be more potent). In 1976, a 400 year old root from China reportedly sold for $10,000 per ounce.
American ginseng, also known as Panax quinquefolius, is a small perennial plant that is native to eastern North America. It was used by the Native Americans and was referred to as "The little man". Daniel Boone, known as a fur trader, actually made a fortune selling wild ginseng, and the Astor family began making their fortune by exporting it to China. Like Korean ginseng, the American species has also been sought after in the wild, and is now classified as endangered, requiring a permit to collect and sell.
American ginseng is often touted as being a "cool" herb when in fact it is not. It is a stimulating herb like Korean ginseng but it has a "cooler", less stimulating effect. The "cooler" ginseng is believed by herbalists to be more appropriate for young adults and the "warmer", more stimulating herb is more suited for people over 50 years of age.
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Other Benefits of Panax Ginsengs
Both ginsengs contain ginsenosides, the substances that are believed to have the medicinal properties, but the types and ratio are different in each herb. Besides acting as a general tonic, the following are other possible benefits according to studies (most studies used Panax ginseng):
- Immune System - Both herbs appear to enhance the immune system.
- Type 2 Diabetes - American ginseng may lower blood glucose levels, but Korean may raise levels.
- Cancer - Both species have been shown to inhibit tumor growth.
- ADHD - American ginseng with Ginkgo biloba may help in the treatment of ADHD.
- Cardiovascular Health - Korean ginseng may decrease bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.
- Alzheimer's Disease - Korean ginseng may improve memory, decrease senility and slow the progression of Alzheimer's.
More research is needed for the above diseases.
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When comparing American versus Korean ginseng, both act as a general tonic but American is less stimulating. Both contain ginsenosides but the types and ratio differ. Both appear to have many health benefits but each may not have the same effect with all diseases.
Before using any herbal supplement, you should consult your health care provider, especially if you have a medical condition or you are pregnant, breastfeeding, giving to a child or taking medications.
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Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine" Prima Publishing 1998
Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D. "Healing Anxiety with Herbs" Harper Collins 1998
University of Maryland Medical Center: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/american-ginseng-000248.htm
University of Maryland Medical Center: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/asian-ginseng-000249.htm
Mountain Rose Herbs: http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/learn/ginseng_root_american.php
Mountain Rose Herbs: http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/learn/redginseng.php
Photo by ruralaction2006 / Flickr
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