Herbal Spotlight: The Amazing Power of Ginseng Root

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Ginseng, or ren shen as it is called in Mandarin Chinese, is an herb with many amazing properties. There are many different types of ginseng found in various locations throughout the world, mainly in Asia and North America. In Chinese medicine, ginseng boosts the qi (pronounced ‘chee,’ your life-force energy), protects the lungs, generates body fluids and stops thirst, benefits the emotions and calms the spirit, strengthens the digestion.

Ginseng is considered an adaptogenic herb, meaning that it can help the body to adapt to stress. When a person is under physical or emotional stress, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, a steroid hormone that allows the person to effectively respond to and confront whatever is causing the stress, getting ready either to confront or to run away, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This response happens whether the stressor is real or imaginary. When stress becomes chronic, the adrenal glands may become fatigued. Ginseng helps the adrenal glands to recover from chronic stress. Ginseng also helps to improve your mood, energy, and libido, while decreasing the stress response.

Other Benefits:
Ginseng is also thought to improve mental performance and athletic endurance; it can assist in treating cancer, heart disease, erectile dysfunction, hepatitis, high blood pressure, menopausal symptoms, chronic fatigue syndrome, and many others. In type II diabetes, ginseng can help to lower blood sugar levels. It can help to halt male pattern baldness in men. It can help to rehydrate skin and give skin a healthy glow. It can help to boost the metabolism and aid in weight loss. In certain types of cancer, it can inhibit tumor growth.

Cautions:
Ginseng is a very powerful herb, so it does require some caution and common sense with its use. If you are taking blood thinning drugs, you should avoid ginseng, as it can increase this action and cause increased bleeding. It is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, or for children. It also does have some hormonal effect, so it is also not advised to be taken if you have a hormone-related condition, such as certain types of breast or ovarian cancer, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or prostate conditions. It may affect blood sugar levels, so use under a doctor’s supervision if you have diabetes. It may also increase heart rate, so it should be avoided by people with heart conditions. Also, since it can be very stimulating, it should not be taken before bedtime, as it can cause insomnia.

Different Types:
There are 4 main types of ginseng: Korean, Chinese, American, and Siberian.

1. Korean ginseng is the most potent of all the different types. It is best for those who are very weak, or for the elderly. It creates more heat in the body, so it’s best avoided if you have headaches, high blood pressure, or any heat signs. This is also the most prized and expensive type: there was recently a reported case of a very high grade of Korean ginseng going for $1.57 Million for 1 ounce!

2. Chinese ginseng is a good overall tonic. Although not as ‘hot’ as Korean ginseng, it can still be a potent stimulant, so use with caution.

3. American ginseng is cooler in character than either Korean or Chinese. It can also help to nourish body fluids. It’s a good choice for those who suffer from headaches, a ‘hot’ temper, or have too much heat in their body.

4. Siberian ginseng is not actually a true ginseng, but is very similar. It is very effective for stress, insomnia, nervousness and anxiety, and also improves the immune system.

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Teresa is a California licensed acupuncturist in San Francisco, CA

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