Ginseng

Chinese: 人参

Pinyin: Rén Shēn

Parts used: Dried root

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): BitterSweet

Organ affinity: Spleen Heart Lung

Scientific name: Panax ginseng

Use of ginseng (Ren Shen) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: For optimum potency, ginseng needs to be harvested when it is at least 4 years old but the best is a minimum of 7 years. After harvest remove the stems, leaves and small fibrous roots. There are several ways to prepare it. "Raw ginseng" is simply washed and dried. "Sugar ginseng" is picked with needle-sized holes and soaked in sugar water before it is dried. "Red ginseng" is steamed at high temperature for 2 hours before being dried.

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Very strongly tonifies the Qi. Tonifies the Lungs and Spleen. Assists the body in the secretion of Fluids and stops thirst. Strengthens the Heart and calms the Shen (mind/spirit).

Primary conditions or symptoms for which ginseng may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Dyspnea Loss of appetite Palpitations Insomnia Impotence Dehydration Restlessness Fatigue Weak pulse Wheezing

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Yin Deficiency with Heat signs or by those with Heat because of Excess. It should also not be used when there are acute pathogenic conditions. It should be avoided by those with very high blood pressure.

Common TCM formulas in which ginseng (Ren Shen) are used*

Si Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic gastritisPeptic ulcers and others

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Si Jun Zi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Si Jun Zi Tang, Ren Shen is a a powerful tonic for the Spleen Qi. Today however it is often substituted for Codonopsis root (Dang Shen), which plays a similar role and is significantly less expensive.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang

Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. Clears Phlegm and mucus. Promotes appetite.

Conditions targeted*: AnorexiaPeptic ulcers and others

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Liu Jun Zi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Liu Jun Zi Tang, Ren Shen is a a powerful tonic for the Spleen Qi. Today however it is often substituted for Codonopsis root (Dang Shen), which plays a similar role and is significantly less expensive.

Read more about Liu Jun Zi Tang

Gui Pi Tang

Source date: 1529 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood. Tonifies Heart and Spleen.

Conditions targeted*: Nervous exhaustionMyasthenia gravis and others

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Gui Pi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Gui Pi Tang, Ren Shen is a very powerful substances for tonifying the Spleen Qi and so is Milkvetch root (Huang Qi), another key herb in this formula.

 

Read more about Gui Pi Tang

Tong Ru Dan

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies the Qi and Blood. Removes Stagnation from the breast connecting Meridians.

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Tong Ru Dan. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Tong Ru Dan, Ren Shen tonifies Qi. This is necessary in this breastmilk-boosting formula because Qi is the ultimate source of milk.

Read more about Tong Ru Dan

Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Invigorates the Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Infertility and others

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang, Ren Shen is warm in nature and it tonifies Qi

Read more about Ba Zhen Yi Mu Tang

Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Nourishes the Heart. Calms the spirit.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNonhealing ulcers and others

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang, Ren Shen strongly augments Qi, generates Body Fluids and tonifies the Spleen, Lungs, and Heart. Together with Bai Shao, these two herbs address the pathodynamic treated by this formula and harmonize all of the organs that are directly affected by it. 

Read more about Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1675 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Spleen and Stomach Qi. Removes Dampness. Moves Qi. Alleviates pain.

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang, Ren Shen is a a powerful tonic for the Spleen Qi. Today however it is often substituted for Dang Shen (Codonopsis root), which plays a similar role and is significantly less expensive. It also tonifies Stomach Qi and resolve Dampness. 

Read more about Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang

Ren Shen Zi Xie Tang

Source date: 1602 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Blood.

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Ren Shen Zi Xie Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ren Shen Zi Xie Tang, Ren Shen tonifies Qi in order to nourish Blood

Read more about Ren Shen Zi Xie Tang

Ba Zhen Tang

Source date: 1326 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies and augments Qi. Tonifies and augments Blood.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaHepatitis and others

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Ba Zhen Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ba Zhen Tang, Ren Shen is warming in nature and augments the Qi

Read more about Ba Zhen Tang

Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Yang.

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang, Ren Shen tonifies and raise Qi.

Read more about Gu Ben Zhi Beng Tang

Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang

Source date: 1742 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Nourishes Yin.

