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Ginseng root is the fleshy root of any plant of the Panax genus, commonly known as ginseng. The roots of Panax ginseng, or Asian ginseng, and Panax quinquefolius, or American ginseng, contain ginsenosides, which may have beneficial properties including increased energy and adaptability to stress. However, ginsenosides are very complex and not fully understood by modern science, which does not support the claims of herbalists regarding ginseng root. Ginseng root is available in many forms without a prescription, but it is important to consult a doctor before beginning any herbal supplement regime.
Ginseng root has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Panax ginseng is used to increase Yang energy in the body, while Panax quinquefolius is used to increase Yin energy and eliminate excess Yang energy. Yin and Yang are opposite and complementary principles that should remain balanced in the body according to TCM.
Both Asian and American ginseng root may be used raw, but Panax ginseng may also be prepared in a number of ways. In addition to the raw form, Panax ginseng may be air-dried in the sun to produce white ginseng, or steam-cured with the peel on to produce red ginseng. White ginseng may be further processed with very high-temperature steam to create sun ginseng. Red ginseng is traditionally indicated for increased energy and sexual function, particularly for men suffering from erectile dysfunction.
Modern herbalists refer to ginsenosides as adaptogens, meaning that they promote the body's ability to cope with stress, fatigue, and anxiety. Ginseng root is taken orally and is usually dried. It may be taken in capsule form or boiled as an infusion. Ginseng root may cause side effects including insomnia, headache, nausea, diarrhea, nosebleed, pain in the breast, and changes in blood pressure. It may also have adverse interactions with other drugs and supplements, so it is important to consult one's physician or pharmacist before taking ginseng if one is already taking medications or herbal supplements.
It is also important to be aware of a number of products marketed as ginseng that do not belong to the Panax genus, and so do not contain ginsenosides, though they may have similar compounds. Some of these herbs are marketed as Alaskan ginseng, Brazilian ginseng, Female ginseng, Indian ginseng, Peruvian ginseng, Prince ginseng, Siberian ginseng, and Southern ginseng. These herbs all have different properties and uses than true ginseng of the Panax genus, so it is important not to confuse them with each other.