Ginseng: the main uses

Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer is a very ancient medicinal plant that originated in regions of China and Korea. There, ginseng has been used as a medicinal plant for over 2000 years in both traditional Chinese and Korean medicine.

Besides P. ginseng, "Panax quinquefolius", the American ginseng, or the taiga root (Eleutherococcus senticosus), also called Siberian ginseng, are also known. Although the various types of ginseng differ in terms of their ingredients, they are quite similar in their effects.

White & red ginseng - what are the differences?

The dried roots of ginseng are used medicinally. Depending on the production process, a distinction is made between white and red ginseng. White ginseng is between four and six years old and is dried in the sun after harvesting, while red ginseng (ginseng radix rubra) is first treated with hot steam and then dried. This method of preparation is basically an ancient preservation method found empirically. This process caramelizes the sugar it contains and the colour changes from the original white to red. Each of these two variations is subsequently processed into extracts, among other things. Studies that have examined the effects of ginseng preparations often fail to distinguish whether red or white ginseng was used. Therefore, it is difficult to attribute precise effects to the two ginseng variants.


The ginsenosides, which belong to the triterpene saponins and of which more than 30 different compounds are currently known, are primarily responsible for the medicinal effect of the ginseng root. In addition, other ingredients such as polyacetylenes, sesquiterpenes, essential oils, starch and other substances are found in it. These ingredients are believed to have antioxidant, neuroprotective, antitumor, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties.

What is ginseng used for?

  • Adaptogenic effect:
    Probably the best-known applications of ginseng root are based on its effect as an adaptogen, i.e. its ability to help an organism increase its resistance to physical or psychological stress and to enhance general vitality. That is why preparations containing ginseng are often used as tonics or even against chronic fatigue. Studies have shown that ginsenosides can increase adrenal steroidogenesis via an indirect effect on the pituitary gland. This corticosteroid-like effect of ginseng is thought to be responsible for its adaptogenic properties, as hormones produced by the adrenal gland are known to play an important role in the body's ability to adapt.1, 2

    In chronic fatigue, oxidative stress is considered an important trigger. The antioxidant properties of P. ginseng have been described several times, 3, 4 as well as its positive effect on fatigue. In a placebo-controlled double-blind study of subjects suffering from chronic fatigue for at least six months, serum concentrations of reactive oxygen species and malondialdehyde, a degradation product of fatty acids and a qualitative marker of lipid peroxidation, were significantly decreased by ingestion of a ginseng extract, while glutathione concentrations and glutathione reductase activity significantly increased. Assessments of mental health (greater effect at 2 g than at 1 g) and fatigue (at 2 g) were also significantly improved.4 From (pre)clinical studies, it appears that other mechanisms, such as regulation of glucose metabolism, may likely be responsible for the anti-fatigue effects of ginseng.
  • Performance (mental and physical):

    One study was able to show that ginseng lowers blood glucose levels in healthy subjects, as well as increasing cognitive performance and reducing subjectively perceived fatigue after sustained mental activity.5 The authors suggested that the positive effect on glucose metabolism also has a promoting effect on cognitive functions. A Cochrane analysis also concluded that individual studies with ginseng suggest improvement in cognitive functions, behavior, and quality of life.6 Quite similarly, ginseng also positively affects psychomotor characteristics (facial expressions, gestures, walking, talking). However, the often postulated effect of ginseng on physical performance has not been confirmed. Although there are studies with positive results, the majority of publications could not prove any performance-enhancing effects.7

  • Effect on glucose metabolism:

    A number of studies addressed the influence of ginseng on glucose metabolism. Most were able to demonstrate positive results or confirm that ginseng has a beneficial effect on glucose regulation and can lower glucose concentrations in the blood. A 2014 meta-analysis summarized the results of 16 clinical trials in which various ginseng extracts were taken for 4-24 weeks. Ginseng was able to slightly but significantly lower fasting blood glucose in people with and without diabetes, but had no effect on HbA1c and insulin levels compared to controls.8

  • Other areas of application:

    There is also some evidence for a beneficial effect on the immune system, cardiac and pulmonary functions, and some limited evidence for improvement in erectile dysfunction.7


Numerous studies have clearly demonstrated various effects of P. ginseng. The most promising evidence supports its use in the modulation of glucose metabolism, in stressful situations, or even to promote cognitive functions. The safety of ginseng is also viewed positively, making this time-honoured remedy an interesting treatment option in diverse application areas.


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1 Panossian A et al. Evidence-Based Efficacy of Adaptogens in Fatigue, and Molecular Mechanisms Related to their Stress-Protective Activity. Curr Clin Pharmacol 2009;4(3):198– 219. | 2 Gaffney BT et al. The effects of Eleutherococcus senticosus and Panax ginseng on steroidal hormone indices of stress and lymphocyte subset numbers in endurance athletes. Life Sci 2001;70(4):431–42. | 3 Kim HG et al. Antioxidant effects of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer in healthy subjects: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Food Chem Toxicol 2011;49(9):2229–35.| 4 Kim HG et al. Antifatigue Effects of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. PLoS One 2013;8(4):e61271. | 5 Reay JL et al. Panax ginseng (G115) improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults. Hum Psychopharmacol 2010;25(6):462–71. | 6 Geng J et al. Ginseng for cognition. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010;12:CD007769. | 7 Lee NH et al. Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials Evaluating the Efficacy and Safety of Ginseng. Acupunct Meridian Stud 2011;4(2):85−97. | 8 Shishtar E et al. The Effect of Ginseng (The Genus Panax) on Glycemic Control: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials. PLoS One 2014;9(9):e107391.