Bit of a cheeky and catchy title there, but now that I’ve got your attention, I know you’re thinking, “six ginsengs?!” But trust me, there are. (I could even include the seventh one, but I will mention that later).
The ginseng that most people think of is so revered, it is one of the most expensive plants on the planet. Good to know that there are a few other ginsengs to choose from. So, let’s have a look. Today I’m going to show you Indian, American, Korean, Chinese, Siberian and Scandinavian adaptogens.
More popularly known as Withania or Ashwaganda. Sometimes also called Winter Cherry. No herbalist’s dispensary would be complete without this wondrous root. Very cooling ginseng. (In fact, its energetics are quite cold). Invaluable in the treatment of stress and anxiety. Helps combat insomnia during periods of stress. I favour it in synergistic herbal blends for libido issues, as it can act as an aphrodisiac. Can be used in autoimmune disorders as it is an immune modulator. Effective for hypothyroid issues such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Other medicine properties include:
- Mild sedative
- Skin inflammation
- Poor memory
- Premature aging
- Helps the body to pull out stored energy reserves without depleting the adrenals
- Supports general wellbeing
American ginseng is an interesting plant. As its common name suggests, it originates from North America and is related to Korean ginseng. It has similar properties to its Korean cousin but it’s more calming and cooling in its energetic nature than its oriental relative. Like other ginsengs, it acts as a tonic and an adaptogen, but it is a yin tonic. Therefore, for those with a yang constitution, this is more beneficial than Korean ginseng. It is especially useful for menopausal women suffering hot flushes (sometimes seen as ’empty heat’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine). I have to say, American ginseng, although popular in Asia, is not as well known by Australian herbalists and naturopaths. As a naturopath and herbalist myself, it’s one of my top 5 adaptogen herbs. It delivers but comes in gently without the ‘wham yang’ sucker punch of Korena Panax. It’s a fast-paced, masculine ‘yang’ world out there, so a little yin doesn’t go amiss. It also:
- Strengthens the adrenal glands
- Improves immunity
- Aids memory and cognitive function
- May help to balance blood sugar levels
This medicinal rhizome is probably the most well-known of the ginsengs. Very ‘yang’ and warming, this is a herb I consider more masculine in energy. It’s excellent for treating male fertility issues and poor testosterone production. Although it is a great herb for both men and women in times of extreme exhaustion and stress, it should only be taken for short periods of time. A good tonic for athletes and those who are exercising strenuously. Herbalist Daniel Reid describes Panax as being capable of ‘metabolic gymnastics’ in its ability to rebalance the body during and after periods of stress, by working at the cellular level. Traditional Chinese Medicine regards this ginseng as the king herb and restorer of qi (universal and bodily energy). Scientific research has validated many of the TCM claims.
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- May help to balance cholesterol levels
- Increases resistance to disease
- Not for long-term use
- Good in winter
- Anti-aging tonic
Also known as Tienchi or Chinese ginseng, this is a tonic that has powerful qi moving effects, but has more of a relaxing effect on the body compared to Korean Panax. It is widely regarded as beneficial for recovery from exercise and injury related to athletic over-exertion, including bruising, swelling, sprains and strains. Other properties include:
- Internal and external bleeding
- Good for angina
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Good for swelling and pain in rheumatism and arthritis
This adaptogenic rhizome has such incredible medical properties that it was used by Soviet cosmonauts in the Russian space programme in the 1970s. It was found to be more beneficial at fighting fatigue than amphetamines. More recently, clinical trials have reported that it does indeed improve cognitive function, greatly improves energy levels, and helps the body to combat stress. In cases of diminished vitality, Siberian ginseng has a rejuvenating and supportive effect. Further properties include:
- Enhances immune function
- May decrease side-effects of chemotherapy (discuss with your oncologist first)
- According to TCM principles, expels ‘wind damp’ which makes it useful for oedema, swelling, and joint pain.
- Good for the elderly.
With a long history of use in Northern Europe, Siberia, and the Arctic, this plant grows in mountainous regions and on sea cliff tops and interestingly, can be useful in preventing altitude sickness. (A great example of the Doctrine of Signatures at work). The root of this plant apparently has a distinct rose-like odour. As an adaptogen, it has many of the same health benefits as other ginsengs, however, it is also useful in helping the body to cope with cold conditions, as one might expect from the location in which the herb is found. Other properties include:
- Strengthens the body, useful in times of stress
- Fights fatigue
- Improves cognitive function
- Cardiac tonic, may help to regulate heart rate
- Regulates both the immune and endocrine systems
And there you have it, six ginsengs. I did briefly mention at the beginning that it could be possible to include a seventh. It conjures up for me the memory of the words of my first herbal teacher in Wales, Heather Henderson, proclaiming that Sage was an undervalued herb. She believed it to be the ‘Welsh Ginseng’. But maybe we can look at that next time?
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Article by Carol Hannington