Lots of us sing during the holiday season. Like us, you can be singing about ginseng, one of the most well-known adaptogens. But understand this: not all plants that are known as ginseng are truly indeed ginseng.
The reason for that is this: the “original” ginseng plant (Asian ginseng) has such a reputation for healing that many other plants that also have great healing powers were called ginseng too (for example, Siberian ginseng or Brazilian ginseng). This likely happened so that people would more easily understand their great medicinal value. However, only the plants in the Panax genus can be properly called ginseng. So when you hear the name ginseng, you’ll want to ask a little more about what kind of ginseng is being talked about. If you can identify the botanical name and it has Panax at the beginning, then you know you’re hearing about a plant that is truly a ginseng.
Most medicinal ginseng that’s commonly available is either Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) or American ginseng (Panax quinquefolia). Interestingly, most of the American ginseng produced (about 85%) is exported to China for medicinal use in China rather than for use in America. Perhaps this proportion will change as Americans learn the value of what is in their own backyard!
There is a third ginseng plant that is also fairly popular called Japanese ginseng (Panax japonicus), with similar action. Although there are quite a few other plants in the Panax genus, they are generally not commercially cultivated nearly as much as these three.
The effect of Asian, Japanese and American ginseng have many similarities. Each of these plants help you deal better with stress. They support the immune system, help you have more energy, help your thinking become clearer and result in rejuvenation. All ginseng plants contain ginsenosides, which are plant chemicals have been shown to have a number of effects, including antioxidant effects, antiproliferative effects on cancer cells, inhibitory effects on cancer cells, and neuroprotective effects among many others. Asian ginseng typically has more ginsenosides than the other members of the Panax genus. Environmental conditions also make a difference in the amount of ginsenosides contained in any of the ginseng plants. American ginseng is considered to be a little milder than Asian ginseng and so if you’re looking for some of these effects with a little milder stimulation, American ginseng may be what you prefer.
Other plants that are known as ginsengs (but are not technically ginsengs) have some wonderful health effects. Many of them are adaptogens and share the overall positive health impact that adaptogens provide even though they are not true ginsengs. That is, they all benefit you by helping you deal better (both psychologically and physiologically) with stress, enhancing cognitive performance (things like memory and attention), and helping support your immune system. Here are some of the more well-known of them:
- Siberian ginseng is also known as Eleuthero. It’s botanical name is Eleuthero senticoccus.
- Peruvian ginseng is also known as maca. It’s botanical name is Lepidium meyenii.
- Brazilian ginseng is also known as suma. It’s botanical name is Pflaffia paniculata.
- Indian ginseng is also known as ashwagandha. It’s botanical name is Witheneria somnifera.
- Southern ginseng is also known as jiaogulan. It’s botanical name is Gynostemma pentophyllum.
- Female ginseng is also known as dong quai. It’s botanical name is Angelica sinensis.
So, now that you know your ginsengs, you and your health will be singing a different tune this holiday season! Merry Christmas!
Dr. Alison Caldwell-Andrews is an expert contributor to the AdaptoGenie blog. Dr. Caldwell-Andrews received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Kentucky and completed a post-doc in Mind-Body Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. As a faculty member at Yale, she served as Director of Research for the Yale Perioperative Research Group, conducting clinical research and publishing 30 articles in peer-reviewed journals.
Her interest in mind-body healing began in the early 1990’s and she is a Certified Nutritional Herbalist. She’s an active public speaker, author, conducts workshops, and consults in the areas of creating success behaviors, herbs and the mind-body connection, and science-based holistic treatment for psychiatric disorders.