Brian Benjamin Carter
Ginseng is the best known and most popular Chinese herb. It is
known as the "King" of Chinese herbs. With Ginseng, you get what
you pay for. Some roots cost thousands of dollars. Most
consumers will not be seeking out the highest quality Ginseng. The
more affordable Codonopsis Root (Dang Shen) may be substituted
in most situations.
All ginseng is not created equal. There are three major types of
ginseng, compared in the table below.
|American Ginseng (Xi Yang Shen)
|| Panax Ginseng (Ren Shen)
| Korean Ginseng (Gao Li Shen)
|Least effect on qi of the three.
||Stronger effect on qi than Am. Ginseng.
||Strongest effect on qi of the three.
||HOT (red in color)
|Nourishes the yin (its best use)
||Generates fluids, stops thirst
||Very bad to use when yin deficient.
|Good for fever/coughing up blood
||May cause headache/anger/etc.
The average consumer who walks down the herb aisle in the drug store may be
unaware of the consequences of their choices. The popular conception that ginseng
equals energy, much like coffee equals energy is not necessarily so.
If you are looking for energy, first of all, you need to be sure that you really need it.
Many people would never feel that they have enough energy. Some people may
actually be Yin Deficient with Heat signs. In this case, the appearance of energy
(which may be scattered and manic) is really heat and, underneath, the person is
deficient. This is analogous to spending money on a credit card when you're already
in debt. You appear to be rich, but your finances are actually in very bad shape. You
can spend what you do not have but you will pay the price. The price may be your
sanity, or other health problems down the road. These peoplewould do better to
nurture their yin, which is deficient, and spend less energy. Look at American
Ginseng; it nourishes the yin and benefits the qi. The heat of yin deficiency
sometimes manifests as excess energy in the head: headaches, and tempers flaring.
Anyone with heat signs like this would actually be harmed by Panax or Korean
Ginseng. It is liable to make your headaches and temper worse.
American Ginseng is considered an endangered species due to excess harvesting. If
you plan on using it, the ethical thing would be to grow it yourself, or at least be
knowledgeable of the source of your Ginseng.
If you really need energy, you might not even take Panax Ginseng (Ren Shen).
Traditionally, it is used for the elderly, or in extreme health situations. The more
common, and more affordable, choice is Codonopsis Root (Dang Shen).
The following table shows that moderate situations call for codonopsis root, while
serious situations, or extreme age call for panax ginseng.
|Codonopsis Root (Dang Shen)
|| Panax Ginseng
"supports the normal"
|Spleen qi deficiency
||Lung Qi deficiency
||Collapse of Qi
|Lack of appetite, fatigue, weak limbs, diarrhea, prolapse
||Cough, shortness of breath, reluctance to speak
||Heavy sweating, cold hands and feet, sagging jaw, closed
||Shock, loss of consciousness
When NOT to take Ginseng:
If you have headaches, palpitations, insomnia, pregnant, hysteric, manic or
schizophrenic do not take ginseng. If you have very high blood pressure (systolic
>180mmHg), and/or are hypertensive, do not take panax ginseng.
|Panax and Korean Ginseng
|headaches, anger, palpitations, insomnia, pregnant,
hysteric, manic or schizophrenic, very high blood pressure (systolic
>180mmHg), hypertension, yin deficiency
||Stomach problems (damp-cold of Stomach)
It is important to know what the things you
are putting in your body are going to do for
you, and to you. After all, if you just want to dig a hole in your garden, it
is better to use a shovel than a stick of dynamite!
Brian Benjamin Carter is the Editor of The Pulse of Oriental Medicine, a writer for Being Well (a monthly e-newsletter), and an Intern at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Brian lives in beautiful San Diego, California and is shamelessly addicted to double espressos.
The Pulse of Oriental Medicine