Ginseng is an adaptogen. Adaptogens help the body fight the effects of just about any kind of stress, be it viral, bacterial, emotional, or physical. The effects of stress may be as simple as headaches or colds, but they can also be more serious such as accelerated aging, memory loss, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
Asians consider ginseng to be the king of all herbs. American ginseng is similar enough to Asian ginseng to chemically have the same effects. American ginseng root is light tan and looks a bit like a human body. Herbalists hundreds of years ago took this likeness to mean that ginseng could cure all human ills. It has been used as a cure-all by many different cultures.
American ginseng contains ginsenosides, which are thought to fight fatigue and stress by supporting the adrenal glands and the use of oxygen by exercising muscles. The type and ratio of ginsenosides are somewhat different in American and Asian ginseng. The extent to which this affects their medicinal properties is unclear. A recent preliminary trial with healthy volunteers found no benefit in exercise performance after one week of taking American ginseng.
Standardized extracts of American ginseng, unlike Asian ginseng, are not available. However, dried root powder, 1-3 grams per day in capsule or tablet form, can be used. Some herbalists also recommend 3-5 ml of tincture three times per day.Possible Interactions
Because ginseng demonstrates blood-thinning effects, it should not be combined with anticoagulant drugs which would include drugs such as Coumadin, or with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that are known to cause bleeding. Such drugs would include Aleve, Anaprox, Indocin, Motrin, Naprosyn, and Orudis. When taking ginseng with insulin or other diabetes drugs be very cautious. It has been reported that the combination could lead to an excessive drop in blood sugar levels.
While we do not know of any serious side interactions, there have been reports of headache, mania and mild tremors when Ginseng is taken with the antidepressant drug Nardil. Check with your doctor before combining Ginseng with any other drug.Supporting Literature
Shibata S, Tanaka O, Shoji J, Saito H. Chemistry and pharmacology of Panax. Econ Med Plant Res 1:218-83.
Foster S. Herbs for Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 48-9.