Botanical Name: Panax quinquefolius

Other Common Names: Canadian ginseng, western ginseng, tartar root, ginseng, five-fingers, red berry, Occidental ginseng.

The scientific name Panax quinquefolius means “universal medicine with five blades”, which refers to the plant’s great reputation as a medicinal plant.

There are at least 10 species of the genus Panax, which are found in North America and in eastern and southwestern parts of Asia. Chinese or Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) is closely related to American ginseng.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) also known as Siberian ginseng is not a member of the genus Panax but is often sold as ginseng even if it does not contain the same active ingredients.

Habitat: American ginseng is found wild in the eastern part of the United States, including Alabama and in Canada. Due to the plant’s overexploitation in the wild it’s unfortunately becoming an endangered species.

In 1947 the cultivation of the herb began in China, but large-scale cultivation did not start until around 1980. The plant requires a fertile soil with high humus content and full shade.

Plant Description: American ginseng is a perennial plant that can grow up to 75 cm in height. The aromatic root is fleshy with stringy shoots. The plant usually has three large compound leaves in a wreath around the stem.

It blooms in June or July, and the flowers are small, green and white and slightly fragrant. The fruits, which develop in late summer, are kidney-shaped berries with two seeds. The roots are not ready to be used as a medicinal herb until the plant is at least five years old.

Plant Parts Used: The root and sometimes the leaves.

American ginseng herb

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)

Therapeutic Uses, Benefits and Claims of American Ginseng

The active ingredients found in American ginseng are saponins, various acids, beta-sitosterol, tannin, magnesium, vanadium, zinc and trace amounts of germanium, which may be partially responsible for the herb’s health benefits. The root stocks also contain some essential oil.

The Native Americans have a long historical tradition using the herb both as herbal medicine and in spiritual and ceremonial practices.

American ginseng has been used as an herbal remedy for stress and mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. It is also looked on as a helpful herb for general weakness, poor appetite, indigestion, constipation, nausea, vomiting, poor memory, nervous agitation, irritability, anemia, impotence, vaginal dryness, blood sugar disorders, colds, night sweats, AIDS, expectoration of blood, coughsbronchitis, respiratory problems, tuberculosis, rheumatism, headaches and cystitis.

Modern research indicates that the American ginseng can help adrenal fatigue and as a regulator for the endocrine system. The herb is an adaptogen and can be useful for mild to moderate impairments in the adrenal glands.

It is sometimes used to boost a weakened immune system.

The herb has been used to treat allergies and allergic asthma. It is used as a treatment for insomnia associated with chronic fatigue syndrome, and to alleviate many of the symptoms of jet lag.

Some think the herb can boost endurance and enhance the physical performance of athletes by increasing the amount of available oxygen in the muscles and some studies indicate that American ginseng might improve concentration.

When American ginseng is taken over a period of one to three months, it is thought to regulate the production of stress hormones in a favorable way by reducing stress response.

Although the exact mechanism responsible for the herb stress-reducing effect is not known, it is likely that the herb protects an area of the brain called the hippocampus against stress hormones. This mechanism may also explain why it may be useful to prevent memory loss and loss of cognitive abilities in people who suffer from bipolar disorder, depression and a disorder of the adrenal glands known as Cushing’s disease.

American ginseng may be of particular value as a treatment for some symptoms associated with menopause such as hot flashes and for women with breast cancer by increasing the effect of medication used in chemotherapy.

American ginseng may effectively protect against spikes in blood glucose levels after ingestion of carbohydrate-rich meals in both healthy subjects and in patients with type 2 diabetes (non-insulin-dependent diabetes) when the herb is taken with or immediately after meals.

American Ginseng Panax quinquefolius

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) – Illustration

Scientists, therefore, believe it might be a good alternative to conventional treatment of type 2 diabetes. They believe the herb has the same potential as insulin or other medications to help to control or prevent diabetes. Both men and women with type 2 diabetes might benefit from American ginseng in relatively high doses.

American ginseng contains substances that regulate both the strength of the heartbeat and blood pressure. If the body has a deficit of potassium, the saponins in the herb curb the rate at which the heart muscle fibers contract.

