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Updated: 2017-04-30T20:22Z
This article is about the plant species. For the town, see Ginseng, Kentucky.
Panax quinquefolius.jpg
Panax quinquefolius foliage and fruit
Scientific classification

Subgenus Panax

Section Panax
Series Notoginseng
Panax notoginseng
Series Panax
Panax bipinnatifidus
Panax ginseng
Panax japonicus
Panax quinquefolius
Panax vietnamensis
Panax wangianus
Panax zingiberensis
Section Pseudoginseng
Panax pseudoginseng
Panax stipuleanatus

Subgenus Trifolius

Panax trifolius

Ginseng (/ˈɪnsɛŋ/[1]) is any one of the 11 species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, belonging to the genus Panax of the family Araliaceae.

Ginseng is found in North America and in eastern Asia (mostly northeast China, Korea, Bhutan, eastern Siberia), typically in cooler climates. Panax vietnamensis, discovered in Vietnam, is the southernmost ginseng known. This article focuses on the species of the series Panax, called Panax ginseng and P. quinquefolius. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides and gintonin.

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is in the same family, but not genus, as true ginseng. The active compounds in Siberian ginseng are eleutherosides, not ginsenosides. Instead of a fleshy root, Siberian ginseng has a woody root.

Over centuries, ginseng has been used in Chinese traditional medicine.[2] There is only limited evidence from modern research demonstrating that it has health benefits.[3][4]


The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn. Rén means "Person" and shēn means "plant root";[5] this refers to the root's characteristic forked shape, which resembles the legs of a person.[6] The English pronunciation derives from a southern Chinese reading, similar to Cantonese yun sum (Jyutping) and the Hokkien pronunciation "jîn-sim".

The botanical genus name Panax, meaning "all-healing" in Greek, shares the same origin as "panacea" and was applied to this genus because Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine as a muscle relaxant.

Besides P. ginseng, many other plants are also known as or mistaken for the ginseng root. The most commonly known examples are xiyangshen, also known as American ginseng (P. quinquefolius), Japanese ginseng (P. japonicus), crown prince ginseng (Pseudostellaria heterophylla), and Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Although all have the name "ginseng", each plant has distinctly different functions. True ginseng plants belong only to the Panax genus.[7]


Control over ginseng fields in China and Korea became an issue in the 16th century.[8] By the 1900s, due to the demand for ginseng having outstripped the available wild supply, Korea began the commercial cultivation of ginseng which continues to this day. In 2010, nearly all of the world's 80,000 tons of ginseng in international commerce was produced in four countries: China, South Korea, Canada,[9] and the United States.


Although ginseng has been used in traditional medicine for centuries,[10] there is only preliminary evidence to date from high-quality human research that it has any biological effects.[4] Among potential effects are improved memory, reduced fatigue, reduced symptoms of menopause and reduced insulin response in people with mild diabetes, but the design and quality of these studies were questionable.[11] Higher quality clinical trials were recommended before conclusions about any effect of using ginseng are possible.[4][11]

Commercial ginseng is sold in over 35 countries with sales exceeding $2 billion, of which half came from South Korea in 2013.[12] China has historically been the plant's largest consumer. The root is most often available in dried form, either whole or sliced. Ginseng leaf, although not as highly prized, is sometimes also used. In Korea, ginseng-infused tea and liquor, each called insamcha (lit. "ginseng tea") and insamju ("ginseng liquor") is consumed.

Ginseng may be found in small amounts in energy drinks or herbal teas or sold as a dietary supplement.[4] Ginsenosides, unique phytochemicals of the Panax species, are being studied for their potential biological properties.[4][11][13]


Ginseng generally has a good safety profile and the incidence of adverse effects seems to be low when used over the short-term.[4][11][14]

There are concerns when ginseng is used chronically, potentially causing side effects such as headaches, insomnia, and digestive problems.[4][11] The risk of interactions between ginseng and prescribed medications is believed to be low, but ginseng may have adverse effects when used with the blood thinner, warfarin.[4] Ginseng has been shown to have adverse drug reactions with phenelzine.[15] A potential interaction has also been reported with imatinib,[16] resulting in hepatotoxicity, and with lamotrigine.[17]


