GINSENG: Legendary 'cure all'
(Investigator 169, 2016 July)
A herbal name possibly familiar to most people, ginseng has been used
for several thousand years in the Orient as a tonic, a prophylactic
agent, a "restorative", and in modern times, as an ergogenic aid by
Its efficacy however, is based more on testimonial evidence than
scientific verification of its pharmacological effects.
According to the doctrine of signatures, because the root of the
ginseng plant supposedly resembles the human body it makes it a
whole-body tonic. And because some specimens have a third, shorter
root, it is especially prized as an aphrodisiac.
In 1753, Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, classified its genus, Panax,
from the Greek "pan" meaning all and "akos" or ills — a cure all. There
is however, no evidence that ginseng enhances sexual performance, or
for that matter, has any other proven medicinal or therapeutic
There are several species of ginseng, American, Chinese, Korean,
Japanese and Siberian, and the alleged attributes of each species vary.
Most ginseng studies have lacked controls (they were not tested against
non-active substitutes) and the findings are often contradictory. Some
for example, showed reductions in blood pressure, while others suggest
the herb can dangerously elevate blood pressure.
Although most people would probably identify ginseng with the Orient,
80% of the world's production for export is grown in Marathon County,
Wisconsin, U.S.A. Much of the ginseng grown in Wisconsin is repackaged
and resold in America as imported Korean ginseng.
Ginseng is claimed to restore body functions to normal and, among other
things, increase physical endurance and is a reviver of sexual
appetite. There is little research evidence however, to support the
view that ginseng consistently enhances physical performance or has any
other beneficial effect.
One study reported in the November 1997 issue of the American Dietetic Association's
journal confirms this.
Hermann Engles and John Worth, researchers at Wayne State University,
in Detroit, measured signs of exertion (oxygen consumption, blood
lactic-acid, concentration, heart rate and others) in 31 healthy men
while they worked at maximum effort on stationary cycles. The men were
divided into three groups.
For eight weeks, one group took 200 mg a day of Panax ginseng
concentrate (also called Chinese or Korean ginseng), another took 400
mg a day, and the third group took an identical looking placebo.
When the men were retested after eight weeks, supplementation "was
found to have no effect on any of the physiologic and psychological
Although ginseng is thought to be relatively safe, a two year study
(Popov and Goldwag 1973) of various types of ginseng in 133 individuals
using a wide variety of commercial products, revealed that ginseng has
stimulant effects, but was accompanied by a high incidence of adverse
effects such as sleeplessness, nervousness, hypertension, and euphoria.
However, I have been informed that this study was discredited.
Bahrke, M and Morgan, W.P. 1994. Evaluation
.of the Ergogenic Properties of Ginseng. Sports Medicine,
Griggs, Barbara. 1981. Green Pharmacy,
Robert Hale Ltd., London.
Huxtable, R. 1992. The Myth of Beneficent Nature: The Risks of Herbal
Preparations. Annals of Internal
Medicine. Vol. 2, No.2, p.165-166.
Popov, I. M. and Goldwag, W.J. 1973. A review of the properties and
clinical effects of ginseng. American
Journal of Chinese Medicine. 1(2):263-70.
Prevention Magazine Health Books,
1992. Healing Remedies and Techniques. MJF Books, New York.
Velden, P.V. 1993. Ginseng: Legendary "cure all". Kenosha News. April 29, 1993.
[Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative,
Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian
therapies not endorsed by the medical profession examined on this