Home / Chinese Herb / GINSENG [人參, REN SHEN]


Name : GinsengRenShen-AsiaGinseng-Big_opt

Chinese Name : 人參

Latin Name : Radix ginseng


Several varieties of ginseng exist in the world, the best known is Panax ginseng of the family Araliaceae. It grows mostly in the mountainous forest of the Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjian provinces of China. Panax ginseng is also distributed in northern Korea and the Eastern Maritime area of Siberia. Garden-cultivated ginseng is called garden ginseng, and the wild variety is known as mountain ginseng. Today, most ginseng is cultivated. It is harvested in autumn an the root is washed clean after the removal of the lateral roots and rootles. It is dried in the sun or roasted and is then called “sun-dried” or “white ginseng”. After steam cooking, dried ginseng turns a red-brown color and is known as “red ginseng”. When soaked in syrup, it is known as “sugar-processed ginseng”. The sliced root is a powerful Qi tonic and antiaging medicinal herb.

Medicinally, according to Ben Cao Gang Mu, ginseng, to the Chinese, is the medicine par excellance, the dernier resort (last resort) when all other drugs fail; it was reserved for the Emperor, his household, and the nobles. The Chinese claim ginseng to be

A tonic of the five viscera, quieting the animal spirits, establishing the soul, allaying fear, expelling evil effluvia, brightening the eyes, opening up the heart, benefitting the understanding, and if taken for sometime, it will invigorate the body and prolong life.

Traditionally, ginseng root has been more valuable than all other herbs, and is used as a tonic, carminative, demulcent, and stomachic remedy. It is also used to treat all forms of debility, the persistent vomiting of pregnant women, chronic malaria, continued fever, exhausting discharges, old coughs, polyuria, impotence; and spermatorrhea.

Use of Ginseng in TCM

Sweet and slightly bitter in taste, and neutral, it acts on the spleen, heart, and lung meridians.

Effects, Medicinal Uses, and Combinations.

  1. Invigorates Qi and augments the body’s Essence: Ginseng is the best remedy for deficiency of Lung-Qi, which manifests as shortness of breath, listlessness, cold limbs, profuse sweating, a weak pulse, and in severe cases, shock.
  • It can be used alone, as in Du Shen Tang (ginseng decoction)
  • It can be combined with processed aconite, as in Shen Fu Tang (R-1)*.
  1. Strengthens the spleen and stomach functions:
  • To treat listlessness, anorexia, fullness of abdomen, diarrhea, or prolapsed of the stomach or uterus, ginseng is combined with white atractylodes (bai zhu), poria (fu ling), and stir-baked licorice root, as in Si Jun Zi Tang (R-2).
  • For Qi deficiency of the middle Jiao (gastrointestinal cavity), as manifested by chronic diarrhea, or prolapse of the anus or uterus, it is used with astragalus root, bupleurum root (chai hu), and white atractylodes (bai zhu)
  • For tiredness, poor appetite, palpitations, mental fatigue, and spontaneous perspiration, ginseng is blended with orange peel, astragalus root, processed rehmannia, Chinese angelica, white peony root, cinnamon bark, schisandra fruit, and polygala root, as in Ren Shen Yang Rang Tang (Wan) (R-3)
  1. Strengthens functions of the lungs and augments the Qi:
  • To treat shortness of breath, asthma, spontaneous sweating, wheezing, and labored breathing with exertion, ginseng is prescribed with walnut kernel, schisandra fruit, and gecko (ge jie), as in Ren Shen Hu Tao Tang
  • To augment Qi and invigorate the functions of the spleen, ginseng is dispensed with schisandra fruit, royal jelly, and honey, as in Ren Shen Feng Wang Jiang (R-4), to nourish the human body, and to treat malnutrition and rheumatic arthritis.
  1. Improves diabetes, polyuria, thirst disorders, and supplements Qi, nourishing the yin and producing body fluid: Ginseng is often used with ophiopogon root (mai men dong) and schisandra fruit, as in Sheng Mai San (R-5)
  2. Strengthens the Heart-Qi and Spleen-Qi, and calms the Spirit:: for irritability, insomnia, dreaminess, palpitations, listlessness and lassitude, ginseng is combined with Chinese angelica (dang gui), zizyphus, astragalus root, licorice root, and longan aril, as in Gui Pi Tang (R-6).
  3. Invigorates kidney yang : for male sexual disorders, such as impotence, premature ejaculation, and spermatorrhea, ginseng is commonly dispended with other Qi tonic  and yang tonic herbs, such as astragalus, epimedium, and deer antler (lu rong)


In a decoction,3 to 9 g per day. A lower dose (1 to 3 g) is used with the powdered form or when used in combination with other Qi or Yang tonic herbs.


Combining ginseng with the following drugs, herbs, or food may produce unwanted side effects.

  1. Veratrum root is incompatible with ginseng root
  2. Any drug that is a heart stimulant or a sedative
  3. Blood thinner, such as warfarin
  4. Hot foods, tea, coffee, and turnips are to be avoided when taking ginseng.

Side Effects and Toxicity

Under normal conditions, ginseng produces few side effects. Ginseng should not be prescribed for those who are not  Qi or yang deficiency, or those with excess Fire. Long-term use of ginseng (more than four weeks) or  an overdose may cause side effects, such as  headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, palpitations, and skin eruptions. These symptoms will slowly disappear after one stops taking the herb.