The common ginsengs (P. ginseng and P. quinquefolia) are generally considered to be relatively safe even in large amounts.[18] One of the most common and characteristic symptoms of acute overdose of Panax ginseng is bleeding. Symptoms of mild overdose may include dry mouth and lips, excitation, fidgeting, irritability, tremor, palpitations, blurred vision, headache, insomnia, increased body temperature, increased blood pressure, edema, decreased appetite, dizziness, itching, eczema, early morning diarrhea, bleeding, and fatigue.[7][18]

Symptoms of gross overdose with Panax ginseng may include nausea, vomiting, irritability, restlessness, urinary and bowel incontinence, fever, increased blood pressure, increased respiration, decreased sensitivity and reaction to light, decreased heart rate, cyanotic (blue) facial complexion, red facial complexion, seizures, convulsions, and delirium.[7][18]


an Asian ginseng root
Ginseng roots in a market in Seoul, 2003

Asian ginseng (root)

Ginseng and reishi mushrooms in bottles being sold in Seoul, Korea

Panax ginseng is available commercially as fresh, red, and white ginsengs; wild ginseng is used where available.[citation needed]

Red ginseng

Red ginseng

Red ginseng (traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: hóng shēn; Hangul; Hanja; RRhong-sam), P. ginseng, has been peeled, heated through steaming at standard boiling temperatures of 100 °C (212 °F), and then dried or sun-dried. It is frequently marinated in an herbal brew which results in the root becoming extremely brittle.

Fresh ginseng

Fresh ginseng is the raw product. Its use is limited by availability.

White ginseng

White ginseng, native to America, is fresh ginseng which has been dried without being heated. It is peeled and dried to reduce the water content to 12% or less. White ginseng air-dried in the sun may contain less of the therapeutic constituents. It is thought by some that enzymes contained in the root break down these constituents in the process of drying. Drying in the sun bleaches the root to a yellowish-white color.

Wild ginseng

Harvested ginseng in Germany

Wild ginseng grows naturally and is harvested from wherever it is found. It is relatively rare, and even increasingly endangered, due in large part to high demand for the product in recent years, which has led to the wild plants being sought out and harvested faster than new ones can grow (it requires years for a root to reach maturity). Wild ginseng can be either Asian or American, and can be processed to be red ginseng.

Woods-grown American ginseng programs in Vermont, Maine, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, West Virginia and Kentucky,[19][20] have been encouraging the planting of ginseng both to restore natural habitats and to remove pressure from any remaining wild ginseng.

Partially germinated ginseng seeds harvested the previous Fall can be planted from early Spring until late Fall, and will sprout the following Spring. If planted in a wild setting and left to their own devices, they will develop into mature plants which cannot be distinguished from native wild plants. Both Asian and American partially germinated ginseng seeds can be bought from May through December on various eBay sales. Some seed sales come with planting and growing instructions.

P. quinquefolius American ginseng (root)

Originally, American ginseng was imported into China via subtropical Guangzhou, the seaport next to Hong Kong, so Chinese doctors believed American ginseng must be good for yang, because it came from a hot area. They did not know, however, that American ginseng can only grow in temperate regions. Nonetheless, the root is legitimately classified as more yin because it generates fluids.[2]

Most North American ginseng is produced in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia and the American state of Wisconsin.[21]

The aromatic root resembles a small parsnip that forks as it matures. The plant grows 6″ to 18″  tall, usually bearing three leaves, each with three to five leaflets two to five inches long.

Other plants sometimes called ginseng

Several other plants are sometimes referred to as ginsengs, but they are either from a different family or genus.

