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: cdfa.ca.gov
The English pronunciation derives from a southern Chinese
reading, similar to Cantonese ''jên shên'' and the Hokkien pronunciation
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
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.
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
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.
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011