What You Should Know about the “King of Herbs”
by Danielle Myers
Every day our bodies put up a ﬁght against illness, stress, fatigue and aging in order to sustain overall wellness. We knowingly take precautions in order to maintain the best health possible; however, environmental as well as internal and external causes sometimes still result in poor health.
As conscientious consumers, we search and search for effective solutions. We look for ways to have more energy, healthier skin and a better memory. We turn to products such as herbal supplements, caffeinated drinks, topical creams and the like. But what if one product could address a wide scope of concerns? What if, rather than walking up and down the aisles of the health store, we could focus on just one simple, yet all-inclusive herb?
Most consumers are familiar with and beneﬁt from the positive health properties of ginseng. Often referred to as the “King of Herbs,” ginseng is known as the world’s most powerful adaptogenic herb — meaning it assists the body to manage stress and achieve homeostatic balance. Used medicinally in Asia for thousands of years, ginseng is utilized as a remedy in treating a host of health problems, such as managing stress, stimulating one’s immune system and helping resist fatigue.
What is Ginseng?
Ginseng is a deciduous, perennial plant that belongs to the Araliaceae family. There are 12 known species identiﬁed in the Panax genus. Panax ginseng, cultivated in China, Korea, Japan and Russia, is available as fresh, red, white and wild varieties:
- Red ginseng — peeled, heated by way of steaming at boiling temperatures and then dried or sun-dried. Often it is marinated in an herbal brew, which makes the root brittle.
- Fresh ginseng — a raw product and limited by availability.
- White ginseng — fresh ginseng which is dried without being heated, then peeled and dried again to reduce water content to 12% or less.
- Wild ginseng — harvested wherever it can be found; however, it is relatively rare.
The plants are usually harvested between four and six years of age. Special effort is made to keep the roots in tact, as this is where the valuable properties come from.
Traditionally, ginseng root was used as an ingredient in the preparation of tea and soups; however, recent breakthroughs in extraction and concentration methods have produced ginseng with higher potencies that are available in powder or liquid concentrates and capsules.
How Does Ginseng Work?
The ginseng plant root contains saponins, which are natural plant chemical components called ginsenosides. These unique active compounds found only in Panax ginseng are what make it authentic and unrivaled. The botanical genus name ‘Panax’ is derived from the Greek words ‘Pan’ meaning “all” and ‘axos’ meaning “cure.” Panax can literally be translated as cure-all, or panacea.
Orally administered, ginsenosides are difﬁcult for the body to break down; however, they can be metabolized by intestinal bacteria and then these metabolites are absorbed from the intestines.
Is All Ginseng Created Equal?
The simple answer is no.
There is a lot of information out there about ginseng and it can be a little confusing. Other herbs claim to be ginseng, but since they are from a different genus, or family, they do not contain the ginsenosides. These include Siberian ginseng (eleutherococcus senticosus), Prince ginseng (seudostellaria paniculate), Indian ginseng/Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), and Brazilian ginseng/Suma (Pfafﬁa paniculata).
Therefore, true ginseng plants belong solely to the Panax genus.
Beneﬁts to Health and Wellness
Clinical studies have shown that ginseng extract stimulates the immune system, improves mental and physical performance, reduces fatigue, supports healthy glucose regulation and improves general quality of life. Here are a few details about how ginseng can help improve your overall health and wellness:
Energy and Stamina — helps to increase both energy and stamina while having a soothing effect on the nerves. Unlike caffeine, ginseng does not have jittery effects or high-low crashes associated with it. It also helps to support adrenal health.
Immune System — improves mental and physical performance, strengthens the immune system as well as regains stamina lost during illness. It can also help to balance blood sugar levels and improve cardiovascular health.
Detoxiﬁcation — improves skin and rids it of free radicals that accumulate from daily sun exposure and environmental pollution. Internal use of ginseng can aid the body in repairing and building healthy cells.
Why Korean Ginseng is Better
When comparing Chinese, American or Korean ginseng, it’s important to know the ginsenoside content. Chinese and American ginsengs have 13 or 14 ginsenosides, but more than 30 ginsenosides have been identiﬁed in Korean ginseng.
Because there are many ginseng products on the market, it’s important to choose a quality brand with proven results in order to get the most beneﬁt from what ginseng can offer.
Ginseng is a delicate plant that requires special handling and care. For the best results, ginseng plants should be harvested at the optimal time (4.5 ‒ 5.5 years), and the entirety of the root and rootlets should be maintained without peeling, boiling, steaming or using high heat. All of these factors affect the ﬁnal product and determine the level of quality and effectiveness of absorption.
According to one study, less than 30% of males and less than 40% of females had full positive absorption of all ginsenosides. In other words, most consumers do not get the full beneﬁt of ginseng because their body does not properly break it down. In response to this, some producers of Korean ginseng have developed a fermented ginseng extract that mimics the fermentation that occurs naturally in the intestine to transform ginsenosides to an end-stage compound. This has been proven in clinical trials to dramatically improve the rate, speed and consistency of absorption. Fermented ginseng extract containing this metabolite has been shown to have many adaptogenic qualities, such as strong anti-oxidants, anti-stress, anti-allergy and anti-inﬂammatory properties. Additionally, the fermentation process helps to increase the taste proﬁle compared to other conventional ginseng extracts.
Is Ginseng Right for Me?
People across the globe are constantly searching for ways to attain more energy, balance and overall wellness in daily life. Most Americans start each day with a hot cup of coffee (or two), a caffeinated soda, or an energy drink. We need that extra shot-in-the-arm to start our day and to sustain energy.
Unlike caffeine, fermented ginseng can provide a calm, centered and sustained energy that lasts all day without a crash. Additionally, long-term use can help strengthen the immune system and provide optimal energy, vitality, mental clarity and focus.
While energy products and supplements ebb and ﬂow with the tides of change, ginseng has been a constant feature for thousands of years. Recent advances in biotechnology have allowed companies to optimize the growing, harvesting, processing, extraction and concentration of ginseng, which have resulted in improved effectiveness. This humble plant continues to live up to its name and reign as the “King of Herbs” for its countless medicinal properties.
Danielle Myers is a freelance writer and public relations professional from the Philadelphia area. As an avid traveler and foodie, she enjoys writing articles for health, travel and food publications.