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Panax quinquefolius.jpg
Panax quinquefolius foliage and fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Apiales
Family: Araliaceae
Subfamily: Aralioideae
Tribe: Aralieae
Genus: Panax

Subgenus Panax

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

Subgenus Trifolius

Panax trifolius
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 人蔘
Simplified Chinese 人参
Korean name
Hangul 인삼

Ginseng (/ˈɪnsɛŋ/[1]) is any one of the species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, belonging to the genus Panax of the family Araliaceae. This article focuses on two species of the genus Panax, named Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius.

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

Besides P. ginseng, many other plants are also known as or mistaken for the ginseng root. The most commonly known examples are American ginseng xiyangshen (P. quinquefolius); Japanese ginseng (P. japonicus); Prince ginseng (Pseudostellaria heterophylla); and Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). True ginseng plants belong only to the Panax genus.[2]

Although ginseng has been used in Chinese traditional medicine over centuries,[3] there is little evidence from clinical research that it has any effects on health.[4][5]


The English word "ginseng" derives from the Chinese term rénshēn (人蔘). Rén means "person" and shēn means "plant root";[6] this refers to the root's characteristic forked shape, which resembles the legs of a person.[7] 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 Carl Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine as a muscle relaxant.


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.[citation needed]

Originally, American ginseng was imported into China via subtropical Guangzhou, the seaport next to Hong Kong.[citation needed]


Ginseng roots in a market in Seoul, 2003
Ginseng and reishi mushrooms in bottles being sold

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 (literally "ginseng tea") and insamju ("ginseng liquor") is consumed.

Since American ginseng was originally imported into China via a subtropical seaport, 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.[3]

Ginseng may be included in energy drinks or herbal teas (in small amounts) or sold as a dietary supplement.[5]

Traditional medicine and research[edit]

Although ginseng has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, modern research is inconclusive about its biological effects.[4][5][9] Preliminary clinical research indicates possible effects on memory, fatigue, menopause symptoms, and insulin response in people with mild diabetes.[5] Out of forty-four studies examined between 2005-2015, twenty-nine showed positive, limited evidence, and fifteen showed no effects.[10] As of 2017, there is insufficient evidence to indicate that ginseng has any health effects.[5][10] Ginsenosides, unique phytochemicals of the Panax species, are being studied for their potential biological properties.[5][10][11]


Ginseng generally has a good safety profile and the incidence of adverse effects seems to be low when used over the short term.[4][5][10]

Concerns exist when ginseng is used chronically, potentially causing side effects such as headaches, insomnia, and digestive problems.[5][10] 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.[5] Ginseng has been shown to have adverse drug reactions with phenelzine.[12] A potential interaction has also been reported with imatinib,[13] resulting in hepatotoxicity, and with lamotrigine.[14]


The common ginsengs (P. ginseng and P. quinquefolia) are generally considered to be relatively safe even in large amounts.[15] One of the most common and characteristic symptoms of acute overdose of P. 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.[2][15]

Symptoms of gross overdose with P. 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.[2][15]


an Asian ginseng root

Asian ginseng[edit]

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

Fresh ginseng[edit]

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

Red ginseng[edit]

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.

White ginseng[edit]

White ginseng 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. Enzymes contained in the root may break down these constituents in the process of drying. Drying in the sun bleaches the root to a yellowish-white color.

American ginseng[edit]

Since the 18th century, American ginseng (P. quinquefolius) has been primarily exported to Asia, where it is highly valued for its perceived superior quality and sweeter taste.[16]

Wild ginseng[edit]

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 (roots require years to reach maturity). Wild ginseng can be either Asian or American, and can be processed to be red or white ginseng.


Harvested ginseng in Germany

Commercial ginseng is sold in over 35 countries. China has historically been the plant's largest consumer.

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,[17] and the United States. In 2013, sales exceeded $2 billion, of which half came from South Korea in 2013.[18]

Most American ginseng is produced in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia and the American state of Wisconsin.[19]

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

Asian (Korean) ginseng is commercially grown in Germany.[21]

Ginseng seed normally does not germinate until the second spring following harvest of berries in the fall. They must first be subjected to a long period of storage in a moist medium with a warm/cold treatment, a process known as stratification.[22]

Other plants sometimes called ginseng[edit]

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

Siberian ginseng 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ginseng". Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Retrieved 2011-06-04. 
  2. ^ a b c Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, by John K. Chen, Tina T. Chen
  3. ^ a b Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Third Edition by Dan Bensky, Steven Clavey, Erich Stonger, and Andrew Gamble 2004
  4. ^ a b c 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. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Asian ginseng". National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, US National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. September 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Oxford Dictionaries Online, s.v. "Ginseng".
  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. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ "History of Ginseng". Ontario Ginseng Growers Association. Retrieved 23 June 2017. 
  17. ^ Evans, Brian L. (1985). "Ginseng: Root of Chinese-Canadian Relations". Canadian Historical Review. 66 (1): 1–26. doi:10.3138/chr-066-01-01. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ "Recovery Strategy for American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) in Canada - 2015 (Proposed)". Government of Canada. 17 April 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  20. ^ "Ginseng program". Kentucky Agriculture Department. 2017. 
  21. ^ "Ginseng cultivation on the FloraFarm". FloraFarm GmbH. Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  22. ^ "Care and Planting of Ginseng Seed and Roots". North Carolina State University. 31 March 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2017. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]