Ginseng: Benefits, Uses and Side Effects

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Ginseng is one of the most popular natural medications. For ages, it has found its application in traditional Chinese medicine. It is a small, slow-growing plant with bulbous roots. Ginseng has the potential to replenish and promote well-being. It is known as man-root as it provides benefits to the whole body. Ginseng benefits range from boosting immunity to improving memory. In addition, this medicinal root offers an umbrella of health benefits and culinary uses. 

What is Ginseng? 

Ginseng is a medicinal plant with thick roots. Its plant is short and has sluggish growth. Ginseng is light in colour with fork-shaped roots. The stalk of the ginseng plant is tall and has oval green leaves. 

There are several species of this plant. The most common types are American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Ginseng P.). American ginseng and Asian ginseng both offer similar benefits. Both increase energy, decrease blood sugar and cholesterol, reduce stress, induce relaxation, and manage sexual dysfunction in males. 

Ginseng Types 

Ginseng is available in fresh, red and white variants. The harvesting of red ginseng is at least five years after its plantation. Red ginseng is thus, a mature ginseng variety. e

Supplements in the markets use red ginseng root as natural medicine. However, it typically signifies that high-quality red ginseng is expensive. 

White ginseng is the dried yet unprocessed root. The steamed and dried root is known as red ginseng. 

Red ginseng offers multiple health benefits. It may heighten alertness and may also help with erectile dysfunction. In addition, red ginseng may help prevent colds. It may also reduce the severity of the symptoms of heart disease. 

Ginseng: Nutritional Value

Ginseng is rich in antioxidants and is anti-inflammatory. One tsp ginseng provides:  

  • Calories: 1.6 
  • Carbohydrates: 0.4 gm 
  • Fats: 0 gm 
  • Protein: 0 gm 
  • Potassium 8.3 mg 
  • Sodium: 0.3 mg
  • Vitamin C: 0.2 % RDI (Required Daily Intake) 
  • Iron: 0.1% RDI 

It also contains some amounts of vitamin C. In addition, it has other vitamins like vitamin B1, B12, B2 and folic acid. However, these are present in minute quantities. 

Benefits of Ginseng 

1. Potent Antioxidant 

Ginseng has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. 

A study involving 82 participants shows that ginseng extract decreased inflammation and boosted antioxidant activity. Therefore, it implies that ginseng may work as an antioxidant supplement. 

2. May Cure Erectile Dysfunction 

Ginseng may treat erectile dysfunction in men. In addition, it appears that the substances in it may protect against oxidative stress in blood vessels and tissues in the penis. Hence, it may aid in the restoration of normal function. 

Study results show that ginseng extract enhanced sexual performance in 119 men. It was an eight-week trial on men having mild-to-moderate erectile dysfunction. The results were promising. 

Various reviews discuss the benefits of red ginseng on erectile dysfunction. However, the number of studies, overall sample size, and experimental method quality were insufficient to establish continued therapeutic benefits. Hence, more research is required to evaluate whether Ginseng is a safe and effective therapy for erectile dysfunction. 

3. May Benefit Against Cancer 

Ginseng is rich in two compounds- ginsenosides and gintonin. These substances work together to provide health benefits. 

Ginsenosides in ginseng appear to control inflammation, offer antioxidant protection, and preserve cell health. Consequently, it lowers the risk of certain cancers.  

Ginseng may also help improve the health of chemotherapy patients. It works by reducing the adverse effects of the treatment. In addition, ginseng may increase the effectiveness of some treatment medications. Overall, these properties may be beneficial for cancer patients. 

While research on the effect of ginseng in cancer prevention has shown some promising results, it remains equivocal. 

4. Lowers Blood Sugar

According to a study, ginseng may help decrease blood sugar and manage diabetes. Ginsenosides may influence insulin synthesis in the pancreas. It reduces insulin resistance through different pathways. 

However, there is a need for more clinical trials to evaluate whether supplemental use of ginseng for diabetes treatment. The doses for the same must also be derived. 

5. Boosts Energy Levels 

Ginseng may help relieve exhaustion and boost energy. Some components in ginseng deliver this benefit. Polysaccharides and oligopeptides are two of them. These are said to decrease oxidative stress. It also leads to an increase in energy synthesis in cells. Thus, it may aid in fatigue management. 

Ginseng may also support the stimulation of physical and mental activity. This effect was notable in weary and weak volunteers. In one study involving 21 men and 69 women, ginseng was effective in helping people with chronic fatigue. 

6. Brain Function and Focus 

Ginseng may improve brain functions and boost mood. These effects were visible in both healthy and Alzheimer’s patients. Additionally, there is some preliminary evidence that ginseng may improve focus and short-term memory.