See also


  1. ^ "Ginseng". Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Retrieved 2011-06-04. 
  2. ^ a b Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Third Edition by Dan Bensky, Steven Clavey, Erich Stonger, and Andrew Gamble 2004
  3. ^ Lee, NH; Son, CG (June 2016). "Systematic review of randomized controlled trials evaluating the efficacy and safety of ginseng.". J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 4: 85–97. PMID 21704950. doi:10.1016/S2005-2901(11)60013-7. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Asian ginseng". National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, US National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. September 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  5. ^ The word 參 shēn "plant root" itself, from Old Chinese *srəm, has been compared to words meaning 'root' in other languages of the Sino-Tibetan family such as Japhug tɤ-zrɤm "root", see Jacques, Guillaume (2015). "On the cluster *sr in Sino-Tibetan". Journal of Chinese Linguistics. 43 (1): 215–223. 
  6. ^ Oxford Dictionaries Online, s.v. "Ginseng".
  7. ^ a b c Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, by John K. Chen, Tina T. Chen
  8. ^ Kim, Seonmin (2007). "Ginseng and Border Trespassing Between Qing China and Choson Korea". Late Imperial China. 28 (1): 33–61. doi:10.1353/late.2007.0009. 
  9. ^ Evans, Brian L. (1985). "Ginseng: Root of Chinese-Canadian Relations". Canadian Historical Review. 66 (1): 1–26. doi:10.3138/chr-066-01-01. 
  10. ^ Shishtar, E; Sievenpiper, JL; Djedovic, V; Cozma, AI; Ha, V; Jayalath, VH; Jenkins, DJ; Meija, SB; de Souza, RJ; Jovanovski, E; Vuksan, V (2014). "The effect of ginseng (the genus panax) on glycemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials". PLoS ONE. 9 (9): e107391. PMC 4180277Freely accessible. PMID 25265315. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107391. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Kim Y-S, Woo Y-Y, Han C-K, Chang I-M (2015). "Safety Analysis of Panax Ginseng in Randomized Clinical Trials: A Systematic Review". Medicines. 2 (2): 106–126. doi:10.3390/medicines2020106. 
  12. ^ Baeg, In-Ho; So, Seung-Ho (2013). "The world ginseng market and the ginseng". Journal of Ginseng Research. 37 (1): 1–7. PMC 3659626Freely accessible. PMID 23717152. doi:10.5142/jgr.2013.37.1. 
  13. ^ Qi LW, Wang CZ, Yuan CS (June 2011). "Ginsenosides from American ginseng: chemical and pharmacological diversity". Phytochemistry. 72 (8): 689–99. PMC 3103855Freely accessible. PMID 21396670. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2011.02.012. 
  14. ^ Lee NH, Son CG (2011). "Systematic review of randomized controlled trials evaluating the efficacy and safety of ginseng". Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies. 4 (2): 85–97. PMID 21704950. doi:10.1016/S2005-2901(11)60013-7. Retrieved 2016-03-12. 
  15. ^ Izzo AA, Ernst E (2001). "Interactions between herbal medicines and prescribed drugs: a systematic review". Drugs. 61 (15): 2163–75. PMID 11772128. doi:10.2165/00003495-200161150-00002. 
  16. ^ Bilgi N, Bell K, Ananthakrishnan AN, Atallah E (2010). "Imatinib and Panax ginseng: a potential interaction resulting in liver toxicity". The Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 44 (5): 926–8. PMID 20332334. doi:10.1345/aph.1M715. 
  17. ^ Myers AP, Watson TA, Strock SB (2015). "Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms Syndrome Probably Induced by a Lamotrigine-Ginseng Drug Interaction". Pharmacotherapy. 35: e9–e12. PMID 25756365. doi:10.1002/phar.1550. Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
  18. ^ a b c Shergis, J. L.; Zhang, A. L.; Zhou, W; Xue, C. C. (2013). "Panax ginseng in randomised controlled trials: A systematic review". Phytotherapy Research. 27 (7): 949–65. PMID 22969004. doi:10.1002/ptr.4832. 
  19. ^ "Ginseng program". Kentucky Agriculture Department. 2017. 
  20. ^ "Care and Planting of Ginseng Seed and Roots". North Carolina State University. 31 March 2010. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  21. ^ "Recovery Strategy for American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) in Canada - 2015 (Proposed)". Government of Canada. 17 April 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 

Further reading

  • Pritts, K.D. (2010). Ginseng: How to Find, Grow, and Use America´s Forest Gold. Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-3634-3
  • Taylor, D.A. (2006). Ginseng, the Divine Root: The Curious History of the Plant That Captivated the World. Algonquin Books. ISBN 978-1-56512-401-1

External links

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