Ginseng has been a popular herb since ancient times, and its list of medical uses is constantly being extended due to new research. Discover its history and many benefits.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Panax, Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng, Asian ginseng
  • Scientific namePanax ginseng
  • Geographic distributionAsia
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Native regionCentral Asia
  • Main producer(s)China
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal

Ginseng is one of the most revered herbs in the world of natural remedies and has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The extraordinary claims about the healing powers of ginseng have raised the curiosity of the scientific community, and numerous studies have validated some of its main benefits.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionEstrogenic, Stimulant
  • Key constituentsGinsenosides
  • Ways to useCapsules, Decoctions, Hot infusions/tisanes, Liquid extracts, Powder
  • Medicinal rating(4) Very useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Ginseng

It is thought that people in ancient China first used ginseng in cooking, but it did not take long for them to identify its medicinal promise. It is mentioned in many old Chinese texts, as an important ingredient for many remedies. Because of this, ever-increasing research is carried out to attempt to fully understand the health benefits ginseng can have. Perhaps the most well-known uses include:

  • Replenishing energy. Ginseng has long been prescribed as an energy provider. It is used as a revitalizer and has been favored by athletes looking to enhance their performance.

  • Relieving stress and anxiety. Ginseng has an effect on the hormones that help people to deal with stress.

Additionally, ginseng has been traditionally used for:

  • Reducing inflammation. The active compounds in ginseng have been shown to inhibit internal and external inflammation.

  • Supporting the immune system. Antimicrobial compounds exist in ginseng which can help to fend off bacterial or viral infections.

There is a vast array of claims about other conditions that can be treated with ginseng, including withdrawal from cocaine, side effects of radiation therapy, depression, erectile dysfunction, and hangovers. However, further studies are required in order to validate these potential applications.

How it Works

All types of ginseng contain adaptogens, which can support and enhance the hormonal response to stress. In Siberian, ginseng is called eleutherosides, and in the ginseng belonging to the panax genus they are known as saponin glycosides, or ginsenosides.

Researchers have identified further pharmacological components that can be found within ginseng. These include polyacetylenes, polyphenols,and acidic polysaccharides.

Polysaccharides are used by the body as a “back-up” energy source, which explains the use of ginseng as an energy provider.

Polyacetylenes are toxic to fungi and bacteria, and therefore are the reason why ginseng can support the immune system, and fend off infections. They also act as an anti-inflammatory.

Polyphenols contain antioxidants, which can help the body to protect against any pollutants it may encounter. This also helps the body to sustain an efficient immune system.

Other herbs with estrogenic properties are dong quai and soy, while coffee and guarana are also stimulant.

Ginseng Side Effects

Although ginseng is generally considered safe for consumption, it may have some undesired side effects in some people. Reported symptoms have been headaches, problems sleeping, and digestive complaints. It is recommended that women who are pregnant or breast feeding, and anyone who is on medication for a serious condition, obtain advice from a health professional before regular intake of any supplement.

Ginseng Cautions

If taken in high doses, ginseng may have an effect on blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. Those who suffer from diabetes or high/low blood pressure should be wary of consuming ginseng, and seek advice from their physician before doing so. In sensitive individuals, ginseng may also cause allergic reactions such as generalized rash, low blood pressure, and shortness of breath

How to Consume Ginseng

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsRoot
  • TasteEarthy

The most popular way of consuming ginseng is probably as an infusion. However, there are many other methods to obtain the benefits of ginseng, each recommended to users depending on their conditions, lifestyle, and preferred mode of intake. In many Asian countries ginseng is popularly used as a culinary ingredient.


Main preparations: Tea, tincture, capsules, essential oil, powder, lotion

  • Tea. It is very common to find ginseng in the form of tea. Many people enjoy the taste but honey and lemon can be added to the infusion if preferred.

  • Tincture. This is a popular option for those who wish to store an extract of ginseng in their medical supply. The alcohol content of the mixture prolongs its shelf life, and it can therefore be used as and when required.

