Ginseng has become a popular ingredient in everything from cola to aphrodisiacs, but what is ginseng? The following information will help you decide if ginseng is something to skip or if it is a must have for your dietary needs.
What is Ginseng: The Basics
Ginseng is a licorice-flavored herb used for medicinal purposes. It grows wild in mountainous forests and is also cultivated worldwide. The root of the plant is dried and ground to use in products, chewed like gum or soaked in hot water to make tea.
There are three main types of ginseng: yellow and white American ginseng, and red Asiatic ginseng. Many claim that each type of plant has a specific quality. Some think that Asiatic ginseng has a heating effect on the body and American ginseng has a cooling effect.
Some believe that ginseng was discovered more than 5000 years ago in Northern China. The name ginseng comes from a Chinese word meaning human-shaped root because of its unique shape. The root looks much like a human body dancing, with the plant as the head of the body. The ancient Chinese believed that the plant removed evil, prolonged life, improved human understanding, helped the heart, and bolstered the soul. Because it was so popular, ginseng became the first root purposely cultivated and grown.Native Americans also used ginseng for medicinal properties. When Europeans discovered the quantity of ginseng in the Americas, a trade was set up with China and they exported American ginseng overseas to Asia. So much ginseng was exported, in fact, that the plant almost became extinct in the Americas.
Today, wild ginseng is still near extinction because of over harvesting in the United States. However, there are now laws in place to regulate the harvest of the plant.
Modern Day Uses
People all over the world use ginseng as an herbal remedy for a variety of problems. It is said that ginseng cures tiredness, stress, the flu, sexual problems, heart problems, obesity, memory loss, and more.
So what is ginseng good for? The jury is still out. Some studies done on ginseng, such as the one done by B.K. Vogler, M.H. Pittler and E. Ernst published in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology state that there is no evidence that ginseng does anything at all.
Other studies have found that ginseng can be a very beneficial herb for a person's health.
- One study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico stated that the root may be "a promising dietary supplement." The group of test subjects that took ginseng with a multivitamin showed significant improvements in their quality of life compared to the group who just took a multivitamin. The group who took the ginseng also did not gain any weight and those who did not take ginseng did gain weight.
- A study done by Department of Preventive Medicine showed that ginseng may reduce the risk of different types of cancer. The study showed that in lab rats, chemicals in the herb inhibited the creation of cancer cells.
- Ingesting ginseng may also cure sexual dysfunction. A study done by the Department of Physiology at Southern Illinois University and the School of Medicine in Carbondale, Illinois found that both Asian and American ginseng could be used to enhance libido, increase hormone secretion and improve penis erection.
- A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that the use of American ginseng may prevent acute respiratory illness in older adults that are institutionalized. Subjects that took the herb were 89 percent less likely to get the flu than those who didn't take it.
These studies add creditability to the claims about the benefits of ginseng made by people for thousands of years.