a Korean ginseng root with leaves

I think ginseng is one of the first herbs I ever heard of in my life, but I never took any because it came along with all kinds of confusing facts and myths and warnings. Also I was told that it was mostly for men even though some women insisted on taking it too. But nobody ever had the answers to my questions like, “What do they take it for?” “What does it do?” I just got opinionated barrages about Siberian Ginseng vs Panax Ginseng and which was the true Ginseng. And always I was told to be careful with it, but never why! So I would just shrug and forget about it.

Well, now that I have more experience in alternative medicine and herbs I can tell you that in the past (and maybe currently) there was a lot of disinformation circulated around to create just that effect.

I think that since Ginseng is such a powerful herb for full body health for both sexes, it has more than its share of circulated dissension about it. But knowledge is the handling for any kind of dissension and I intend to clean up the whole subject for you in case you have run into any of this that made you think that ginseng is not for you.

Ginseng Origins

So what is Ginseng? Well, the word ginseng is derived from the Chinese word rénshēn. Rén means person and shēn means plant root. This refers to the characteristic shape of the plant root that is forked and resembles legs and a human torso. The roots are tan and are about 2 to 12 inches long.

The word ginseng comes from the pronunciation in the Cantonese dialect - jên shên and the Hokkien dialect - jîn-sim in China.

Chinese and Korean ginseng are the same species and the one that has been used in Chinese medicine for over 2000 years. It is the Panax ginseng species. Typically the white or naturally dried ginseng is attributed to China and the red, really a steamed ginseng, is attributed to Korea. But this gets mixed up so it is not always the case. And sometimes people think the other false ginsengs like Siberian ginseng are called white ginseng when it is not really a ginseng at all. This confusion rattles around all over the place.

At Herbal Roots, we source our ginseng from Korea, but it is not steamed, so technically it is not red and it's not from China so it's not white, per se. I know this adds to the confusion. But just think of it as naturally dried raw Panax ginseng from Korea.

Other plant roots that are mistaken for ginseng are the Siberian ginseng - Eleutherococcus senticosus, Crown Prince ginseng - Pseudostellaria heterophylla and Indian ginseng which is really ashwagandha. Only I don't think the roots are the issue here, but the fact that they both are whole body adaptogens and get used for the same things. Ashwagandha roots don't resemble ginseng at all.

Getting to the Root

An adaptogen adjusts things as they are needed. Some things speed things up let's say, but an adaptogen can either speed something up or slow it down or keep it the same. It is like a complex guardian of homeostasis, the body's optimum balance.

American ginseng- Panax quinquefolius (describing the compound leaf of 5 leaflets common to both these ginsengs) is also mistaken for the Panax ginseng, but since it is in the Panax genus it is still considered a bonafide ginseng, as true ginseng is defined as any ginseng species in the genus Panax. Its roots resemble the Panax ginseng the most.

I have looked up pictures of all these different roots and I noticed the similarities that could cause confusion in identifying them as ginseng because you can kind of see the human body form in all of them.

But when you see the real deal it is uncanny how those roots REALLY look like a human torso. It's not just that it branches, but the segments have a roundedness to them and horizontal indents that makes them look like human parts. This situation is like the difference between fool's gold and gold. Once you have seen real gold, you never mistake it again. The only similarity is in the verbiage of the description. You take that verbiage and it describes both gold and fool's gold, so if you have never seen gold you can get fooled. I think it's the same way with Ginseng. You have to see it yourself and that ends the confusion.

three korean ginseng roots on a plate


Panax, The True Ginseng And Its Constituents

Now Panax the true ginseng: What is that? Well, Panax comes from panacea which goes back to the Greek Pan meaning all and akos meaning remedy. All true ginsengs are Panax ginsengs.

As you can imagine, scientists have been trying to get down to what exactly makes ginseng able to do what it does. I always smile and think “Good Luck with that!” ‘cause you know if you have read my blogs for very long that herbs rarely have one active ingredient that does it all. Synergy of all components working together is the strength of a whole herb.

Ginseng contains several valuable components, including essential oils, antioxidants, polyacetylenic alcohols, peptides, amino acids, polysaccharides, saponins and vitamins.

Scientists have chosen to concentrate their investigation on only two areas of components, the ginsenosides which are saponins and the polysaccharides which are complex sugars. Saponins are soaplike in that they form suds when agitated in water. Some study has been done on polyacetylenic alcohols as well. Those are long chains of carbon with alternating single and double bonds that contain at least one -OH, making it an alcohol. These are also found in Echinacea angustifolia, a popular herb for boosting the immune system.

The polysaccharides are studied because they show effects that prevent the wild overproliferation of cells by affecting natural innate immunity. ginsenan S-IA and ginsenan S-IIA two of these compounds were isolated and found to increase the ability of immune cells to engulf and digest intruders and debris as well as controlling unnatural cell overgrowths. However the bulk of research has concentrated on understanding ginsenosides, the saponin component.

Benefits of Ginseng

Almost 50 ginsenosides have been isolated from Panax ginseng and more are still being discovered. These have been found useful in the areas of policing any overgrowths throughout the body and maintaining normal sugar metabolism and modulating the immune system as well as improving the function of the Central Nervous System, including learning and memory. They were also found useful in keeping the body comfortable and calm and for antioxidant activity.

Overlapping in these effects is the polyacetylenic alcohols. But these compounds also have the power to suppress immunity. It probably contributes to the adaptogen characteristic of ginseng.

For 2000 years ginseng has been used for practically everything. Here is a list of things I ran across that people claimed as uses:

  • Stops the body's uncomfortable metabolic over reactions to things.
  • Improves a man's ability to get and maintain an erection
  • Can improve sex drive in both women and men
  • Increases energy
  • Supports Endurance
  • Improves the mood
  • Helps with recovering and maintaining a nice figure
  • Makes the body get and stay relaxed.
  • Can help with attention, concentration and memory
  • May reduce hair loss
  • strengthens immune system
  • protects biologically from the winter season and world situations
  • improves digestion
  • Antioxidant rich, which keeps your tissues young and resilient and helps heal any damage.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to try some Panax Ginseng! Herbal Roots provides 1000 mg of Organic Panax Ginseng from Korea in every serving. 

Bottle of Herbal Roots Korean Ginseng

*This article is intended for informational purposes. The statements above have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


Rosalie Roder got her Bachelors' degrees in Chemistry and Biology from Mary Baldwin University in 1983. After graduation, with that background, her real education on natural health and healing and human potential began. It is a never ending study and she is always happy to share what she has found out so far.