Ginseng is one of the most popular and best-studied medicinal herbs in the world. It is also one of the most misunderstood, especially among Westerners.
All ginseng belongs to the same genus (Panax), but there are two main species:
- Panax ginseng, also known as Asian, Korean, or Chinese ginseng
- Panax quinquefolius, commonly referred to American ginseng
Yet, anyone familiar with herbal medicine, American or Asian, knows that the two species are not identical. They have distinct properties and are used for different purposes. Let’s look at the similarities and differences between American ginseng vs. Asian ginseng.
Similarities Between Asian & American Ginseng
First, the similarities. Ginseng is a slow-growing plant that is native to cooler forested areas of Korea, Northeastern China, Canada, and the United States. The gnarled, fleshy roots are the most valued part of the plant, and they are usually dried and made into concentrated liquid extracts or powders used in capsules and tablets.
Wild ginseng is highly prized, very pricey, and increasingly hard to find. In the US, there are strict rules and regulations on its harvest and export. As a result, most of the American and Asian ginseng you get in supplements is cultivated.
Cultivated ginseng may not have the cachet of the wild stuff, but it is perfectly acceptable. In fact, standardized extracts of cultivated ginseng from a reputable source have an edge—they guarantee a specified level of ginsenosides, the active constituents that are responsible for the benefits of ginseng.
Asian Ginseng Gives You Energy
Panax ginseng has been held in high esteem in China, Korea, and Japan for thousands of years. (Panax is derived from the Greek word for all-healing). In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is classified as warm, stimulating, and invigorating—a “Qi” tonic for boosting “vital energy.”
As an adaptogen, Asian ginseng helps restore balance and blunt the adverse effects of stress, such as exhaustion, immune system depletion, and organ dysfunction. It supports lung function, blood sugar control, and cardiovascular health. It enhances immunity and resistance to infectious diseases, and studies suggest that regular use is associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Asian ginseng also has a reputation for increasing libido and erectile function.
One of its most notable benefits is a reduction in fatigue. This translates to a boost not only in physical energy and vigor but also in mental energy, alertness, accuracy, and mood. Plus, it works quickly. Studies report noticeable improvements within a couple of hours after taking it.
American Ginseng Supports Cognitive Function
American ginseng has long been a mainstay of Native American medicine, especially in Appalachia, the Ozarks, and Eastern Canada, where wild ginseng is most abundant. Its value in China was recognized as early as the 1700s, and fortunes were made harvesting and exporting it. One famous dabbler in the ginseng trade was frontiersman Daniel Boone, who on one occasion lost two tons of ginseng when his barge sank in the Ohio River.
Whereas Asian ginseng is warm and stimulating, TCM classifies American ginseng as a “yin” tonic. It also helps balance physical and mental function, but it is cool, calming, and non-stimulating—making it ideal for today’s busy, fast-paced, stressful lifestyles. Like its Asian cousin, American ginseng has been shown to enhance immunity and reduce the risk of respiratory infections. Limited research suggests it may also improve insulin resistance and help lower blood sugar and blood pressure.
I am most impressed by American ginseng’s effects on cognitive function. Studies reveal that this adaptogen can improve short-term recall, memory, attention, and cognitive accuracy. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, middle-aged men and women who took a single dose of a standardized extract of American ginseng performed significantly better three hours later on tests of cognitive function.
Improvements were most evident in working memory—an important aspect of cognition that enables us to remember information (appointments, to-do lists, etc.) for short periods of time and is essential for reasoning, decision-making, and overall functioning.
How to Use Ginseng
Selecting ginseng products can be challenging, given the huge number of brands and wide ranges of ginsenosides in various supplements. How much you take depends on the type and strength of standardization. For example, if you opt for capsules of root powder, the suggested dose is usually around 1,000 mg twice a day, while the dose of a concentrated extract would be much less.
Because of this uncertainty, I usually recommended standardized extracts:
- Asian ginseng: Look for an extract standardized for 2%–4% ginsenosides. The usual dose is 200–400 mg per day. Because of its energizing effects, it is best taken in the morning.
- American ginseng: Concentrations vary, but one product I often recommend is standardized for 10% ginsenosides and has a suggested daily dose of 200 mg once or twice a day.
Judicious doses of both types of ginseng can be taken daily. They can also be taken in conjunction with other natural ingredients and adaptogens such as ashwagandha and rhodiola.
Ginseng is not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or nursing. Remember to always consult your doctor before taking any new nutritional supplement to make sure it’s appropriate for you.