If there is a surplus of potassium, the saponins increase the strength of contraction of heart muscle fibers. To have optimal levels of potassium will also alleviate high blood pressure.

Laboratory experiments have shown that American ginseng can lower blood pressure by stimulating the conversion of the amino acid arginine to nitric oxide, which makes the blood vessel walls relax.

This action prevents the release of a protein known as endothelin, which can cause blood vessels to constrict during a heart attack.

Traditionally, this medicinal plant is used to restore sexual desire in men.

Although scientific studies involving human test subjects in this context can be difficult to implement, experiments with laboratory animals indicated that it increases interest in sex by influencing the action of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.

Different tribes of Native Americans have used American ginseng to treat infertility in women although no clinical studies have confirmed the herb has any value for this purpose.

However, it is known that American ginseng has some active ingredients, just like Asian ginseng, that stimulate the pituitary gland, which, in turn, stimulates the lining of the uterus.

Some in vitro experiments have shown that this herb can inhibit the growth of cancer.

Dosage and Administration

Short-term use of American ginseng is thought to have little effect, and it’s usually recommended to use the herb for an extended period of time.

The herb can be taken as an infusion, a decoction, in dried powdered form or as a tincture.
Herbalists sometimes recommend the following doses.

Extracts can be made by pouring 3 cups boiling water over 1 to 2 g dried root and letting it simmer for 20 minutes before the herb is strained from the tea. This dose may be taken three times daily.

A decoction is made of 3 to 6 g of the dried root and then simmered in half a liter of water for half an hour. This decoction can be divided in three portions consumed throughout the day.

By tincture (1:5 in 30 percent alcohol) 3-5 mL (60-100 drops), three times daily.
A low dose of 200 mg, which can be increased gradually up to 600 mg daily, is often recommended when commercial capsules of American ginseng are used.

The great popularity and value of American ginseng has resulted in the plant´s extinction in much of its native habitat. If the plant is found in the wild allow it to grow in peace, and don’t buy roots that are labeled “wild American ginseng”.

Possible Side Effects and Interactions of American Ginseng

American ginseng is considered a very safe herb to use even over a long period of time. Some sources indicate the herb is safe to use during pregnancy, while others believe pregnant or lactating women should avoid it.

People with diabetes may need to keep an extra eye on their insulin levels if using American ginseng, since the herb has a glucose lowering effect.

Human studies have demonstrated that high doses of American ginseng can have disruptive effects on blood thinning agents like warfarin in otherwise healthy patients. Therefore, avoid consuming large amounts of this herb when using such medications.

Some people can experience sleeplessness when they take American ginseng, especially if used with food or beverages containing caffeine. This side effect will reduce by cutting down on caffeine intake and refraining from taking American ginseng in the evening.

Supporting References

Yarnell, Eric, Kathy Abascal & Robert Rountree: Clinical Botanical Medicine. 3md Ed, Revised and Expanded. New Rochelle, New York. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2009.
Balch, Phyllis A.: Prescription for Herbal Healing. New York, Avery 2002.
Winston, David and Steven Maimes: Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press 2007.
Blumenthal, Mark (senior editor): The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, Texas. American Botanical Council 2003.
Tilgner, Sharol: Herbal Medicine. From the Heart of the Earth. Cresswell, Oregon. Wise Acres Press 1999.
Tierra, Lesley: Healing with the Herbs of Life. Berkeley, California. Crossing Press 2003.
Skenderi, Gazmend: Herbal Vade Mecum. 800 Herbs, Spices, Essential Oils, Lipids Etc. Constituents, Properties, Uses, and Caution. Rutherford, New Jersey. Herbacy Press 2003.
Foster, Steven & Yue Chongxi: Herbal Emissaries. Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press 1992.
Foster, Steven: Herbs for Your Health. A Handy Guide for Knowing and Using 50 Common Herbs. Loveland, Colorado. Interweave Press 1996.
Ody, Penelope: The Complete Medicinal Herbal. London. Key Porter Books 1993.