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Ginseng: Great for the Mind and Body

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

Martha Davies shares some of the benefits of this wonder ingredient.

Photo by Jon Flobrant

Ginseng is a slow-growing, fork-shaped plant that is used around the world to treat a variety of ailments. Though the evidence is not conclusive, studies have suggested that it can positively affect brain function, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, among other benefits.

The herb has been consumed as food and medicine across the world since its discovery in the mountains of China over 2000 years ago. Its name derives from the Chinese rénshēn, meaning 'man' and 'plant root', named after its apparent resemblance to the shape of a human body. It was later cultivated by other East Asian countries, even becoming a traditional tea in Korea. In the 18th century, the herb was 'discovered' by missionaries in North America, though it was later revealed that Native Americans had already been using ginseng for while.

Here are some of its uses, advantages, and side effects at a glance (disclaimer: we are not medical professionals, and you should consult your doctor for advice before changing your diet!):

The Basics

  • The ginseng plant has a long root and oval leaves. There are eleven types of ginseng in total. 

  • Fresh ginseng is harvested after four years of growth; it can also be dried and treated until it forms a powder.

  • Asia and North America each boast a different type of ginseng: Asian ginseng is known as Panax ginseng, whereas American ginseng takes the name Panax Quinquefolius. Both regions have been using ginseng for centuries.

  • If you’re thinking of getting your hands on a supplement containing ginseng, it’s best to look out for ginsenosides and gintonin, which are the main active ingredients that make ginseng such a popular and effective herbal medicine.

The Benefits

A Few Things to Note

  • The majority of studies into ginseng have had relatively small sample sizes and varying results, meaning there is inconclusive evidence around the concrete links between ginseng and specific health benefits.

  • Asian ginseng has been reported to have a number of side effects, including headaches, sleep issues, and problems with digestion.

  • Despite its benefits on the brain, research suggests that the effectiveness of ginseng may decrease over time, so it might be best to take it in cycles of a few weeks.

  • If you’re looking to buy some ginseng, make sure to purchase it from a reputable source and in a safe dose.

The Verdict

While more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of ginseng, it is nevertheless widely used to treat specific diseases, and as a supplement to aid general wellbeing. It is particularly useful in supporting the immune system and can help you feel sharper and more energised.


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