Ren Shen is a king ingredient in Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang, Ren Shen tonifies the original Qi.

Read more about Ren Shen Dang Gui Tang

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic hepatitisArrhythmia and others

Ren Shen is a deputy ingredient in Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, Ren Shen tonifies the Qi of the Middle Burner, like the other two deputy herbs (Atractylodes rhizome and Liquorice). It is worth mentioning that Ginseng being often prohibitively expensive, it is commonly substituted for Codonopsis root (Dang Shen) which has similar attributes and is much cheaper.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Ju Yuan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Heavy menstruationMetrorrhagia and others

Ren Shen is a deputy ingredient in Ju Yuan Jian. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Ju Yuan Jian, Ren Shen tonifies the Qi of the Middle Burner, like the other two deputy herbs (Atractylodes rhizome and Liquorice). It is worth mentioning that Ginseng being often prohibitively expensive, it is commonly substituted for Codonopsis root (Dang Shen) which has similar attributes and is much cheaper.

Read more about Ju Yuan Jian

Wan Dai Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies the Middle Burner. Removes Dampness. Stops vaginal discharge. Strengthens the Spleen.

Conditions targeted*: PreeclampsiaOtitis media and others

Ren Shen is a deputy ingredient in Wan Dai Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Wan Dai Tang, Ren Shen strongly tonifies Qi and strengthens the Spleen

Read more about Wan Dai Tang

Mai Men Dong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes the Stomach. Generates Body Fluids. Directs Rebellious Qi downward.

Conditions targeted*: Lung atrophyLaryngitis and others

Ren Shen is a deputy ingredient in Mai Men Dong Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Mai Men Dong Tang, Ren Shen tonifies Qi, generates Body Fluids, and rises the Qi as well as Yin. With Mai Men Dong (Dwarf lilyturf) it makes an especially powerful combination to rise the Qi and Yin in the Lungs and Stomach.

Read more about Mai Men Dong Tang

Fu Zi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Meridians. Assists the Yang. Dispels Cold. Transforms Dampness.

Conditions targeted*: MigraineCluster headache and others

Ren Shen is an assistant ingredient in Fu Zi Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Fu Zi Tang, Ren Shen strongly tonifies the original Qi but also generates Fluids, providing the organism with a basis for re-establishing normal physiological functioning.

Read more about Fu Zi Tang

Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 15 herbs

Formula key actions: Anti-rheumatic, clears Wind, Cold and Damp Stagnation. Strengthens the function of the Liver and Kidney. Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic lower back painSciatica and others

Ren Shen is an assistant ingredient in Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang, Ren Shen works together with Poria-cocos mushrooms (Fu Ling), another assistant here, to strengthen the Spleen (always crucial when treating conditions with Dampness, especially chronic ones). 

Read more about Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang

Sang Piao Xiao San

Source date: 1116 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Regulates and tonifies the Heart and Kidneys. Stabilizes the Essence. Stops leakage.

Conditions targeted*: Pediatric enuresisDiabetes and others

Ren Shen is an assistant ingredient in Sang Piao Xiao San. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Sang Piao Xiao San, Ren Shen strongly tonifies the source Qi. Strong source Qi is a prerequisite for a healthy mind. It also tonifies the Heart.

Read more about Sang Piao Xiao San

Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Treats the Lesser Yang Channels (Gallbladder and Triple Warmer). Regulates the Liver and Spleen functions. Addresses combined Yin-Yang symptoms of External and Internal, Excess and Deficiency, and Hot and Cold.

Conditions targeted*: HepatitisChronic cholecystitis and others

Ren Shen is an assistant ingredient in Xiao Chai Hu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Xiao Chai Hu Tang, Ren Shen works together with Liquorice (Gan Cao) and Jujube dates (Da Zao) to support the normal Qi and thereby prevent the pathogenic influence from penetrating to the Interior.

Read more about Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Reverses the flow of Rebellious Stomach Qi. Relieves both Heat and Cold Stagnation in the gastrointestinal tract.

Conditions targeted*: Peptic ulcersGastroesophageal reflux disease and others

Ren Shen is an assistant ingredient in Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang, Ren Shen works together with Jujube dates (Da Zao), another assistant herb of this formula, to prevent the dispersing actions of the chief and deputy herbs from injuring the Normal Qi. In this manner, they work with the key herb (Goldthread rhizome) to stop the vomiting.

