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Panax quinquefolius foliage and fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Apiales
Family: Araliaceae
Subfamily: Aralioideae
Genus: Panax

Subgenus Panax

Section Panax
Series Notoginseng
Panax notoginseng
Series Panax
Panax bipinnatifidus
Panax ginseng
Panax japonicus
Panax quinquefolius
Panax vietnamensis
Panax wangianus
Panax zingiberensis
Section Pseudoginseng
Panax pseudoginseng
Panax stipuleanatus

Subgenus Trifolius

Panax trifolius

Ginseng ([1]) is any one of the 11 species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, belonging to the genus Panax of the family Araliaceae.

Ginseng is found in North America and in eastern Asia (mostly Korea, northeast China, Bhutan, eastern Siberia), typically in cooler climates. Panax vietnamensis, discovered in Vietnam, is the southernmost ginseng known. This article focuses on the series Panax ginsengs, which are the adaptogenic herbs, principally Panax ginseng and P. quinquefolius. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides and gintonin.

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is in the same family, but not genus, as true ginseng. Like ginseng, it is considered to be an adaptogenic herb. The active compounds in Siberian ginseng are eleutherosides, not ginsenosides. Instead of a fleshy root, Siberian ginseng has a woody root.


  • Etymology 1
  • Economics 2
  • Folk medicine 3
  • Research 4
  • Safety 5
    • Considerations 5.1
    • Side effects 5.2
    • Interactions 5.3
    • Overdose 5.4
  • Common classification 6
    • Asian ginseng (root) 6.1
      • Red ginseng 6.1.1
      • Fresh ginseng 6.1.2
      • White ginseng 6.1.3
      • Wild ginseng 6.1.4
    • P. quinquefolius American ginseng (root) 6.2
  • Other plants sometimes called ginseng 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn (simplified: 人参; traditional: 人蔘). Rén means "Person" and shēn means "plant root"; this refers to the root's characteristic forked shape, which resembles the legs of a person.[2] The English pronunciation derives from a southern Chinese reading, similar to Cantonese yun sum (Jyutping: jan4sam1) and the Hokkien pronunciation "jîn-sim".

The botanical/genus name Panax means "all-heal" in Greek, sharing the same origin as "panacea" was applied to this genus because Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine as a muscle relaxant.

Besides P. ginseng, many other plants are also known as or mistaken for the ginseng root. The most commonly known examples are xiyangshen, also known as American ginseng 西洋参 (P. quinquefolius), Japanese ginseng 東洋参 (P. japonicus), crown prince ginseng 太子參 (Pseudostellaria heterophylla), and Siberian ginseng 刺五加 (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Although all have the name ginseng, each plant has distinctively different functions. However, true ginseng plants belong only to the Panax genus.[3]


In 2010, nearly all of the world's 80,000 tons of ginseng in international commerce was produced in four countries: South Korea, China, Canada,[4] and the United States. The product was marketed in over 35 countries. Sales exceeded $2.1 billion, of which half came from South Korea.[5] Historically, Korea has been the largest provider, and China the largest consumer. Control over the ginseng fields was an issue in the 16th century.[6]

Folk medicine

The root is most often available in dried form, either whole or sliced. Ginseng leaf, although not as highly prized, is sometimes also used. Folk medicine attributes various benefits to oral use of American ginseng and Asian ginseng (P. ginseng) roots, including roles as an aphrodisiac or stimulant treatment, but there no studies to date proving the effectiveness of ginseng for treating any disease.[7][8][9]

Ginseng may be found in small doses in energy drinks[10] or herbal teas, such as ginseng coffee.[11] hair tonics and cosmetics preparations, but none has been proven effective.


Ginsenosides, unique compounds of the Panax species, are under basic and clinical research to investigate their potential for use in medicine[12] or when taken as a dietary supplement.[13]



Ginseng is known to contain phytoestrogens.[14][15][16]

Side effects

A common side effect of P. ginseng may be insomnia,[17] but this effect is disputed.[18] Other side effects can include nausea, diarrhea, headaches, nose bleeds,[19] high blood pressure, low blood pressure, and breast pains.[20]


Ginseng has been shown to have adverse drug reactions with phenelzine and warfarin; it has been shown to decrease blood alcohol levels.[21] A potential interaction has also been reported with imatinib[22] resulting in hepatotoxicity, and with lamotrigine[23] causing DRESS syndrome.

