The Historical Herb
As legend has it, 1,400 years ago, during the Sui Dynasty, the ominous wailing of a man could be heard in the dead of night. When local peasants investigated the source of the wailing, they found a strange plant growing high in the mountains—a plant with glowing flowers and a root that resembled a human being.
The unique herb they uncovered was ginseng, and the almost magical effect it had on a wide range of ailments led early Easterners to regard it as a panacea. The ability to remedy so many different conditions within the body is reflected in the generic name, panax, from the Greek word panakes, meaning “all-healing.” The Latin word panax itself means “cure-all,” according to Stephen Fulder, Ph.D., author of All About Ginseng.
The Korean and Chinese forms of ginseng (both panax ginseng) and the American form (panax quinquefolium) are the most widely used varieties. Another herb, eleutherococcus senticosus, although not a species of ginseng, has been referred to as Siberian ginseng because of its close similarity to the panax ginsengs in its effects. In general, panax ginsengs (Asian varieties) are yang in nature, a quality believed to heat or speed up the body. Conversely, American ginseng is yin in nature, which is believed to make it cool or slow down the body.
The importance of the differences among the various ginsengs beckons the consideration of the ancient Chinese philosophy of yin/yang, or balance. The Chinese believe that balancing chi (or qi), the lifeforce, is of ultimate importance in maintaining health. For centuries, Asian practitioners have relied on ginseng, and have used it along with balancing herbs to restore and invigorate chi. This is a use that continues today without abatement. It has relevance stateside, as interest in, and the practice of, Asian medicine is growing at a strong clip.
Introducing the “Man Root”
In Chinese, ginseng is called “Ren Shen,” meaning “man root.” The name is derived from the propensity for many ginseng roots to take on the form of a human body. For this reason, the plant has engendered many myths and legends, such as the story at the beginning of this article.
Fulder describes the herb as having “five saw-toothed leaves atop a long, straight stalk, which may be about eight to 30 inches tall, depending on age,” with pale green flowers that appear when the plant is “two or three years old,” and bright red berries. “The medicinal part of ginseng is the thick, fleshy root,” he says, which is yellow in color.
What Ginseng Does and How It Does It
In this “twenty-four/seven” world, fatigue and stress are our frequent companions. Operating in this arena, ginseng’s traditional tonic function seems thoroughly modern. In her treatise on ginseng for Natural Healing Track, Dorothea C. Rudorf, Pharm.D., M.S., best describes what ginseng does: “Its main activity is as an adaptogen in helping people to respond to stress-related conditions, to improve immunity, and to balance or restore mental, physical and metabolic effects.”
Fulder defines an adaptogen as “an herb that helps to restore and normalize bodily processes.” He also discusses the short- and long-term uses of ginseng. For help getting through an immediate difficulty, he recommends taking the herb on the morning of the day that travail is expected. For long-term use, he advises that ginseng be taken daily “for at least a month,” or, as he claims Asian tradition prescribes, during a “two-month wellness program” during which you expend less energy by such restrictions as eating less and exercising and resting more. The theory he outlines is based on building up a reserve of energy in the body during a long-term regimen, as opposed to using up all the energy provided by ginseng on a given day.
Fulder differentiates ginseng from caffeine and other stimulants, saying that “stimulants hasten the breakdown of energy that is stored in the body,” whereas ginseng seems to make the body utilize blood sugar more effectively. He cites studies done by Oura et al., at the University of Tokyo, and by himself and Dr. Deepak Shori, at London University, in support of this hypothesis.
Ginsenosides are the main active ingredients of ginseng. Structurally similar to bodily stress-response hormones, or steroids, Rudorf says that “improvement in psychological, physical and mental performance with ginseng therapy has been experienced by more than 2,000 patients in several clinical, controlled and uncontrolled studies.” In Herb Clip, a publication of the American Botanical Council, Mariann Garner-Wizard mentions animal and in vitro research by Kiefer and Pantuso that indicates that ginseng enhances immune system operation, resistance to stress, and blood sugar metabolism.
Ginseng can be a powerful ally. Because of its effectiveness, however, several researchers recommend checking with your physician before using it if you have high blood pressure, acute asthma or acute infection; or are taking medication for diabetes, blood-thinners such as warfarin, or MAO inhibitors. Caffeine consumption in conjunction with ginseng therapy is also not recommended.
About Prince of Peace
Prince of Peace Enterprises, Inc. offers a full line of ginseng extract formulas, which include: Panax Ginseng Extract, Red Ginseng Royal Jelly, Ginkgo Biloba and Red Panax Extract, Ultra Ginkgo Plus Endurance Formula, Green Tea Extract with Panax, and more.
The company states that its ginseng formulas are independently tested for pesticides and heavy metals, and the results confirm that the ginsengs are in compliance with federal and state regulations.
In addition to offering a quality product, Prince of Peace describes itself as a company that cares, socially speaking. In 2004, the Prince of Peace Children’s Home orphanage had its grand opening in Tanjin, China. Today, the facility provides a caring home for 120+ children. For more information, please visit www.popsfoundation.org. Environmentally, all of Prince of Peace’s U.S. operations are running on solar energy, which generates 80–95% of its energy needs.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2013