American Gingseng

The number of species in this genus of perennials is disputed and may be three or six, depending on whether P. pseudoginseng is regarded as a single species with variants or four separate species. They are distributed in S and E Asia, and N America. Panax ginseng is an ancient Taoist tonic herb, which has been used as a qi (vital essence) tonic in Chinese medicine for about 5000 years. It was introduced to Europe several times in the 9th century onward but assumed no importance in Western medicine until studies by Soviet scientists in the early 1950's established it as an "adaptogen". To increase availability of the drug, they also searched for similar properties in related native species and discovered Eleutherococcus senticosus (See Siberian Ginseng) Panax pseudoginseng var. notoginseng was first mentioned in Chinese medical texts in the 16th century. It is primarily a healing herb and was used extensively by the Vietcong during the Vietnam war to improve recovery from gunshot wounds. Panax quinquefolius was discovered in the 18th century by Jesuit colleagues of Père Jartoux, who deduced that similar plants might exist in N America. It was first collected for export to China by backwoodsmen ("seng diggers"), and was first described in Chinese medicine c.1765. Regarded as more yin than P. ginseng, Panax quinquefolius is given to children and young people, for whom P. ginseng might not be appropriate. In appearance as well as use, the two species are very similar. Panax japonicus (Japanese ginseng, bamboo ginseng) is important in Japan, and in macrobiotic diets, often as an ingredient of tonic teas and liqueurs. The main medicinal species are now rare in the wild, and are cultivated commercially in Korea, China, Russia, and the USA (mainly in Wisconsin). An unrelated species Pfaffia paniculata (See, suma), is known as Brazilian ginseng.

In the eighteenth century, a Jesuit missionary living in North America noticed that a plant sometimes used by Native American tribes was almost exactly the same as the Chinese ginseng plant, which was considered a virtual cure-all and aphrodisiac. Thus began the high demand for American ginseng, which continues to this day and has driven it nearly into extinction. Some studies have shown that American ginseng can help lower blood sugar.

Perennial with aromatic, branched rootstock and short-stalked leaves divided into 3-7 toothed leaflets, to 16cm (6in) long, which have coarsely toothed margins. Small, green-white flowers appear in an umbel in spring, followed by red berries.

In appearance, American Ginseng is a smaller version of its more famous Asian cousin. It is a slow-growing perennial plant with a large, fleshy root and one- to two-foot-high stem. The leaves are divided into three to seven sharp-toothed, lance-shaped leaflets. The scented, yellow-green flowers grow in June and July. The fruits, which follow the blossoms, are two-seeded red berries. American Ginseng is found from Maine to Georgia, and from Oklahoma to Minnesota. Unfortunately, it is now an endangered species in much of this area. Asians highly value the ginseng grown in Wisconsin.
The root, coarsely chopped, is the part used in herbal medicine. A good-quality root has first a sweet and then a bitter flavor as it is chewed. For most applications, wildcrafted American Ginseng is more effective than field-grown ginseng.

Common Name:
American Ginseng
Other Names:
Canadian Ginseng, Ginseng Root, Native American Ginseng, North American Ginseng, Red Berry, Ren Shen
Botanical Name:
Panax quinquefolius
Moist, well-drained, rich soil in shade, with ample warmth and humidity during the growing season.
By seed sown 2.5cm (1in) deep when ripe. Keep seed in damp moss before sowing; do not allow to dry out. Germination is slow and erratic.
Roots are lifted from 6-7-year-old plants in autumn and used fresh or dried in decoctions, liquid extracts, pills and powders. Processing of P. ginseng varies according to product and quality. Red ginseng is steamed, heat-dried, then sun-dried; white ginseng is peeled and dried for chewing. Flowers are picked in spring and summer for decoctions.
Native Location:
Eastern N America
30-50cm (12-20in)
45-60cm (18-24in)
Parts Used:
Roots (xi yang shen)
A bittersweet, tonic herb with similar properties to P. ginseng.
Historical Use:
The plant now known as Korean or Red Ginseng was the most popular herb in China for thousands of years. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, supplies of wild ginseng were growing scarce, so the Chinese were forced to look for other sources. Amazingly, an almost identical plant grew in North America, and Native Americans had also put it to the same medicinal uses.