Ginseng may also lead to induction of mania in depressed patients who mix it with antidepressants.[24]


The common adaptogen ginsengs (P. ginseng and P. quinquefolia) are generally considered to be relatively safe even in large amounts. One of the most common and characteristic symptoms of acute overdose of Panax ginseng is bleeding. Symptoms of mild overdose may include dry mouth and lips, excitation, fidgeting, irritability, tremor, palpitations, blurred vision, headache, insomnia, increased body temperature, increased blood pressure, edema, decreased appetite, dizziness, itching, eczema, early morning diarrhea, bleeding, and fatigue.[3]

Symptoms of gross overdose with Panax ginseng 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, cyanotic (blue) facial complexion, red facial complexion, seizures, convulsions, and delirium.[3]

Patients experiencing any of the above symptoms are advised to discontinue the herbs and seek any necessary symptomatic treatment, as well as medical advice in severe cases.[3]

Common classification

Ginseng roots in a market in Seoul, 2003

Asian ginseng (root)

Ginseng and reishi mushrooms in bottles being sold in Seoul, Korea

Panax ginseng is available commercially as fresh, red, and white ginsengs; wild ginseng is used where available.

Red ginseng

Red ginseng

Red ginseng (Hangul홍삼; hanja紅蔘; RRhong-sam; traditional Chinese: 紅蔘; simplified Chinese: 红参; pinyin: hóng shēn), P. ginseng, has been peeled, heated through steaming at standard boiling temperatures of 100 °C (212 °F), and then dried or sun-dried. It is frequently marinated in an herbal brew which results in the root becoming extremely brittle.

Fresh ginseng

Fresh ginseng is the raw product. Its use is limited by availability.

White ginseng

White ginseng, native to America, is fresh ginseng which has been dried without being heated. It is peeled and dried to reduce the water content to 12% or less. White ginseng air-dried in the sun may contain less of the therapeutic constituents. It is thought by some that enzymes contained in the root break down these constituents in the process of drying. Drying in the sun bleaches the root to a yellowish-white color.

Wild ginseng

Harvested ginseng in Germany

Wild ginseng grows naturally and is harvested from wherever it is found. It is relatively rare, and even increasingly endangered, due in large part to high demand for the product in recent years, which has led to the wild plants being sought out and harvested faster than new ones can grow (it requires years for a root to reach maturity). Wild ginseng can be either Asian or American, and can be processed to be red ginseng.

Woods-grown American ginseng programs in Vermont, Maine, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, West Virginia and Kentucky,[25][26] and United Plant Savers have been encouraging the planting of ginseng both to restore natural habitats and to remove pressure from any remaining wild ginseng, and they offer both advice and sources of rootlets. Woods-grown plants have a value comparable to wild-grown ginseng of similar age.

Partially germinated ginseng seeds harvested the previous Fall can be planted from early Spring until late Fall, and will sprout the following Spring. If planted in a wild setting and left to their own devices, they will develop into mature plants which cannot be distinguished from native wild plants. Both Asian and American partially germinated ginseng seeds can be bought from May through December on various eBay sales. Some seed sales come with planting and growing instructions.

P. quinquefolius American ginseng (root)

According to traditional Chinese medicine, American ginseng promotes yin energy, cleans excess yang and calms the body. The reason it has been claimed that American ginseng promotes yin (shadow, cold, negative, female) while Asian ginseng promotes yang (sunshine, hot, positive, male) is that, according to traditional Chinese medicine, things living in cold places or northern side of mountains or southern side of rivers are strong in yang and the converse, so the two are balanced. Chinese/Korean ginseng grows in Manchuria and Korea, the coldest area known to many Koreans in ancient times. Thus, ginseng from there is supposed to be very yang.

Originally, American ginseng was imported into China via subtropical Guangzhou, the seaport next to Hong Kong, so Chinese doctors believed American ginseng must be good for yang, because it came from a hot area. They did not know, however, that American ginseng can only grow in temperate regions. Nonetheless, the root is legitimately classified as more yin because it generates fluids.[27]

Most North American ginseng is produced in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia and the American state of Wisconsin.[28] P. quinquefolius is now also grown in northern China.

The aromatic root resembles a small parsnip that forks as it matures. The plant grows 6″ to 18″  tall, usually bearing three leaves, each with three to five leaflets two to five inches long.

Other plants sometimes called ginseng

Several other plants are sometimes referred to as ginsengs, but they are either from a different family or genus.

