American Ginseng

American ginseng Panax quinquefolius

Chinese ginseng P. ginseng

Siberian ginseng Eleutherococcus senticosus


Poor Man’s ginseng - Codonopsis pilosula - CAMPANULACEAE

Names such as wonder-of-the-world, root-of-life, seed-of-the-earth and life-forever-lasting make it easy to see: ginseng has quite a reputation. Ginseng's use dates back to prehistoric times; the Chinese have called upon it for at least five thousand years. A Chinese medical document, written during the first century, stated ginseng is useful for "enlightening the mind and increasing wisdom...continuous use leads to longevity."

All the ginsengs are relatively interchangeable as rejuvenating tonics. Many people believe ginsengs are a cure-all. Science agrees: ginseng roots are energizing, rejuvenating, immunoprotective, immune-modulating and adaptogenic.

Ginseng roots are loaded with antioxidants, phytosterols and glycosides, and offer an abundant supply of essential fatty acids, minerals, B vitamins and vitamin E, plus saponins. Beneficial effects are cumulative. I suck or chew on a piece of dried root about the size of my pinky nail, drink half a cup of infusion or take 10-40 drops of tincture one to three times a week. Honey with fresh ginseng roots is a special, energy-nourishing boost. The effects of ginseng are neutralized by vitamin C, so I avoid vitamin C rich foods for three hours before or after taking my ginseng. Ginseng's effects are doubled when taken with foods high in vitamin E, such as nuts, sunflower seeds, fresh nut butters or olive oil.   

Ginseng root is a superb ally for mature women. Its phytosterols and nutrients are especially nourishing to the endocrine (hormone) glands. Regular use relieves hot flashes, night sweats, menopausal headaches, emotional swings and digestive upsets. I often combine it with dong gui (Angelica sinensis). Many First Nations, including Cherokee and Penobscot, revere ginseng as a womb-strengthening, fertility-enhancing female tonic. As a panacea, ginseng is used to treat a wide array of disorders. The Creek call upon it to stop hemorrhage.

An ancient Chinese legend about the origins of ginseng recalls its use as a fertility aid. Long ago and far away, a young childless wife, frantic to become pregnant before her husband took a concubine, had a dream.

An old man living on a mountain, actually a divine being, gave her ginseng. When she bore a child, her gratitude so moved him, he filled the woods with ginseng in her honor. Ginseng has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, enhancing libido and providing the energy needed to follow through. Regular use nourishes and energizes female and male sexuality, even successfully treating impotence. Combining ginseng with ginkgo insures adequate peripheral circulation to the sex organs. Delaware, Mohican, Fox and Appalachians all used ginseng as an aphrodisiac, and to treat a variety of sexual ills. Menominee used ginseng as a mental stimulant.

An invaluable aid in regulating blood sugar, regular use helps reduce risk of adult onset diabetes and eases hypoglycemic mood swings. Clinically proven to lower blood pressure, ginseng nourishes and strengthens the heart and circulatory system, increasing beneficial high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and reducing harmful low-density ones (LDL).   

Ginseng's ability to nourish the nervous system and adrenal glands makes it an excellent ally for those under physical or mental stress. Regular use rebuilds vitality, increases energy and stamina, reduces fatigue, promotes deep sleep and improves memory, clarity and ability to concentrate.

Athletes and bodybuilders use ginseng to enhance muscle growth and efficiency without pushing the body's natural limits (the way synthetic steroids do). Synthetic anabolic steroids can cause liver damage, enlarged prostate, breast enlargement, testicular atrophy and sterility or greatly decreased sperm count. Health-promoting ginseng, which contains steroidal saponins - precursors to anabolic steroid production in the body - is a superior choice.   

Ginseng is considered a yin tonic by the Chinese. Some claim ginseng is a yang tonic, to be used only by males, but this is quite simply not true, although ginseng definitely does have special gifts to offer men. My experiences agree with those of Chinese and traditional First Nations herbalists: ginseng's energies help both sexes. Two of the healthiest people I know run a small general store in town. Although over 80, they both have radiant smiles and incredible energy. They use ginseng regularly, and have done so for years.   

WARNING! Do not use any ginseng if you are pregnant, have hypertension or are suffering a fever. If you feel jittery or over stimulated when taking ginseng, discontinue use. 

Wild roots of either the Chinese or American species are considered the most potent and effective and are therefore the most sought after. But due to over-harvesting, ginseng root is now at risk and rare in the wild, even in the areas where it once grew abundantly. If you find ginseng growing wild, honor it, examine it closely and thank it for showing itself to you, but do not dig it up. Consider taking a few leaves instead. If it is fall and you see red berries ripe with seed, scatter and bury these seeds in the forest floor. For your own use, find commercially available roots that are woods-grown and organic. Those ginseng roots that most closely resemble the human body are believed to be the most potent of all.

In 1978, scientists at Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science reported 25 percent of the ginseng products tested contained nary a trace of the herb. A year later, Whole Foods magazine agreed, adding "60 percent of the ginseng products were judged worthless." These studies are forty years old, but worth keeping in mind.

Flower Essence Imparts vitality, strength and support. Helps release fear of expressing one’s true self and accepting personal power.

Magical Lore casts ginseng as an herb of protection and wish manifestation, especially in regards to love, sexual potency and health. Old wives hold a small piece of root in hand and visualize the wish or desire, and then toss the root into a body of water. Greeks believe an amulet of ginseng root deters ghosts.

Culture A well-drained place near the edge of a hardwood forest, especially a northern or northwestern slope under maples trees, is a good spot to grow your own ginseng. Prepare a deep, humus-rich bed with compost and leaf trim worked well into the top layer of soil, and plant seed or year-old roots in the fall.

It takes five to seven years to get a ginseng root substantial enough for harvesting, but the longer it grows the stronger it will be. One Russian ginseng root was reported to be 400 years old.

We have a dream that the once plentiful American ginseng plant will again grow abundantly, at least in our little area of the world, and we are working to make this a reality.

A ginseng plant emerging from the soil is powerful looking. It comes up in a tightly wound spiral, like a claw, and gradually opens into a beautiful plant like no other, with two sets of five fine-toothed leaves. As the plant matures, further sets of leaves extend. A single terminal umbel with greenish-white flowers blooms from the second or third year on, becoming bright red berries by fall.

Dig roots in the fall. Dry by hanging or on screens. I make ginseng tinctures in alcohol using either fresh roots or dry and like to add fresh green ginseng leaves to the tincture as well. Infuse only fresh roots in honey for best results.

Relieves exhaustion, rebuilds vitality, fertility. Long-revered adaptogen with immune-enhancing, immune-modulating and rejuvenating properties. One of my most trusted herbal allies and favorite plants to grow and be with. 

Part used - root and leaf.

Dosages - Tincture - 30-60 drops daily

Standard infusion - 4 oz. 1-3 times daily

Syrup - 1 tablespoon 1-3 times daily

WARNING! Avoid large doses if taking warfarin.


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