In 1709, Petrus Jartoux, a Jesuit missionary to China, received four pieces of American ginseng after accompanying a mapping expedition. He found himself so reinvigorated by the herb after his exhausting journey that he published his observations in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Father Jartoux noted that he thought the plant could be found in the cold, damp forests of French Canada, similar to the areas of China where it grew wild. Another Jesuit missionary working among the Mohawk tribe in Quebec, Pére Lafitau, read Father Jartoux's account in 1714. Lafitau promptly located the same plant called gar-ent-oguen, or "man plant", by the Iroquois.
This plant turned out to have the same medicinal qualities as Chinese ginseng. Not only did the Iroquois use the same plant, they used it for the same purpose as the Chinese. By 1748, the Jesuits were selling tons of American ginseng in China for the then-unimaginable price of five dollars a pound.
Ginseng was used throughout North America. The Cherokee of North Carolina called ginseng the "plant of life" and used the root for cramps, dysmenorrhea, and symptoms that we would now identify as premenstrual syndrome. The Potawatomi used ginseng to mask the unpleasant tastes of other medicines. The Alabamans took ginseng for stomach pains and nausea, and used it to pack wounds to stop bleeding. The Creeks used ginseng for bronchial disease, cough, croup, and fever. The Menominee used ginseng as the Chinese did, to stimulate mental capacity and as a general tonic.
One of the most unusual uses of ginseng came from the Pawnee, who combined ginseng with two other herbs into a love potion. Possession of this medicine supposedly served to attract all persons to the holder, regardless of animosities. If the hair of the desired woman was added to the mixture, she was said to be incapable of resisting.
In the West, early Native Americans used American ginseng in much the same way as the ancient Chinese used Asian ginseng, and, remarkably, even called their version of the plant garantoquen, a variation of "like a man". They also used the herb to ease pain during childbirth and increase the stamina and energy in the elderly. American ginseng remained largely a Native American healing herb through the 1600s. By the seventeenth century, explorers and missionaries in the East and West began almost simultaneously to report home about ginseng's extraordinary benefits, and limited amounts of the herb made their way to France and England. In the early eighteenth century, however, two Jesuit missionaries—one in China; the other in Canada, living with the Iroquois Indians—exchanged samples of Asian and American ginsengs. Seemingly overnight, ginseng became famous worlwide, and a booming cultivation business sprung up on both sides of the globe, but especially in the United States. By the mid-nineteenth century, nearly 80,000 pounds of ginseng were exported from the U.S., much of it cultivated in the state of Wisconsin.
0 The Fool
Evidence of Benefit:
American ginseng is a "cooler" alternative to Chinese Ginseng (also known as Red Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, or Panax Ginseng) for persons who have high blood pressure for treatment during summer months. It is used primarily for increased mental efficiency, stamina, and energy. Ginseng contains components galled ginsenosides that stimulate the immune system and fight fatigue and stress. They do this by supporting the adrenal glands and the use of oxygen by exercising muscles.
American ginseng promotes appetite and is helpful for rheumatism, headaches, colds, coughs, bronchitis, constipation, lung problems, cystitis, and symptoms of menopause. Native Americans use a tea made from the herb to treat nausea and vomiting. It has also been used as an ingredient in "love potions".
Benefits of american ginseng for specific health conditions include the following:

  • Diabetes: Researchers believe that American ginseng may be a viable alternative to conventional forms of treatment for type 2 diabetes. They feel it may hold the same potential as insulin or other medications in helping to control or prevent diabetes.
  • High Blood Pressure: American ginseng contains compounds that regulate both the strength of the heartbeat and blood pressure. If the body is deficient in potassium, these saponins slow the rate at which heart muscle fibers contract. If there is excess potassium, the saponins increase the strength with which heart muscle fibers contract. Maintaining optimal potassium levels also eases high blood pressure. Laboratory tests show that American Ginseng also lowers blood pressure by stimulating the conversion of the amino acid arginine to nitric oxide (NO), which causes the walls of blood vessels to relax. This action prevents the release of a protein known as endothelin, which can cause blood vessels to constrict during a heart attack.
  • Infertility: Various Native American groups used American Ginseng in the treatment of infertile women, although no clinical studies have confirmed the usefulness of the herb for this purpose. However, it is known that American Ginseng shares compounds with Chinese Ginseng that stimulate the pituitary gland to in turn stimulate the growth of the uterine lining.
