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

Meridian affinity: SpleenHeartLung

Scientific name: Panax ginseng

Use of ginseng (Rén Shēn) 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 practitionner, 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 are used*:

Key TCM concepts behind ginseng'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 elements" 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 fluid metabolism in the body. In addition to regulating blood flow, the Heart is believed to be the store of the "spirit" which basically refers to someone's vitality. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the body fluids that nourish the body.

Research on ginseng

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 as food

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