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Ginseng Explained

Feeling tired, stressed, need an energiser, something to cope with the strain of living? Ginseng may be the answer. But you might need to consult a herbalist first says Cornelis van Dalen 

Choosing ginseng over the counter is not as easy at it might seem. Herbalists deal with four different types, which originate from  different countries and have different  effects.   


  • Panax Ginseng or white ginseng: neutral in energy. ‘Panax’ derives from the Greek word for panacea.  Of Chinese or Asiatic origin but now also native to North America. 

  •        Korean or Red Ginseng: very hot/strong.

  •       American Ginseng: cooling.

  •       Siberian Ginseng (eleutherococcus senticosus) : mild in energy.  A relative of Panax ginseng. Used as a general tonic and most widely promoted for general sale.

Traditionally, ginseng has long been valued as a powerful and important Qi (Chi) tonic to aid the heart, and calm the anxious spirit. 

Modern uses of ginseng  

  • To improve physical and mental endurance

  • Stimulate an immune response. American Ginseng is amongst the strongest immune tonics used in conjunction with other herbs.

  • Improve glucose balance (homoeostasis), in diabetic patients

  • Improve male potency (erectile function)

  • Cardiovascular benefits (stabilise blood pressure – but can have negative effect, see below)

  • For stress (exerts benefits on adrenal and pituitary glands)

  • For asthma, Chinese and Korean ginseng is used to build up the body when in a state of deficiency (pale complexion, weak pulse, shortness of breath etc)

  • 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

Dangers from overdose

Taken for too long, ginseng can cause headaches, high blood pressure, palpitations, and insomnia. Generally, it is safe to take for a month, and then should not be taken for a period of at least two weeks.  Ginseng is positively not recommended for patients who suffer from high blood pressure, headaches, night sweats and flushing. 

Getting the best ginseng

Ginseng has a long growing period. When harvested early, the root has lesser potency or efficacy. Unscrupulous merchants will sell immature root at a high price.

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 consumer demand, American ginseng was imported in large quantities and is now used regularly.  

Quality controls were created in 1992, but it is still difficult to maintain a consistent standard. With ginseng, the strength of the herb is dependent on its age and growing conditions. There is no guarantee that the active ingredient (ginsenocides or eleutherosides) is present in sufficient amounts or quality to give tonic properties. 

Ginseng is traditionally combined with other herbs, to create a beneficial balance, when prescribed by herbalists.  Successful prescribing depends upon a close understanding of the patient’s symptoms. For this reason, I cannot advise on buying ginseng over the counter without a personal consultation. 

Remember that herbs alone are not the saviours of health. Whole food diets are the cornerstone for regeneration of body and mind. Herbs are only an adjunct to the regenerative process. They are often powerful herbs with strong medicinal content and should be used cautiously in the normal diet.  


Cornelis van Dalen has more than ten years experience in the Naturopathic approach to health and well-being. He is Secretary-General of the Association of Naturopathic Practitioners (ANP).

For 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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