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   Ginseng – herb or drug?

                                        June 2007


Ginseng – herb or drug?

Cornelis van Dalen explains


Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant

The word ginseng is said to mean ‘the wonder of the world’, because of the healing and health-giving properties of this herb. Traditionally, it has been used by the Chinese to provide energy, prolong life and to remove mental and bodily fatigue. The prepared root is chewed by the sick to recover health, and by the healthy to increase vitality.

There are four types of ginseng, each providing different kinds or degrees of energy.

White ginseng:  neutral, a general tonic
Red - usually Korean or Chinese:  very hot/strong
American: cooling
Siberian: mild tonic

Traditional uses of ginseng

  • As a powerful tonic, benefits the heart, calms the spirit

  • For dyspepsia, vomiting and nervous disorders

  • As a remedy for consumption (TB) and other lung diseases

  • An aid for fatigue and the infirmities of old age

Modern uses of ginseng


  • Improve physical and mental endurance

  • Stimulate an immune response. America Ginseng is amongst the strongest immune tonics

  • Improve glucose balance (homoeostasis), in diabetic patients

  • Improve male potency

  • Cardiovascular effects (stabilise blood pressure – but can raise it if overused)

  • For stress (exerts beneficial effects on adrenal and pituitary glands)

  • For asthma (Chinese and Korean varieties) is used for ‘cool type’ symptoms (pale complexion, weak pulse, shortness of breath etc). Not for ‘hot’ asthma until heat signs have been reduced through diet and other herbs

  • To counter the effects of radiation (x-rays, microwaves, TV’s, mobile phones etc)

  • For loss of appetite and digestive symptoms due to mental and nervous exhaustion

Ginseng is best combined with other herbs to create a healthy balance and ideally is taken following consultation with a herbalist.

Experts advise that ginseng should be taken for a few weeks only and then stopped for a period. Taken for too long, ginseng can cause headaches, high blood pressure, palpitations and insomnia. Ginseng is not suitable for patients who suffer from high blood pressure, are subject to headaches, night sweats and flushing.

Standardised extracts or pseudo herbalism?

The Chinese as far back as 1750 found that ginseng was in such demand that their indigenous supply of the root was diminishing. To satisfy the consumer demand, American Ginseng was imported in large quantities.

It is helpful to remember that powerful herbs and strongly medicinal foods ought to be used cautiously in the normal diet. A Chinese folk saying warns, “Healthy people who regularly use medicines become ill.”

If the use of ginseng appeals to the patient, it is better to seek the advice and diagnosis of a traditional herbalist, who may offer better alternatives, more effective for the overall condition of the patient.


Cornelis van Dalen has more than ten years experience in the Naturopathic approach to health and well-being. He is a published writer and speaker on the subject of alternative and complementary therapies. He is the Secretary-General of the Association of Naturopathic Practitioners (ANP). Go to  

If you have any questions regarding courses in Naturopathy and Complementary Medicine (Homoeopathy, Herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine), you are invited to contact the CNM Head Office, at Unit 1, Bulrushes Farm, Coombe Hill Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19 4LZ. Telephone 01342 410 505, Fax 01342 410 909, or e-mail :  or go to  The CNM has colleges in London, Manchester, Exeter, Belfast, Dublin and Galway.



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