  • Capsules. Usually made from the powdered root, capsules are ideal for ensuring a consistent concentration is consumed. They are a fast method of intake.

  • Essential oil. Generally designed for topical use, the oil can be effective in soothing inflammation on the skin. It can also relieve stress when vaporized in an oil burner.

  • Powder. This can be added to yoghurts, juice and smoothies. It is favored by gym-goers who wish to complement their exercise regime with an energy-boosting drink.

  • Lotion. This is designed to sooth inflammations and rejuvenate skin. It is specifically marketed towards mature men and women.


Ginseng root can be diced or grated and cooked in different foods, or it can be dried and ground to form a powder before adding. The herb's natural taste is not pleasing to everyone, and it is often described as earthy in smell and texture. It is for this reason that the powdered version is generally more popular in Western cuisine. Ginseng is traditionally eaten raw in China, so many of their recipes call for the fresh rather than dried plant. It is mostly found in recipes for soup, casseroles, and sauce-based dishes.

A more recent trend sees ginseng used with coffee. This can be found in vogue bistros and coffee shops, particularly in Milan. Coffee beans are blended with ginseng extract before brewing to make a beverage favored by those seeking to re-energize. The consumption of caffeine from coffee in conjunction with ginseng is thought to increase energy levels and the ability to concentrate.


Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buyFarmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Fresh and Dried Ginseng

Commercially-grown ginseng can be found at many grocery stores and supermarkets, either as the full root or, more commonly, in powder form. Red and white versions are the most widely available around the world; wild and wood-grown varieties remain harder to find, especially in Western countries. Harvesting tends to take place in the autumn months, so seasonal farmers' markets are also a good resource, as are specialized health food stores.

Ginseng Supplements

Ginseng supplements are increasingly common, and they can be found in most locations that cater to herbal medicine, as well as some that are more general. Specialized health food stores and even wholesale retailers widely carry the product in a variety of different preparations. Online retailers also provide an easy way to compare prices and brands to fit personal needs.


Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsRoots, Rhizome
  • Light requirementsPartial shade, Full shade
  • SoilLight (sandy), Well-drained
  • Soil pH5.1 – 5.5 (Strongly acidic), 5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic), 6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates, Mountain regions
  • Pre-germination seed treatmentStratification
  • Planting timeSpring
  • Propagation techniquesRoot cuttings
  • Potential insect pestsSlugs
  • Potential diseasesRoot rot, Bacterial blight, Damping-off
  • Potential animal pestsDeer

Growing ginseng requires skill, technique, and considerable patience. It is a slow growing perennial herb that takes approximately four years to mature. After planting, ginseng requires minimal attention other than checking for pests and diseases every so often. When harvesting, it is important to take care to keep all the forking branches intact. Awareness of the following advice is helpful when attempting to cultivate ginseng.

Growing Guidelines

  • Ginseng can be propagated from seed or root cuttings

  • In order to grow healthy, the ginseng plant requires a rich soil, constantly moist and well-drained, with an ideal pH level of 5.0 - 6.5.

  • Ginseng plants prefer shaded to partial shaded locations, and an average temperature of 50°F (10°C).

  • If growing ginseng from seeds, these will need a to undergo a process of stratification, which requires moist and an low temperatures.
  • Ginseng seeds or roots should be planted around 14 - 18 inches (35 - 45 cm) apart.
  • Ginseng plants are rarely affected by pests; however, they can be attacked by slugs.

More detailed information about growing ginseng can be found in the herb garden section.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesCosmetics

Plant Biology

Ginseng is a slow-growing shrub, which rarely exceeds a height of 20 inches (50 cm). Its name is an English adaptation of the Chinese term rénshēn, which combines the characters for "man" and "plant root" to describe the shape of the root, which is the most valued portion of the plant. The stem separates into a number of thinner shoots, from which grow clusters of medium sized oval leaves. An additional thin shoot will develop flowers at the end, which are around 0.07 - 0.11 inches (2 - 3 mm) in diameter. These will also develop fruits which look similar to cranberries.

