An eastern tradition dating back thousands of years has begun to gain increased popularity with nutrition experts and health enthusiasts in recent years.
Ginseng—considered by some as China’s best-kept secret—is a multi-purpose plant, meal, and drug that promises serious health benefits to those who consume it. While ginseng is grown in America, it is the red ginseng from China and Korea that tend to receive the most attention.
With promises of reduced muscle pain, increased focus, and even the reduction of erectile dysfunction in men, there seems to be little ginseng can’t do. Which begs the question—just how effective is ginseng, and is it even safe to eat?
We’ll be taking a closer look at ginseng and uncovering any health risks, things to note, and ways to implement this superfood into your diet. Here’s what you need to know about ginseng:
An Eastern Tradition
While the middle ages reaped their benefits on this side of the globe, countries like China and Japan were experiencing their medical revolution thousands of years ago.
In traditional medicine, the root of the ginseng plant was originally consumed as food—but soon after, medics uncovered that there was far more power in this plant than originally assumed.
Early adopters found that the ginseng root could ease aches and pains in those who suffered from chronic illness, and soon was prescribed as a way to combat these daily aches and pains.
Instead of eating the root of the plant, however, traditionalists discovered that the root could be used to produce ginseng tea—and would steep the roots in hot water and receive the properties of the plant in that manner. As it would be discovered in later years, there would be little different in effect in the manner in which ginseng was consumed.
Over millennia, the usage of ginseng continued quietly in villages and was commonly accepted as medicine in many cultures. While the West eventually adopted some of these practices by utilizing their ginseng plants, the idea of using them in this capacity wasn’t as popular (or as well-known) to most people.
For these reasons, ginseng is known as a secret to most who don’t actively seek out traditional ways to improve body function and ward off disease. While it could be easy to dismiss the usage of ginseng as alternative medicine, we do know that the consumption of this root has real and scientific impacts on those who choose to do so.
What Ginseng Does
Scientific information both corroborating and condemning the use of ginseng can be easily found online—from a variety of sources both reputable and not. We’ll be looking specifically to the National Institutes of Health and their write-up on this root and discerning fact from fiction when possible.
Essentially—scientific analysis of ginseng remains in its nascent stages. Since it’s difficult to understand what this root does on a specific level, conclusions have almost always been noted to require more research and study. That being said, much of what is claimed about ginseng is true.
Ginseng has been shown to boost immunity both to contracted diseases as well as aid in the prevention of future contraction. It is not surprising that the root was originally found to be great for the treatment of chronic illnesses—as a strong immune system allows the body to repair and protect itself as much as possible.
Similarly, muscle relaxation and pain mitigation are also known to come from consumption of the root. In small doses, we know that ginseng is recommended for women suffering from menstrual cramps. There is a concern for women specifically when it comes to the overconsumption of ginseng for these purposes—but more on this later.
This natural muscle relaxant also lends itself to male-centric issues like erectile dysfunction as well. In many cases, aches, pains, and cramps can be lessened somewhat by short-term treatment with this root, so most of the nebulous claims made concerning this plant are true.
Finally, there is the recommendation of some to use ginseng to combat the risk of cancerous diseases. While cancer is largely unavoidable for many that carry genetic predispositions, ginseng’s ability to reduce the risk of cancer is debatable.
Much like similar roots and plants, such as chamomile or echinacea, there are naturally occurring chemicals within the ginseng plant that could lessen the risk of certain types of cancers.
However, it is important to note that ginseng was never meant to be used as a means to prevent such conditions—and any concern about cancer needs to be handled by licensed physicians.
Overall, the claims made about the health benefits of ginseng are mostly accurate—which comes as no surprise, as the plant has been used in medicine for millennia. As with all ingredients, be sure to do your research and try to uncover whether or not ginseng is right for you.
Ginseng Consumption & Complications
While it’s still possible to eat a ginseng root raw, two of the most popular ways of consuming ginseng allow you to reap the benefits without having to do so. The options are simple—tea and pills.
With ginseng tea, the brewing process is simple. Measure out two or three grams of the ginseng root and make sure to chop thoroughly. Place into tea bags and pour hot water onto the ginseng to ensure the plant properly steeps. Wait five minutes, and serve.
Making ginseng tea is as simple as tea gets—which makes it a primary choice for those who enjoy the flavor of herbal tea or are interesting in saving money.
Consumption of ginseng through pills can be easier—but costlier, depending upon your local pharmacy.
Ginseng pills are typically clear, hollow capsules with chopped ginseng loaded inside, and can be found at most pharmacies and stores under the “dietary supplement” section. Ginseng can be consumed daily or in the same quantities listed above for ginseng tea.
While there’s little danger in the daily consumption of ginseng in the short term, there is a need to warn about the long-term effects of ginseng on your body.
As a natural relaxant and suppressant, an overindulgence of ginseng will slowly conform your body to the chemical makeup of the root. In other words? Chemical imbalances will begin to occur.
Too much ginseng at once can cripple the gastrointestinal tract and produce nasty side effects like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Likewise, consumption late at night may disrupt your natural circadian rhythm and induce insomnia.
In the long term, those not used to ginseng or herbal teas like ginseng may note a change in mood or demeanor. Ginseng contains largely chemical processes which can alter your brain chemistry and produce shifts in mood or depressive episodes.
Hormonal effects are usually the most-cited and well-known of the side effects of ginseng. Women tend to suffer the most from these hormonal imbalances—as estrogen is particularly affected by the chemical.
Like with mood and demeanor, overall personality and temperament can be shaken by the long-term usage of ginseng—which is why we strongly recommend only using ginseng in small doses and in short periods of time.
Is Ginseng Right For Me?
With all this talk of chemical imbalance and mood swings, it can be worrisome to continue using ginseng on a daily basis. However, it’s important to note that these side effects tend to present themselves fully only after several months of using the root.
If you’re using ginseng to treat monthly menstrual pain, for instance, these problems may not be severe enough to warrant avoidance. Likewise, men using ginseng for erectile problems tend not to suffer from the issue.
Whether or not ginseng is right for you depends upon how and why you’ve chosen this root for your life. If you’ve chosen ginseng for seasonal flavor and the occasional treatment of chronic pain, there should be no issue in using ginseng on a temporary, daily basis.
If you’ve chosen ginseng for the prevention of cancers or to implement into your daily routine without ceasing, other herbs and roots may better suit your needs. Ginseng has strong effects on a body—and these effects can come at a cost.
Either way, ginseng has more than proven its value in the thousands of years of studies and use and deserves a spot in anyone’s medicine cabinet. Ginseng can help a body recovering from a cold, recuperating after a particularly intense exercise routine, or simply for the taste of the root steeped in tea.
However you choose to consume ginseng—be it in pills, tea, or mixed into food—we hope that we’ve helped you better understand this ancient Eastern tradition.