Ginseng comes from the fleshy roots of perennial slow-growing plants belonging to 11 different species and two different genera. There are three popular varieties—Asian, American, and Siberian.

Asian or Korean ginseng is the oldest. The most famous and commonly found ginseng comes from Panax ginseng. American ginseng comes from Panax quinquefolius. Siberian ginseng is from a different genus: Eleutherococcus senticosus. Korean ginseng comes from Panax ginseng.

Three more species of the Panax genus are used in traditional medicine: Panax vietnamensis (Vietnamese ginseng), Panax japonicas (Japanese ginseng), and Panax notoginseng (Pseudoginseng). Both Panax and Eleutherococcus species belong to the Araliaceae family.

Outside of this family, but still called ginseng, are the Malaysian ginseng (Eurycoma longifolia), Peruvian ginseng (Lepidium meyenii), Southern ginseng (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), Brazilian ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata), Kerala ginseng (Trichopus zeylanicus), Thai ginseng (Kaempferia parviflora), Nam ginseng (Dracena angustifolia), and Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera). A cheap substitute for Panax ginseng comes from Codonopsis pilosula.

Now you know that ginseng does not belong to a single species, let us look at the medicinal properties of this group of plants. Most scientific studies focus on Panax ginseng and, to a limited extent, Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng. It is because the former is extensively used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and the latter in Ayurveda. These two are the most widely used herbal medicine systems.

Traditionally, ginseng is regarded as both a physical and mental restorant. It is said to improve the cognitive ability of patients, improve the quality of life and behavior. Ginsenoides and other constituents in ginseng possess immunosuppressive properties.

It is also said to be an aphrodisiac. Other medicinal properties include the ability to improve concentration, memory, physical efficiency, and athletic endurance.

In Western medicine, Panax ginseng is simulative, while in traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to induce calm. It is also used to treat ailments related to heart and blood vessels, diabetes, etc.

There is so much to know about the various types of ginseng. Each of these herbs is used in a variety of herbal combinations for treating a range of ailments.

References for further reading:

Asian Herbs and their wondrous health-giving properties

Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants

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