  • Classification

    Ginseng belongs to the Panax genus and is a member of the Araliaceae, or ivy family, which contains 18 accepted genera and around 1400 species.

  • Species of Ginseng

    Did you know?

    Asian and Wild ginseng are not to be confused with Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), which belongs to another genus and offers completely different benefits.

    There are two main species or types of ginseng in the Panax genus with great medicinal and economic importance: Asian ginseng (P. ginseng) - which is native to China and other areas of East Asia - and Wild ginseng (P. quinquefolius), originating from North America. Both species share similar benefits; however, they have different specific uses.

    There is a general confusion about ginseng since the herb is sold under different names (Asian ginseng, Korean ginseng, red ginseng, white ginseng, and black ginseng). This is due to the different processes the Panax rhizomes undergo, which result in different concentrations of active components and a variety of applications. 

Historical Information

Ginseng has an interesting, somewhat political, history. Despite the fact that the oldest known species of ginseng is native to China, the country was unable to cultivate enough of the plant to satisfy the needs of the consumers. For this reason, China imported ginseng from Korea since before the 18th century.

In 1709 a French Jesuit named Pierre Jartoux traveled to China, and there he encountered ginseng and its many uses. Believing that North America had a similar climate and terrain, he expected that it might be possible for the same species to exist there. He sent a letter to inform the Jesuit community in North America, and it was soon discovered that he was correct. A similar species of ginseng was identified, and found in abundance across the country. After this realization, Americans began exporting the plant across the world at a cheaper price than Korea. China therefore switched suppliers, thus damaging Korea-North American relations.

The inexperience of the Americans in growing ginseng led to their being unable to keep up with demand, and in the mid-19th century it was necessary to employ some Korean traders to come to North America and teach effective cultivation and production methods.

The Greek word Panax is translated as "all-heal", referring to the multiple uses of ginseng.

Economic Data

Worldwide cultivation of ginseng has proven so effective that the root's market price has dropped drastically in recent years - almost as low as the actual cost of production. Nevertheless, the industry continues to find ways to thrive, generating an estimated 354 million tons of ginseng in 2010, most notably from China, Canada, and the U.S. Woods-grown and wild-stimulated versions are surpassing classical agricultural methods in creating revenue as organic movements influence economic trends. Some people consider older roots advantageous and will pay exorbitant amounts: in 1976, a 400-year old root reportedly sold for $10,000 per ounce.

Popular Beliefs

Ginseng is often said to be able to enhance libido and treat sexual dysfunction in men. Despite the fact that many manufacturers market their ginseng supplements with these claims, there is no scientific evidence to support that the plant has any such abilities.

Other Uses

Ginseng is usually cultivated - on commercial and personal levels - for medicinal purposes. But it can also be found in various soaps and cosmetics.

Some people do grow ginseng as an ornamental plant as well, particularly because it is relatively low-maintenance and aesthetically pleasing.

To this day ginseng retains its stature as a powerful herbal remedy. Civilization has developed a wide range of ways for people to consume the plant, and use it to treat many different conditions. Continuing scientific studies are likely to reveal further uses for ginseng, and so it is likely to be cultivated and therefore available worldwide, for the foreseeable future.


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  • NCCAM Herbs at a Glance, Asian Ginseng
  • MedlinePlus Herbs and Supplements, Ginseng, Panax
  • FAOSTAT, Discussion Paper on the Possible Extension of the Territorial Application of the Codex Regional Standard for Ginseng Products
  • Phytochemistry, Ginsenosides from American ginseng: Chemical and pharmacological diversity, 2011
  • Medscape General Medicine, A Case Report of Suspected Ginseng Allergy, 2011
  • Boston College, Ginseng
  • Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, American ginseng
  • The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Polyphenols: antioxidants and beyond
  • National Library of Medicine, Ginseng, the "Immunity Boost": The Effects of Panax ginseng on Immune System
  • University of Utah, Ginseng
  • Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Estrogen-like activity of ginsenoside Rg1 derived from Panax ginseng, 2002