A study was on 30 healthy volunteers proves the above. They were given 200 mg of Panax ginseng daily for four weeks. The results show improvement in their mental health, social functioning, and mood at the end of the trial. But these benefits ceased to be substantial after eight weeks. Therefore, it may suggest that the effects of ginseng may diminish with long-term usage. 

While these studies are fascinating, many experts believe that additional data is required. 

7. Prevents Flu 

A study shows the plausible effects of ginseng on flu in mice. Ginseng is a reliable source for the treatment and prevention of flu. It may also work against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). It is a virus that causes lung and respiratory infections.

However, based on the current findings of the studies, it is unknown how the anti-viral mechanisms in ginseng function.  

Uses of Ginseng 

Ginseng is a root herb. Hence, one can prepare in multiple ways and add to different dishes. 

Here are some culinary uses of ginseng: 

  • You can eat it raw or mildly steam it to soften. 
  • Ginseng extract is also available in powder, tablet, pill, and oil form. 
  • Brew it into a tea by stewing it in water. Add boiling water to fresh slices of ginseng and soak for several minutes. Serve hot. 
  • Add ginseng slices or powders to soups and curry. 
  • Add fresh ginseng slices to stir-fry. It will enhance the taste of the recipe. 
  • You can add ginseng to your kadhas and immunity booster drink. 
  • Add fresh ginseng to your smoothies and juices. 
  • Add ginseng powder to your atta. 
  • You can use it in chicken soups and broths.  
  • Use it in any flesh dish (fish, mutton, chicken) 
  • You can include ginseng powder in your acai bowl or morning oats. 

Recipes Using Ginseng 

#1 Fresh Ginseng Soup 

Ginseng Soup

Ingredients:

  • Ginseng roots- 2 pcs (fresh, small-sized) 
  • Red dates- 4 pcs (remove the pits) 
  • Dried/ fresh almond mushrooms- 4 pcs 
  • Chickpeas (channa)- ½ cup (soak in water for 2 hours) 
  • Water- 7 cups 
  • Salt (to taste) 

Method:

  1. Wash and chop the fresh mushrooms. If you use dried mushrooms, soak them in water for 15 minutes. Then cut into pieces.  
  2. Soak chickpeas in water for at least 2 hours. Then, drain the water and keep it aside.  
  3. Next, put all the ingredients in a pot. Turn the stove on and bring it to a boil. 
  4. Simmer the soup in medium to low heat for 45 minutes. 
  5. Add salt and stir well. 
  6. Pour the soup into bowls. Serve hot. 

#2 Ginseng tea 

Ginseng Tea

Ingredients:

  • Dried ginseng root- 10 pcs, small (peeled) 
  • Honey- 1 tbsp (optional) 
  • Water- 5 cups 

Method:

  1. Gather and wash all the ingredients. Next, peel the ginseng roots and slice them thinly. 
  2. In a bowl, pour honey and add ginseng roots. Keep it aside for 5-10 minutes. 
  3. Heat water over a high flame in a separate pot. Heat the water but do not boil it. 
  4. Pour this water over the ginseng mixture.  
  5. Let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes. 
  6. Strain and serve hot. 

#3 Ginseng porridge 

Ingredients:

  • Ginseng roots- 10 pcs, small 
  • Water- 1 ½ litres 
  • Chicken- 120gm (cleaned) 
  • Fragrant rice- 100gm (wash and drain) 
  • Dried mushrooms- 2 pcs (soak and shred) 
  • Gingko nuts- 12 pcs 

Marinade for chicken meat: 

  • Light soy sauce- 1 tsp 
  • Sesame oil- 1 tsp 
  • Corn flour- ½ tsp 

Seasoning: 

  • Pepper- ¼ tsp 
  • Sugar- ¼ tsp 
  • Sesame oil- ¼ tsp 
  • Light soy sauce – 1 tsp  
  • Salt, pepper and sugar (as per taste) 

Garnishing: 

  • Fresh ginger– 1 inch (shredded) 

Method:

  1. Wash and clean the chicken. Then, cut it into small pieces.
  2. Keep chicken bones aside for later use. 
  3. In a large bowl, add ginseng roots and chicken bones. Bring this to a boil.  
  4. Simmer this broth in low heat for 30-40 minutes. Strain the stock. 
  5. Wash and chop fresh mushrooms. If you use dried mushrooms, soak them in water for 15 to 20 minutes. Cut them into shreds. 
  6. Add rice, stock, mushroom, and ginkgo nuts in a fresh pot. Keep this on the stove and bring it to a boil. 
  7. Simmer the mixture until the rice is soft. You can keep the consistency as per your preference.  
  8. Simultaneously, semi- cook the chicken pieces in a non-stick pan with some oil. 
  9. Add the chicken fillet to the rice mixture. Cook this for a few more minutes till the chicken is tender. 
  10. Turn off the stove and adjust the seasoning.  
  11. Garnish with ginger shreds and serve hot. 