People who consume 3 percent of ginseng root tincture, up to 100 ml, showed slight irritation and excitation. When the dose was increased up to 200 ml, urticaria, headaches, dizziness, hemorrhaging, and insomnia resulted. The LD50 of powdered ginseng in mice by oral administration was 5g/kg.

Chemical Constituents

Ginseng  leaves and stems contain about 5 to 15 percent of ginseng saponins, in comparison to the main root which contains about 2 to 15 percent total saponins and 0.05 percent volatile oil. Panax ginseng contains panaquilon and ginseng saponin glycosides. The various isolated chemicals found in ginseng, so far identified, can be classified into nine groups:

  1. Ginseng saponins (panaxadiol type and panaxatriol type panaxosides): Rx (x=o, a, b, b2,c,d,e,f,g-1,g-2,g-3, and h).
  2. Ginseng oil and phytosterol (stigma sterol)
  3. Sugars and carbohydrates (glucose, fructose, maltose, sucrose, and other polysugars);
  4. Organic acids (citric, fumaric, ketoglutaric, oleic, linolenic,maleic, malic, and so on);
  5. Nonprotein nitrogenous substances (such as choline);
  6. Amino acids and peptides (essential and nonessential);
  7. Vitamins (B-complex, biotin, niacin, niacinamide, panthotenic acid);
  8. Minerals and trace elements (Al, Mg, K, P,Si, S, Mn, Ca, Na, Zn, Mo, B, Fe,V, Cu,Co, and As); and
  9. Unknown enzymes

Saponins can be divided into two classes: the protopanaxatriol class and the protopanaxadiol class. Saponins have particular chemical properties and their notable characteristics are:

  1. Ability to form colloidal solutions in water that foam upon shaking;
  2. A bitter taste;
  3. Sternutatory and irritating properties to the mucous membrane; and
  4. Hemolytic action against red blood cells

Pharmacological Findings

  1. Ginseng regulates the central nervous system and stimulates it at a lower dose and can be sedative at higher doses. Ginseng improves the activity and performance of the brain, reduces fatigue, and improves stamina.
  2. Ginseng has protective effects and invigorates adaptogenic activity; it is a powerful “adaptogenic herb”. The adaptogenic concept was introduced by the Russian scientist, I.I. Brekhman, who defined adaptogens as innocuous or harmless herbs that exhibit an ability to increase resistance to a wide range of adverse or harmful chemical, physical, environmental, and biological influences and normalize the pathogical state.
  3. Action on the endocrine system:
  • Excitatory action on the pituitary-adrenal cortex system increases the function of the adrenal cortex system, immunity response, and resistance to disease. Ginsenosides react directly with the hypothalamus or the hypophysis (pituitary) to secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal cortex.
  • Stimulates the pituitary gland and produced more sex hormones
  • Increases the activities of the thyroid gland
  1. Action on the cardiac and circulatory system:
  • Cardiac tonic effect is similar to cardiac glycoside. A small dose can increase cardiac muscle tone but a large dose is inhibitive
  • Stimulates the production of red and white blood cells
  • Hypertensive effect with small dose but hypotensive effect with large dose, due to either the constriction or dilation of capillary blood vessels at different doses.
  1. Effect on metabolism
  • Invigorates the activities of the digestive system and increases appetite.
  • Reduces blood sugar as it increases the secretion of insulin
  • Regulates the metabolism of cholesterol and prevents the development of arteriosclerosis.
  1. Immunity stimulation
  • Increases the immunity response of the body and stimulates the production of immunoglobulins.
  • Stimulates the production of white blood cells and lymphocytes, and promotes the transformation of lymphoblast.
  • Increases the reticuloendothelial system and increases immunity.
  1. Antiaging : studies show that the alcohol extract called “maltol” from red ginseng root demonstrates an antiaging effect on rats.
  2. Anabolic (growth promotion).
  3. Antiallergic
  4. Antitumor and anticarcinogenic activity.
  5. Effect on hematopoietic function: Ginseng extract showed protective and stimulative actions on the hematopoietic function of bone marrow, increasing the amount of white and red blood cells, and hemoglobin in normal and anemic animals.
  6. Increases sexual functions and gonadotrophic effect.

Clinical Findings

  1. Helps in treating shock, cardiac failure, low blood pressure, hyperlipemia, and neurasthenia.
  2. Good for treating anemia, fatigue, debility, and poor appetite.
  3. Relieves menopausal symptoms.
  4. Beneficial for patients with deficient Qi and vital essence.
  5. For stomach cancer and colon cancer, ginseng helps during chemotherapy and improves immunity.
  6. Ginseng regulates gonadotrophic hormones to relieve sexual debility and menopausal symptoms.

Clinical findings in Germany are as follows: In patients using ginseng powder 400 to 1200 mg/day and extract preparation in doses of 200 to 600 mg/day, in thirteen of the studies (1,572 cases), improvements in mood were reported. Physical performance improved in seventeen studies (846 cases). Improved intellectual performance was reported in eleven studies and improvement in various metabolic parameters were noted in 10 studies.

All the studies emphasized the absence or near absence of side effects from ginseng therapy.