Panax Quinquefolia, or American Ginseng, is a perennial member of the ivy family. The plant’s gnarly, human shaped roots, as well as its forked leaves were traditionally used by first American Tribes in eastern North America. American Ginseng once flourished in the Appalachian and Ozark mountain regions, and the adjacent forested regions of what is today Pennsylvania, New York State, and Ontario. By the 19th century, the benefits of this herb were known to white settlers and it was discovered that the roots could collect a handsome profit from Chinese and Hong Kong traders who valued old roots in particular. Due to over harvesting by “Sang Hunters” the population of this medicinal plant has greatly diminished. The plant has also been negatively impacted by increased urbanization, habitat loss and deer grazing.
Much of the American Ginseng today is commercially grown in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and is usually harvested when it is between three and four years old. Older, wild roots are still considered to be the most valuable, and so today, Sang Hunters still abound. Wild harvesting of American Ginseng is not sustainable because once the roots are harvested the plant is effectively killed, with no way to regenerate itself. For this reason, it is important when purchasing this herb to make sure it is from a commercial, and not a wild crafted source.
In the Chinese languages, American Ginseng is called Huaqishen, which literally translates to “The Star Spangled Banner Ginseng” or Xiyangshen, which means “West Ocean Ginseng.” It is very similar to the Chinese Panax Ginseng, although American Ginseng is slightly less potent than its Chinese counterpart. The former is mainly used for tonifying the “qi.”
American Ginseng is an adaptogen. Adaptogenic herbs modulate the hormones, boost immunity, assist the body in coping with stress in all its forms, and boost endurance. In short, it enhances the body’s ability to adapt. American Ginseng helps normalize blood pressure, particularly low blood pressure. It is a powerful liver tonic, helping to clear the body’s inner heat. Inner heat is accumulated when we consume too many fried or spicy foods, when we are sleep deprived, and it can also occur more easily during the hot summer months. It has anti-depressive applications, often associated with debility. American Ginseng is also famous for its aphrodisiac actions, making it a popular choice for treating sexual inadequacy, impotence and erectile dysfunction.
This herb combines well with Damiana and Saw Palmetto for treating conditions related to glandular weakness. Small pieces of the root may be chewed by themselves to boost energy. The herb may also be used in a tea, or taken in tincture form. Ginseng should not be used with disease conditions that manifest as inflammation, high fever, or burning sensation. Occasionally, this herb may produce dizziness and headaches, especially if taken in excess. As always, please consult a professional and licensed practitioner who is well versed in herbs before working with this powerful medicinal plant.
1. Green, James, Herbalist. The Male Herbal: Health Care for Men and Boys. The Crossing Press. Freedom California, 1991.
2. Bremness, Lesley. Dorling Kinderley Handbook: Herbs. Dorling Kindersley. New York, 1994.
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_ginseng 4. http://www.nps.gov/plants/medicinal/pubs/ginseng.htm 5. http://www.daan.com/ginseng/