  • Sex Drive, Dimished: American ginseng traditionally has been used, like Chinese ginseng, to restore sex drive in men. Although scientific studies involving human volunteers would be extremely difficult to conduct, experiments with laboratory animals indicate that American ginseng increases interest in sex by altering the action of the neuro-transmitter dopamine in the brain. American ginseng does not increase testosterone, which could increase aggression and aggravate prostate disorders.
  • Stress:: Like other forms of ginseng, American ginseng traditionally has been applied to restoring health after long periods of illness or prolonged stress. Research suggests that American ginseng aids the body in adapting to different temperatures and stress when taken regularly. These effects are termed adaptogenic. Taken over a course of one to three months, American ginseng regulates the body's production of stress hormones. The next time the individual is exposed to stress, stress reactions are greatly reduced. Although the exact mechanisms of activity are not known, it is likely that American ginseng protects a portion of the brain known as the hippocampus from the effects of stress hormones. This prevents memory problems, a common complaint among people under stress. This mechanism would also explain the usefulness of American ginseng in preventing loss of memory or cognitive ability in people who suffer from bipolar disorder, depression, and a disorder of the adrenal glands known as Cushing's disease.
Consideration for Use:
American ginseng is most commonly available as a tincture, although many vendors supply high-quality root for use as a tea. All forms of the herb should be avoided if your stomach does not produce enough acid to digest food properly.
Since American ginseng stimulates fertility, it also should be avoided by women in the first week after starting any new brand of oral contraceptive. This effect is especially pronounced in women who take birth control pills with antibiotics or barbiturates. American ginseng should be avoided by women who take prescription drug treatments for which pregnancy is contraindicated, especially isotretinoin (Accutane), which causes birth defects.
Some people report experiencing insomnia when taking American ginseng, especially if they also consume foods or beverages containing caffeine. This adverse effect can be lessened by reducing the dose of American ginseng or by avoiding it later in the day.
There is a syndrome called ginseng abuse syndrome caused by long-term use of ginseng in an amount over 15 grams per day, which greatly exceeds the normal recommended daily dose. This should not be a big concern unless you are taking such high doses—in which case you should seek professional help.
Standardized extracts for American ginseng are not available. However, American ginseng can be safely taken in the amount of 1 to 2 grams per day in capsule or tablet form or 3 to 5 milliliters of tincture three times a day.
Medicinal Uses:
Similar to P. ginseng, but mainly prescribed for younger patients with yin deficiency.
To treat anemia, diabetes, insomnia, impotence, fever, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); to improve stamina; to protect against acute respiratory illness.
With milder stimulating properties than Asian ginseng, American ginseng is often given to children and young adults. It is an especially effective pain reliever and noted for restoring energy and stamina in the elderly. Two of its primary chemical ingredients—germanium and the panaxosides—have important therapeutic properties. Germanium is believed responsible for American ginseng's effectiveness in gently treating chronic physical and mental weakness, debilitation after long illness, and impaired immune function. The panaxosides, which are mild stimulants, are believed to help calm mental agitation. American ginseng is taken internally for a compromised immune system, chronic debilitating disorders (such as AIDS), coughs and other upper respiratory ailments, depression, fatigue, fever, pain, night sweats, and stress.
Commercially prepared ginseng products are widely available in teas and capsules. Choose products from a reputable, well-known manufacturer. Ginseng can also be found as fresh or dried root, dried powder, and rock candy. To make a decoction, boil 1 teaspoon of fresh herb or 2 teaspoons of dried herb in 1 cup of water for 15 minutes. Drink up to 2 cups a day. Ginseng may also be added to soups.
Special Note: Fresh or dried ginseng is best obtained from a qualified medical practitioner or certified commercial supplier. Asian ginseng is quite expensive and not widely available. American ginseng has been harvest so extensively that it is considered an endangered species. Some products advertised as "pure" or "true" ginseng are in fact adulterated with other herbs or "filler" materials.
Typical Dose:
A typical dose of American ginseng is approximately 200 mg twice daily to protect against acute respiratory illness, or 3 to 9 gm before a meal to reduce postprandial glucose levels in those with type 2 diabetes.
