The ginseng plant takes over 5-6 years to grow but the roots can live for over 100 years. It is a perennial that grows between 7 to 21 inches in height when wild. The root is creamy yellow or white and i t has rootlets that branch off sometimes in the shape of a person, thus giving it the Chinese name. It grows naturally on the slopes of ravines and in shady hardwood forests. Ginseng root is the most widely used herb in the Orient.
Ginseng root comes in three types. Korean or oriental ginseng is the most widely used ginseng in the world. American ginseng has a cooling quality on the body versus a heating quality for oriental ginseng. American ginseng grows from Quebec to Minnesota and to the south to Georgia and Oklahoma. The third type is Siberian, which is also common in North America. Siberian ginseng is a cousin of oriental ginseng but has similar properties. The name ginseng is Chinese meaning "Man Plant" from the root's frequent likeness to the human form.
The benefits of ginseng have been known for thousands of years. The benefits include being used as an adaptogen, which means it stabilizes physical functioning as needed. Ingredients in ginseng include 27 ginsenocides that enable ginseng to balance and counterbalance the effects of stress. It can be used to lower high blood pressure and also to raise low blood pressure. Ginseng also increases performance and energy levels in people that are constantly exhausted. Those who are recovering from an illness, people with a heavy work load or those that always feel run down are first to praise the effects of the herb.
Ginseng root contains vitamins A, B-6 and Zinc. These help in the functioning of the immune system. Ginseng will increase estrogen levels in women and treat symptoms of menopause. It improves memory as well.
Ginseng is used in a wide variety of treatments. These include headache, insomnia, ease in childbirth, strengthening teeth, treating fatigue without caffeine, reducing blood sugar levels, treating rheumatism, gout, neuralgia, and double vision.
Ginseng has also been effective in treating sexual desire. It does this by promoting sex hormone production. Ginseng is also helpful in the slowing down of the aging process. Ginseng's real value is as a preventative though some use it in cures. As a preventative, it needs to be taken over a long period of time.
Root slices can be brewed slowly in a tea pot (silver or glass) for one hour. Generally a bitter tasting root indicates higher potency. Root slivers can also be added to soups or other dishes. In some preparations it is desirable to first grind your ginseng. The resulting powder can be used in meals or can be placed under your tongue where the high concentrations of blood vessels allow the ginsenocides to be absorbed directly into the blood stream. Also, try chewing the dried root like a piece of hard candy. A quick five minute soak in boiling water will make the root more palatable. The optimal dosage of ginseng is two or three grams a day. Ginseng tends to kick in after six weeks or so, and the most significant results can be seen after six months of use. This is especially true in people with pale unhealthy skin, lassitude, and depression.
Ginseng is safe but it is possible to overdose, especially on Korean ginseng, the most potent of the three types. Overdose symptoms may include nervousness, dizziness, mood changes, insomnia, headache and loss of appetite. Some warn women who are pregnant or nursing not to use it but others say it is safe for everyone. Check with your doctor to be safe.