Ginseng: Risks and Precautions

Currently, there are no guidelines for ginseng dosages for any condition. In addition, the quality of active substances in supplements might vary between manufacturers. Therefore, it makes establishing a standard dosage difficult. 

Always purchase ginseng from a reputable source. Ginseng is a valuable root. Hence, there is a possibility that untrustworthy producers would sell it with other ingredients or with less than what the bottle displays.

Side effects 

Generally, ginseng does not have many side effects. But, some adverse effects are usually mild. For example, it may lead to anxiousness and sleeplessness. Long-term or high-dose ginseng consumption can cause headaches, vertigo, abdominal discomfort, and other side effects. 

Women who use ginseng daily may have menstrual irregularities. Additionally, ginseng may cause allergic responses. 

Children, pregnancy and breastfeeding 

There is a lack of data concerning the safety of ginseng use by children and during pregnancy or nursing. Hence, it is safer to avoid ginseng consumption in such cases.

Antidepressants 

Ginseng may interact with medicines. For example, it may potentially interact with warfarin and several antidepressant medications.  

Caffeine 

Caffeine may enhance the stimulating effects of ginseng. 

Note: To minimise the side effects of ginseng, some experts recommend not using it for longer than three months. Or even a few weeks at a go. Hence, avoid the long term use of ginseng.

Conclusion 

The Chinese have been using ginseng as a herbal supplement for generations. It is well-known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It may also improve blood sugar levels and may be beneficial to treat some cancers. 

Furthermore, ginseng may help boost the immune system, improve cognitive function, combat weariness, and alleviate the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. 

There are a variety of ways to use ginseng in food. For example, you can have it fresh or mildly steamed. Or you can add it to soups and porridges. You can also include extract, pill, or powder in your diet. 

However, the risks of consuming ginseng should be kept in mind. People with diabetes and those on medications should talk to their health care provider before consuming this root.  

Ginseng is worth trying as it helps address a specific ailment and enhance your health. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Q. What is ginseng good for? 

A. Ginseng has lots of antioxidants and is great for flu. It contains qualities that improve immunity and boost energy levels. In addition, studies state that it may be beneficial for cancer patients. 

Q. Why is Ginseng harmful? 

A. Ginseng may cause anxiety and sleeplessness. Long-term or high-dose ginseng consumption can cause headaches, dizziness, stomach discomfort, and other side effects. Women who use ginseng daily may have menstrual irregularities. Ginseng may also lead to an allergic response in some people. Therefore, it is not recommended for kids, pregnant and breastfeeding women to use ginseng. 

Q. Which is the most common side effect of Ginseng? 

A. Side effects of ginseng may cause insomnia, dizziness, headache and rapid heartbeats. 

Q. Is Ginseng bad for your liver? 

A. Ginseng has no linkages to liver injury. However, it does have the potential to cause severe herb-drug interactions that can lead to liver injury. 

Q. What does Ginseng do for a man? 

A. Ginseng may treat erectile dysfunction in men. It may also increase the libido in men. However, more study is imperative to evaluate whether Ginseng is a safe and effective therapy for erectile dysfunction. 

Q. Does ginseng increase estrogen? 

A. Ginseng may stimulate estrogen signalling. Thus, it may regulate estrogen levels. 

Q. Does Ginseng have nutritional value? 

A. Ginseng is rich in antioxidants and is anti-inflammatory. One tsp ginseng provides:  

  • Calories: 1.6 
  • Carbohydrates: 0.4 gm 
  • Fats: 0 gm 
  • Protein: 0 gm 
  • Potassium 8.3 mg 
  • Sodium: 0.3 mg 
  • Vitamin C: 0.2 % daily value (DV) 
  • Iron: 0.1% DV 

Q. Which vitamins are in Ginseng? 

A. Ginseng contains some amounts of vitamin C. It also has other vitamins like vitamin B1, B12, B2 and folic acid. But these are present in minute quantities. 

Q. Is Ginseng good for females? 

A. Ginseng may act as an adaptogenic for females. It will fight fatigue and boost energy levels. However, women who use ginseng daily may have menstrual irregularities. In addition, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid it due to a lack of evidence regarding its safety. 

Q. Is it okay to drink ginseng tea every day? 

A. Ginseng is typically safe for the general healthy population. However, avoid using it in large quantities or for the long term. Doctors do not recommend the use of ginseng for an extended time. Therefore, you should avoid using Asian ginseng for more than three months at a go. 

Q. Does Ginseng cause weight gain? 

A. No, ginseng does not cause weight gain. On the contrary, ginseng inhibits weight gain in animal models.

Q. Is Ginseng the same as Ashwagandha? 

A. Ashwagandha and ginseng are different plants. However, both are anti-inflammatory and may cure the flu. 

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