See also


  1. ^ "ginseng". Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Retrieved 2011-06-04. 
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionaries Online, s.v. "ginseng".
  3. ^ a b c d Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, by John K. Chen, Tina T. Chen
  4. ^ Brian L. Evans, "Ginseng: Root of Chinese-Canadian Relations," Canadian Historical Review (1985) 66#1 pp 1-26
  5. ^ Baeg, In-Ho, and Seung-Ho So. "The world ginseng market and the ginseng." Journal of ginseng research 37.1 (2013): 1. online
  6. ^ Seonmin Kim, "Ginseng and Border Trespassing Between Qing China and Choson Korea," Late Imperial China (2007) 28#1 pp 33-61
  7. ^ Kim, Sina; Shin, Byung-Cheul; Lee, Myeong Soo; Lee, Hyangsook; Ernst, Edzard (3 December 2011). "Red ginseng for type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials". Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine 17 (12): 937–944.  
  8. ^ Yeh, GY; Eisenberg, DM; Kaptchuk, TJ; Phillips, RS (April 2003). "Systematic review of herbs and dietary supplements for glycemic control in diabetes.". Diabetes care 26 (4): 1277–94.  
  9. ^ Shishtar, E; Sievenpiper, JL; Djedovic, V; Cozma, AI; Ha, V; Jayalath, VH; Jenkins, DJ; Meija, SB; de Souza, RJ; Jovanovski, E; Vuksan, V (2014). "The effect of ginseng (the genus panax) on glycemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials.". PloS one 9 (9): e107391.  
  10. ^ "Do You Know What’s in Your Favorite Energy Drink?". Retrieved 28 October 2013. 
  11. ^ Clauson KA, Shields KM, McQueen CE, Persad N (2008). "Safety issues associated with commercially available energy drinks". J Am Pharm Assoc (2003) 48 (3): e55–63; quiz e64–7.  
  12. ^ Qi LW, Wang CZ, Yuan CS (June 2011). "Ginsenosides from American ginseng: chemical and pharmacological diversity". Phytochemistry 72 (8): 689–99.  
  13. ^ "Ginseng". American Cancer Society. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  14. ^ Lee YJ, Jin YR, Lim WC, et al. (January 2003). "Ginsenoside-Rb1 acts as a weak phytoestrogen in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells". Arch. Pharm. Res. 26 (1): 58–63.  
  15. ^ Chan RY, Chen WF, Dong A, Guo D, Wong MS (August 2002). "Estrogen-like activity of ginsenoside Rg1 derived from Panax notoginseng". J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 87 (8): 3691–5.  
  16. ^ Lee Y, Jin Y, Lim W, et al. (March 2003). "A ginsenoside-Rh1, a component of ginseng saponin, activates estrogen receptor in human breast carcinoma MCF-7 cells". J. Steroid Biochem. Mol. Biol. 84 (4): 463–8.  
  17. ^
  18. ^ "The Ginseng Book." Stephen Fulder, PhD
  19. ^ "Ginseng definition - Medical Dictionary definitions of some medical terms defined on MedTerms". 2012-09-20. Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
  20. ^ Kiefer D, Pantuso T (October 2003). "Panax ginseng". Am Fam Physician 68 (8): 1539–42.  
  21. ^ Izzo AA, Ernst E (2001). "Interactions between herbal medicines and prescribed drugs: a systematic review". Drugs 61 (15): 2163–75.  
  22. ^ Bilgi N, Bell K, Ananthakrishnan AN, Atallah E (2010). "Imatinib and Panax ginseng: a potential interaction resulting in liver toxicity". The Annals of Pharmacotherapy 44 (5): 926–8.  
  23. ^ Myers AP, Watson TA, Strock SB (2015). "Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms Syndrome Probably Induced by a Lamotrigine-Ginseng Drug Interaction". Pharmacotherapy.  
  24. ^ Fugh-Berman A (January 2000). "Herb-drug interactions". Lancet 355 (9198): 134–8.  
  25. ^ TDEC: DNH: Ginseng Program
  26. ^ "Care and Planting of Ginseng Seed and Roots". 1914-06-30. Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
  27. ^ Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Third Edition by Dan Bensky, Steven Clavey, Erich Stonger, and Andrew Gamble 2004
  28. ^ Agri-food Canada

Further reading

  • Baeg, In-Ho, and Seung-Ho So. "The world ginseng market and the ginseng." Journal of ginseng research 37.1 (2013): 1. online
  • Evans, Brian L. "Ginseng: Root of Chinese-Canadian Relations," Canadian Historical Review (1985) 66#1 pp 1–26
  • Johannsen, Kristin (2006). Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant. University Press of Kentucky. 
  • Kim, Seonmin. "Ginseng and Border Trespassing Between Qing China and Choson Korea," Late Imperial China (2007) 28#1 pp 33–61
  • Pritts, K.D. (2010). Ginseng: How to Find, Grow, and Use America´s Forest Gold. Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-3634-3
  • Taylor, D.A. (2006). Ginseng, the Divine Root: The Curious History of the Plant That Captivated the World. Algonquin Books. ISBN 978-1-56512-401-1

External links

  • MedlinePlus-Ginseng - National Institutes of Health
  • Asian Ginseng - NCCIH - National Institutes of Health
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