Ginseng is one of the most well-known adaptogenic herbs in Chinese Medicine. An adaptogen is a substance that brings a system back into a balanced condition. As such, it has the ability to mitigate the effects of stress by protecting the adrenal glands, increasing stomach acid to promote digestion and normalizing respiration.
Chinese medicine uses 2 different types of ginseng that are classified in different categories of herbal function. The most common and popular of which is Ren Shen or Panax Ginseng. Panax ginseng belongs to the class of herbs that tonify Qi. According to Chinese Medicine’s metaphoric terminology, it tonifies spleen and lung qi, is sweet, slightly bitter and warm in nature. In terms of a western mindset, this corresponds to increasing insulin sensitivity, stomach acid and protecting the adrenal glands.
The other form that is commonly used is known as Xi Yang Shen or Panax Quinefolium, which is also commonly called American Ginseng. It belongs to the category of herbs that tonify Yin. It has sweet, slightly bitter and cold properties and tonifies heart, lung and kidney yin. From a western medicine perspective, it is an immune system modulator that among other things, increases white blood cell counts. American ginseng is the chief ingredient of the popular cold remedy “Cold FX”.
The important thing to remember about either form of ginseng is that it is best used in combination with other herbs, or when one’s immune system is weakened. Examples of which would be when either fighting a viral infection, after recovering from one or during periods of acute or chronic stress. If ginseng is taken for too long of a duration, it can cause elevated blood pressure, headaches, insomnia and heart palpitations. Should this be the case, mung bean soup is the antidote that resolves overdosing.
When dosing American ginseng, it is best to do so at a strike dose when a cold is coming on, by taking 900mg in divided doses on day one, 600mg on day two and 300mg on day three. Panax ginseng usually comes in liquid vials in prepared form. When recovering from an illness, at high altitude or in cold environments, up to 2 vials per day is usually sufficient. With either form, when side effects mentioned above occur, stop taking it. Keep in mind that differing preparations will have different potencies, and that TCM practitioners will have differing opinions about dose.
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Be Well and Be Zen
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Benski, D., Gamble, A., (1993), Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica., p. 314-17., 358-59., Eastland Press Inc. Seattle, WA. ISBN: 0-939616-15-7.