Ginseng is one of the most popular herbal medicines in the world, with uses dating back centuries. And it’s easy to see why.
But before we tout its benefits, a quick distinction needs to be made…
Ginseng is the name used to describe several herbs. The most popular are Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).
There is also an herb called Siberian ginseng, but this is only distantly related to true ginseng and doesn’t have the same beneficial compounds.
American and Asian ginsengs have compelling yet competing effects. The American variety has been shown to have relaxation properties, and the Asian variety has more invigorating effects.
But both contain compounds that complement each other, providing a yin and yang of health benefits.
For starters, ginseng has been shown to inhibit inflammation while increasing antioxidants and protecting against oxidative stress.
That means ginseng can help promote normal cell growth and may even prevent abnormal cell production and growth that can lead to cancer. In fact, an overarching review of studies analyzing the effects of ginseng found that those who take ginseng decrease their risk of cancer by 16%.
There is also reason to believe that ginseng can help improve brain function and benefit your memory, behavior and mood. But before you start loading up on the herb… In a small study where patients were given either 200 or 400 milligram doses of ginseng extract, those who took the smaller dose saw increased brain benefits. So here’s a case where less is more.
With flu season fast approaching, here’s another reason to consider a daily dose of ginseng: It may strengthen your immune system. In fact, it can enhance the positive effects of a flu shot and boost your antibodies.
Adding ginseng to your diet is easy. Ginseng tea is quite popular… but you can also eat the plant root raw or find it as a powder, in capsules or as an extract. Just note that it is best consumed shortly before meals to increase the absorption rate and reap the full benefits.
Another great benefit of ginseng is that you don’t have to make it a permanent addition to your diet. It is most effective as an on-again, off-again supplement – taken for two or three weeks at a time.
A small word of warning, however. If you have diabetes, you should closely monitor your blood sugar levels while taking ginseng to see how your body reacts to it. And those on blood thinners should also use caution and talk to their doctor before taking ginseng.