Only use ginseng under the supervision of your medical practitioner. Minor side effects may include anxiety, breast soreness, headaches, jitteriness, insomnia, or skin rashes. In certain individuals, ginseng may cause asthma attacks, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, or uterine bleeding. If any of these symptoms occur, stop taking the herb and consult your practitioner immediately. If you are pregnant or have diabetes, emphysema, hay fever, or heart disease, talk with your medical practitioner before taking ginseng. Ginseng is not a daily tonic and should only be taken on a short-term basis.
Possible Side Effects:
American ginseng's side effects include nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and insomnia.
Drug Interactions:
Taking American ginseng with these drugs may increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar):
Acarbose, (Prandase, Precose)
Acetohexamide, (Acetohexamide)
Chlorpropamide, (Diabinese, Novo-Propamide)
Gliclazide, (Diamicron, Novo-Gliclazide)
Glimepiride, (Amaryl)
Glipizide, (Glucotrol)
Glipizide and Metformin, (Metaglip)
Gliquidone, (Beglynor, Glurenorm)
Glyburide, (DiaBeta, Micronase)
Glyburide and Metformin, (Glucovance)
Insulin, (Humulin, Novolin R)
Metformin, (Glucophage, Riomet)
Miglitol, (Glyset)
Nateglinide, (Starlix)
Pioglitazone, (Actos)
Repaglinide, (GlucoNorm, Prandin)
Rosiglitazone, (Avandia)
Rosiglitazone and Metformin, (Avandamet)
Tolazamide, (Tolinase)
Tolbutamide, (Apo-Tolbutamide, Tol-Tab)
Taking American ginseng with these drugs may ncrease the risk of bleeding and bruising:
Abciximab, (ReoPro)
Alteplase, (Activase, Cathflo Activase)
Antithrombin III, (Thrombate III)
Argatroban, (Argatroban)
Aspirin, (Bufferin, Ecotrin)
Aspirin and Dipyridamole, (Aggrenox)
Bivalirudin, (Angiomax)
Clopidogrel, (Plavix)
Dalteparin, (Fragmin)
Danaparoid, (Orgaran)
Dipyridamole, (Novo-Dipiradol, Persantine)
Drotrecogin Alfa, (Xigris)
Enoxaparin, (Lovenox)
Eptifibatide, (Integrillin)
Fondaparinux, (Arixtra)
Heparin, (Hepalean, Hep-Lock)
Hydrocodone and Aspirin, (Damason-P)
Hydrocodone and Ibuprofen, (Vicoprofen)
Ibritumomab, (Zevalin)
Indobufen, (Ibustrin)
Lepirudin, (Refludan)
Ticlopidine, (Alti-Ticlopidine, Ticlid)
Tinzaparin, (Innohep)
Tirofiban, (Aggrastat)
Warfarin, (Coumadin, Jantoven)
Lab Test Alterations:
  • May decrease postprandial blood glucose.
  • May increase thrombin time (TT) and activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT).
Disease Effects:
  • May worsen bleeding diseases by interfering with coagulation.
  • This herb may have estrogen-like effects and should not be used by women with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive conditions.
  • May worsen schizophrenia if taken in large doses.
Food Interactions:
Increased stimulant effects when taken with caffeine-containing foods and drinks such as coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft-drinks.
Supplement Interactions:
Increased stimulant effects when taken with herbs and supplements containing caffeine, such as Cola Nut, Guarana, and Maté.
Contraindicated during pregnancy.
Culinary Uses:
Roots are slightly more bitter than those of P. ginseng, but can be used in the same ways.
Economic Uses:
As for P. ginseng
The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Bown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Ltd. pp 299-300.
The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide by Geo. T. Grossberg,MD and Barry Fox,PhD Copyright©2007 Barry Fox,PhD. Pp. 242-243
The Herbal Tarot by Michael Tierra, Herbalist and Candis Cantin, Artist Copyright©1988 U.S. Games Systems Inc. Card 0
Prescription for Herbal Healing by Phyllis A Balch, CNC Copyright ©2002 Phyllis A Balch. pp.19-20
The Modern Herbal Primer by Nancy Burke Copyright©2000 Yankee Publishing, Inc. pp. 66-69