Family: Araliaceae, Panax species

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Ginseng refers to several species of Panax of which Panax quinquefolius L., American ginseng, and Panax ginseng C.A. Mey. Oriental ginseng, are the most widely used. Native to North America, American ginseng is an erect plant that reaches a height of 0.3 to 0.7 meters and has fusiform roots, greenish-white flowers, and red berries. The roots and rhizomes are often branched or forked, and they bring a premium price if they resemble a human form. Oriental or Asian ginseng, which has been classified as Panax pseudoginseng Wallich and Panax schinseng Nees, is native to Korea. Reaching a height of 0.8 to 1 meter, the plant resembles American ginseng. American ginseng is cultivated and collected from the wild in the central United States, Germany, Canada, Nigeria, and Thailand (14.1-27). Oriental ginseng is cultivated in the People's Republic of China, Japan, South Korea, and the USSR.

The reported life zone of Panax species is 9 to 15 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.7 to 1.3 meters and a soil pH of 5.0 to 6.5 (4.1-31). The plant thrives in shady locations on rich, moist, well-drained forest soils. For cultivation, plants must be grown in open woods or under lath or net structures that provide 75 percent shade and where large quantities of forest litter, leaf mold, or other compost have been incorporated into the soil. Plants are started from stratified seed and later transplanted into fields after two years' growth. Winter mulches are necessary to protect the plant from cold weather. Roots take from five to seven years to reach a marketable size and are sold as whole roots. The quality of cultivated plants is considered inferior to that of wild plants. American ginseng is an endangered species and requires an export permit to sell overseas (13.1-105).

The stems, leaves, and roots of Panax species contain biologically active saponin glycosides, such as ginsenoside and panaxoside, as well as sugars, starch, mucilage, and a volatile oil (7.3-13, 7.3-14, 7.3-58, 7.3-153, 14.1-35). Most of the ginsenoside is located in the cambium (2.7-67).

Ginseng is available in many forms: as white or red ginseng, as a whole root or cut rootlet; as fibers; or as crushed powder, tablets, pills, capsules, tea, or an extract. Ginseng is incorporate into creams, lotions and shampoos (13.1-56). White ginseng is produced by washing and drying the roots. Red ginseng is obtained by removing all lateral roots and tips of the primary root, which are then steamed and dried to produce a red-brown color (7.1-28). The market value of the ginseng root is determined by the appearance and the flavor.

Ginseng is held in high esteem because of its use as a medicinal plant. The genus name Panax is derived from the Greek word meaning "panacea" or "all-healing"; the species ginseng is said to mean "wonder of the world"; both terms refer to the medicinal virtues of the plant (11.1-50, 14.1-3). As a medicinal plant, ginseng seems to have been used as a remedy for all ailments, including depression, diabetes, fatigue, aging, inflammations, internal degeneration, nausea, tumors, pulmonary problems, dyspepsia, vomiting, nervousness, stress, and ulcers. It has been used to increase the appetite and bodily energy, regulate menses, ease childbirth, increase fertility of women, and treat periodontal disease (11.1-96). Ginseng has been considered an aphrodisiac, stimulant, stomachic, and demulcent. American ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine for deficiency of energy, internal injuries caused by worry, convalescent weakness, palpitations, insomnia, forgetfulness, and nervousness, and to promote general mental and physical well-being (11.1-10). Oriental ginseng is used as a cardiac tonic for shock and low blood pressure (11.1-97).

Recent reports on the pharmacology of ginseng indicate a wide range of effects, including influence on the central nervous system, endocrine and adrenocortical systems, internal, organs, metabolism, blood pressure and sugar, gonadotropic activity, cellular aging, tumors, and stress (7.5-78, 7.5-94, 7.6-68, 7.6-77, 13.1-56, 13.1-59, 13.1-60, 13.1-61, 13.7-72, 13.1-127). Ginseng appears to relieve stress, increase sexual activity, and facilitate mating in laboratory animals (7.6-104, (14.1-20). The herb has been reported to be effective in prolonging survival time during cardiac arrest (7.6-166). Oriental ginseng is reported to show hypoglycemic activity (7.1-21).

Dwarf American ginseng or groundnut, Panax trifolius L., a native of the eastern United States, reaches a height of about 0.2 meters. It is an early flowering ginseng with white to pink, unisexual early flowers, yellowish fruit, and globose roots (14.1-4). This plant is not collected for medicinal purposes. Blue or yellow ginseng refers to Caulophyllum thalictroides (L.) Michx. of the Berberidaceae family, commonly called cohosh, a medicinal plant native to the eastern United States, whose roots are collected in the autumn. Siberian ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr. and Maxim) Maxim a member of the Araliaceae family, is also used extensively as a medicinal plant. This shrub, native to northeast Asia, reaches heights of 5 meters (7.1-52). Chinese ginseng, Aralia chinensis L. of the Araliaceae family, has been used as a medicinal plant (11.1-10).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997