Ginseng is a very important herb in Chinese Medicine and is often touted in the West as an energy tonic to combat fatigue. Sometimes called a “King” herbal for anti-aging in particular according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is classically known to have a number of benefits including:
Will it hurt you? Likely not - Ginseng in concentrations sold over the counter is rather mild, but you won’t necessarily see a health benefit either. If you DO match the temperature of Ginseng to your constitution, however, and take a recommended dose from a qualified practitioner, the health benefits can be incredible. So, how do you choose? Here’s a quick lesson to help you find the right type of Ginseng for you.
Ginseng 101 - Choose the Right Ginseng For You
First we have to back up just a smidge and talk about Chinese Herbal Medicine. The firsts texts illuminating Chinese Herbal Medicine dates back to 300 to 200 B.C.E., specifically the Shennong Bencao Jing also known as “The Classic Of Herbal Medicine.” In Chinese Herbology, herbs are categorized by Nature, Flavor, Meridians Entered (energetically) and Action or Specific Function.
Ginseng, specifically, enters the Kidney, Spleen, Heart and the Lung meridians. It is a tonic herb (meaning it is used to strengthen the body), is both slightly sweet and slightly bitter in flavor and, depending on the variety, can be cool or hot in nature.
This means that energetically speaking, Ginseng is used to strengthen these organs and the channel areas associated with them. Ginseng is classically used to treat fatigue, asthma, diabetes, chronic digestive issues, irritability, heart irregularity, and as an aid to promote longevity and youthfulness.
Choosing the right Ginseng for you is about matching the temperature in particular. If you have a colder constitution - i.e. you are prone to feel cold, especially in your core and at night - a hotter temperature Ginseng is right for you. If you have a warmer constitution - a tendency to sweat, to heat up easily, night sweats or hot flashes - a cooler temperature Ginseng is the order of the day. So which is which?
American Ginseng (Xi Yang Shen) is COOL in nature, and best suited to warmer constitutions. If you’re a menopausal woman with hot flashes and night sweats, this is for you.
Chinese and Korean Ginsengs (Hong Ren Shen) are HOT in nature, and best suited to cooler constitutions. If you feel cold all the time, this is an excellent choice. Korean Ginseng is slightly hotter that Chinese Ginseng but only just.
If you feel NEUTRAL in temperature, a balanced mix of the two is ideal.
Ginseng from a Western Perspective
A number of clinical trials in the west have proven that the ginsenosides (active compound) inside Ginseng have promising medicinal properties. In particular, Ginseng has proven to:
Modern research is catching up with the Chinese Medicine designation of Ginseng as a “king herbal” remedy. Indeed, it is almost recognized as a cure-all by Western Science as well, but it is important to take the right dose and the right temperature for your constitution. A minimum of 300mg per day is recommended as a therapeudic dose, up to 1g depending on your individual needs.
The only contraindication for Ginseng is HYPERTENSION. In some cases of high blood pressure, Ginseng - hot variety Ginsengs in particular - are not recommended. For this reason, its always ideal to check with a qualified practitioner before beginning a ginseng regime.
My favorite Ginseng combination is People’s Herbs Five Ginsengs Formula. Is is a balanced preparation of 5 different strains of Ginseng and Pseudo Ginseng (another herb with similar health benefits - talk for another time!) in high quality ethically sourced varieties. I generally prescribe 2 caps 1-2x/day depending on fatigue levels. And yes - I carry it in office all the time!
I hope you found this post interesting and that it helped you understand why some Ginsengs might be better for you than others, and I hope you’ll consider speaking with a practitioner and adding Ginseng to your self care regime too!
Until next time,
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.