Ginseng - What is Ginseng?

Ginseng, also known as Ginnsuu in some regions of Asia, mainly China, is any one of eleven distinct species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, belonging to the ''Panax'' genus in the family Araliaceae. 

The English word ginseng derives from a Chinese term that literally translates as "man root" (referring to the root's characteristic forked shape, resembling the legs of a man). 

Ginseng: Tapering root with variable number of lateral roots, 2-12 inches long, tan to reddish brown. Image Credit:

The English pronunciation derives from a southern Chinese reading, similar to Cantonese ''jên shên'' and the Hokkien pronunciation "jîn-sim".

The botanical/genus name ''Panax'' means "all-heal" in Greek, sharing the same origin as "panacea," and was applied to this genus because Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine as a muscle relaxant.

Ginseng grows in the Northern Hemisphere in eastern Asia (mostly northern China, Korea, and eastern Siberia), typically in cooler climates; ''Panax vietnamensis'', discovered in Vietnam, is the southernmost ginseng found.

These articles focuses on the Series Panax ginsengs, which are the adaptogenic herbs, principally ''Panax ginseng'' and ''P. quinquefolius''. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides.

Siberian ginseng (''Eleutherococcus senticosus'') is not a true ginseng, but a different plant that was renamed as "Siberian ginseng" as a marketing ploy; instead of a fleshy root, it has a woody root; instead of ginsenosides, eleutherosides are the active compound. Eleutherosides are classified as another adaptogen.

Both American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) roots are taken orally as adaptogens, aphrodisiacs, nourishing stimulants, and in the treatment of type II diabetes, as well as Sexual dysfunction in men. 

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) grows in rich woods through most of the eastern United States, including the mountains and upper Piedmont of North Carolina.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) grows in rich woods through most of the eastern United States, including the mountains and upper Piedmont of North Carolina.

The root is most often available in dried form, either whole or sliced. Ginseng leaf, although not as highly prized, is sometimes also used; as with the root it is most often available in dried form.

This ingredient may also be found in some popular energy drinks: usually the "tea" varieties or functional foods. Usually ginseng is present in subclinical doses and it does not have measurable medicinal effects. It can be found in cosmetic preparations as well, with similar lack of effect.

Although generally well tolerated, caution is advised when consuming ginseng along with over-the-counter or prescription drugs.

Further Reading

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