by Kai-Chang Chan
Ginseng is an important traditional Chinese herbal remedy. It is one of the most popular natural tonics and has been shown to possess many intriguing health properties including a protein anabolic effect, anti-tumor activities and an inhibitory effect on tumor angiogenesis and metastasis. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), ginseng can tonify yuan qi (the source of energy), the lungs, spleen, promote the generation bodily fluids, relieve thirst, calm the spirit and even improve brain functioning. Clinical research has shown that ginseng can promote cardiac function, treat hypertension, treat diabetes mellitus, treat sexual dysfunction and may treat cancer.
Ginseng is any one of 11 species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots belonging to the genus Panax of the family Araliaceae. Ginseng is found only in the Northern Hemisphere, in the cooler climates of North America and in East Asia—mostly Korea, northeastern China, Manchuria and eastern Siberia. Panax vietnamensis is the southernmost known species of ginseng, which was discovered in Vietnam. The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn. Rén means man, and shēn means a kind of herb or root.
Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides, which are glycosides containing an aglycone (protopanaxadiol or protopanaxatriol). They are the major effective components of ginseng and have been shown to have a wide variety of biological properties including agents that modify one or more immune functions, antioxidant, antiinflammatory and anti-tumor activity.
Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, a Chinese book of agriculture and medicinal plants, considers Ren Shen to be a superior grade herb, which means that Ren Shen has excellent therapeutic actions, few side effects and may be safely taken for a long period of time. Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing states it can, “Tonify five zang organs, calm spirit, stop fear, expel devil energy, brighten eyes and open orifices.” Ren Shen is sweet and warm in nature and contraindicates excessive conditions such as bleeding caused by heat in the blood; red eyes and dizziness due to liver yang rising; wheezing and cough because of lung heat or phlegm accumulation; constipation; parasites; and internal accumulation of heat or fire condition.
Symptoms of a gross overdose of Ren Shen may include nausea, vomiting, irritability, restlessness, urinary and bowel incontinence, fever, increased blood pressure, increased respiration, decreased sensitivity and reaction to light, decreased heart rate, blue facial complexion, red facial complexion, seizures, convulsions and delirium. For these reasons, always seek consultation from a Chinese medicine practitioner before seeking a prescription for ginseng.
Kai-Chang Chan is a licensed acupuncturist, professor and doctoral student at Texas Health and Science University (THSU). To learn more about the acupuncture and business administration programs available at THSU, call 512-444-8082 or visit THSU.edu.