For many people, ginseng has become synonymous with the term aphrodisiac. Today, there are many ingredients and products that are believed to evoke sexual desire but ginseng seems to have become one of the most popular.
The basic question is to understand what an aphrodisiac and ginseng in general are and look at how this association between ginseng and sexual desire developed and addresses the main question: does ginseng really does live up to its reputation?
Aphrodisiacs and Ginseng explored
Before considering to use ginseng as an aphrodisiac it is a good idea to gain some general understanding of what an aphrodisiac is and does.
An aphrodisiac is mostly defined as any food or drug that arouses the sexual instinct, induces venereal desire and increases pleasure and performance. In simple terms, in order to be defined as an aphrodisiac, a substance needs to stimulate or evoke sexual desire. The name aphrodisiac comes from the Greek word “aphrodisios” which refers to the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite.
The English word ginseng comes from the Chinese word rénshēn. Rénshēn, when translated literally, means “man root”. The physical characteristics of the root; its fork shape that eludes to the legs of a man are accountable for this name.
Carl Linnaeus was responsible for developing the basis for the modern biological naming scheme: binomial nomenclature where each species receives a Latin name (or a close version of it) of two parts, the first indicating the genus and the second for the specific species.
Linnaeus was familiar with the of the wide use of ginseng in Chinese medicine and what was believed to be its revitalizing properties for the entire body. Thus, he used the name panax as it means “all-heal” in Latin.
There are two types of ginseng namely; the American and the Asian, both are believed to act as aphrodisiacs. There is, however, some difference in the chemical composition even though the plants are closely related and contain almost the same active ingredients called ginsenosides.
American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius) is primarily found in the Appalachian mountain region of North America. This form of ginseng was used by the Native Americans as a potent love potion as well as for the treatment of nausea and vomiting.
Asian ginseng, also known as Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) is found in China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan. White Asian ginseng is the natural ginseng root that has simply been harvested and washed. It has not undergone any processing.
Red ginseng is Asian ginseng that has been steam or dried by sunlight or heat. Through this process, the roots turn a red color. Superior and older roots are used to create the red ginseng as they withstand heat better. Red ginseng is thought to be more potent than its white counterpart.
Historical beginnings of Asian Ginseng as an Aphrodisiac
Emperor Shen-Nung was the second of China’s mythical emperors (3500-2600 BCE) and is generally accepted as the father of Chinese medicine. Emperor Shen-Nung authored the treaties ‘Shen Nung Benchau Jing’. This treaty makes reference to the topic of erectile dysfunction.
Shen-Nung researched the effect of ginseng. He personally tasted the plant and was said to have experienced “a warm and sexually pleasurable feeling” after chewing the ginseng root. He proposed that ginseng was an effective way to stimulate sexual desire and believed that it could be used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction.
Shen-Nung also advocated the use of ginseng as a tonic for ‘quietening the spirit, expelling evil effluvia and invigorating the body’ Only the emperors were able to use ginseng at during Shen-Nung’s time as it was believed to be too special for the common man.
The phallic shape of ginseng has also contributed to the historical belief that it was an aphrodisiac. Furthermore, its general resemblance to human form has lead traditional Chinese medicine to believe it has rejuvenating and aphrodisiac properties.
The Asien ginseng root has a series of tetracyclic triterpenoid saponins (ginsenosides) which are said to build energy and vitality and thus enhance physical performance. By doing this it is believed that the ginsenosides may also help to increase the libido of human beings. Thus, it is currently speculated that ginsenosides are responsible for the aphrodisiac effect that ginseng is thought to have.
Research published online in Food Research International Journal indicated that ginseng and saffron do in fact work as aphrodisiacs. The Researchers from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, conducted an extensive review of dozens of studies. These studies examined different plant and animal substances that were strongly believed to have aphrodisiac properties. They concluded that ginseng and saffron were the most effective aphrodisiacs and were both proven to increase sexual desire.
There are a large variety of products on the market today that contain ginseng ranging from, honey to tea to capsules and creams. Capsules and extracts are a handy way to take ginseng, and generally, provide a more concentrated dosage. Ginseng is also available in its pure form as a dried root and can be eaten either whole or sliced.
It seems that ginseng (Asian and American) popularity is well founded. Ginseng has maintained its status as an aphrodisiac, from the time when Shen-Nung attributed ginseng with aphrodisiac properties until current times; a status that seems to be backed by research. Still, more research is needed to firmly establish the aphrodisiac properties of Asian ginseng.
A biologist, zoologist, scuba-diver, blogger and aspiring herbalist with interest in nature conservation, animal protection, herbal medicine and medicinal plants.