Read more about Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang

Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi. Expectorant, treats hiccups.

Conditions targeted*: HiccupsChronic gastritis and others

Ren Shen is an assistant ingredient in Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, Ren Shen works together with Liquorice (Gan Cao) and Jujube dates (Da Zao) to tonify the Deficient Qi and strengthen
the Spleen and Stomach.

By supporting the middle Qi, they assist in its recovery and help protect it against further harm from the dispersing properties of the other ingredients in the formula.

Read more about Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang

Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan

Source date: 16th century

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Nutritive tonic: Nourishes Yin, Blood and Vital Essence of the Heart and Kidney. Clears away pathogenic Heat, clears Deficient Heat. Sedative.

Conditions targeted*: Perimenopausal syndromeChronic urticaria and others

Ren Shen is an assistant ingredient in Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan, Ren Shen works together with Poria-cocos mushrooms (Fu Ling) to assist the Heart Qi

Read more about Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan

Sheng Yu Tang

Source date: 1336 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Preserves the Blood.

In Sheng Yu Tang, Ren Shen tonifies Qi

Read more about Sheng Yu Tang

Da Bu Yuan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Tonifies Yin and Blood. Nourishes Qi and Yang.

Conditions targeted*: Uterine prolapse and others

In Da Bu Yuan Jian, Ren Shen tonifies Qi in general and the Original Qi in particular

Read more about Da Bu Yuan Jian

Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Source date: 1180 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies Qi. Warms and tonifies Blood.

Conditions targeted*: AnemiaNervous exhaustion and others

In Shi Quan Da Bu Tang, Ren Shen is a a powerful tonic for the Spleen Qi. Today however it is often substituted for Codonopsis root (Dang Shen), which plays a similar role and is significantly less expensive.

Read more about Shi Quan Da Bu Tang

Key TCM concepts behind ginseng (Ren Shen)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), ginseng are plants that belong to the 'Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Qi tonics are typically sweet and they tend to enter the Spleen and Lungs because these Organs are most involved with the production of Qi.

Furthermore ginseng are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that ginseng tend to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess(because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition ginseng can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Ginseng also taste Bitter and Sweet. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like ginseng tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Sweet ingredients tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such ginseng are thought to target the Spleen, the Heart and the Lung. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. In addition to regulating Blood flow, the Heart is believed to be the store of the 'Mind' which basically refers to someone's vitality. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body.

Research on ginseng (Ren Shen)

Panax ginseng is safe and improves cancer-related fatigue as well as overall quality of life, appetite, and sleep at night.1

Panax ginseng shows antifatigue effects in patients with idiopathic chronic fatigue.2

Ginseng supplementation is beneficial in improving glucose control and insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus or impaired glucose intolerance.3

Systematic review provided positive research findings of ginseng for sexual function in menopausal women.4

Sources:

1. Yennurajalingam S, Reddy A, Tannir NM, Chisholm GB, Lee RT, Lopez G, Escalante CP, Manzullo EF, Frisbee Hume S, Williams JL, Cohen L, Bruera E. ( 2015). High-Dose Asian Ginseng (Panax Ginseng) for Cancer-Related Fatigue: A Preliminary Report. Integr Cancer Ther. , 14(5):419-27. doi: 10.1177/1534735415580676. Epub 2015 Apr 14.

2. Kim HG, Cho JH, Yoo SR, Lee JS, Han JM, Lee NH, Ahn YC, Son CG. ( 2013). Antifatigue effects of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. PLoS One. , 8(4):e61271. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061271. Print 2013.

3. Gui QF, Xu ZR, Xu KY, Yang YM. (2016). The Efficacy of Ginseng-Related Therapies in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). , 95(6):e2584. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000002584.

4. Lee HW, Choi J, Lee Y, Kil KJ, Lee MS. (2016). Ginseng for managing menopausal woman's health: A systematic review of double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials. Medicine (Baltimore). , 95(38):e4914. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000004914.

Use of ginseng (Ren Shen) as food

Ginseng are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Chicken Ginseng Soup.