6 amazing facts about ginseng

yesterday i put this rad ‘superhuman soap’ made with uber amounts of ginseng up in my shop (psst you can still probably grab a bar or two if you missed it), so i thought i’d follow that up with some info you might just not know about ginseng.

first, i love ginseng. i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again, ginseng is one of those ‘miracle’ plants that i recommend almost all of my patients take in my clinical practice. there are just so many fabulous reasons to incorporate it into your life, besides just in soap form (but shameless plug, you can buy it in soap form and it smells amazing, with subtle notes of chamomile and clove underlying it).

anyway, here are some things you might not know about ginseng:

its a really strong antioxidant

antioxidants are compounds in plants that scavenge free radicals. free radicals are things we don’t want, but are normally exposed to constantly, either through:

  • just regular cellular metabolism that generates free radicals as a type of ‘waste product’
  • to normal liver detoxification that generates free radicals as intermediate compounds in the process of detoxifying other things
  • or even in the form of various pollutants and toxicants, which are all over our modern homes, air, vehicles, food, cleaning products, skincare, etc etc.

antioxidants grab those free radicals and prevent them from binding to our cell membranes, our DNA, and even other nutrients we need to stay healthy.

it increases the lifespan of your cells (and maybe also you)

if you want to go down a really neat science rabbit hole someday, look into the subject of telomeres. there are the little tales on our chromosomes that, the more our cells divide as we age, these chromosome tails shorten and eventually, they are short the chromosome can no longer divide correctly, the cell either becomes cancerous and is destroyed by other cells (hopefully) or it just dies.

ginseng is one of only a handful of compounds (the actual compounds in ginseng are polyphenols called ‘gensinosides’) that are known to prevent telomere shortening, but also, in some cases, lengthening of telomeres.

a ton of studies have been done in certain populations, such as the blue zone in Okinawa where there are more than the average number of centenarians, and one of the factors attributed to their unusually long lifespan is greater consumption of ginseng, among other foods.

it enhances memory

ginseng, particularly the panax ginseng variety, is commonly prescribed for aging individuals who are experiencing declining cognitive function, including memory loss.

ginseng has been used in asian populations for centuries for its ability to enhance cognitive functions such as focus, memory, and even learning tasks. its been widely studied for its impacts on neurocognitive and neuroprotective mechanisms.

it increases alertness and focus

one of my favorite things about adding ginseng to tea i drink in the afternoon or evening is its subtle yet potent ability to keep me alert and wipe away the 5-o-clock sleepies, while not keeping me from falling asleep later at night, like caffeine later in the day tends to do for some people.

this may have to do with similar pathways in the brain that ginseng impacts in aging populations for tasks like memory and cognition, as it has the effect of increasing alertness and focus overall.

it may enhance sexual function

this is something it has been used for in traditional chinese medicine (TCM) for millennia, as it is thought to improve endocrine function in the sexual hormone cascade.

it restores deficient ‘qi’ or ‘chi’

this is also something pratitioners of TCM have used it for, as this herb is remarkable at restoring and balancing the vital life force of the human body when used regularly.

as you can see, the name Panax, the generic name of ginseng, may be truly accurate, as it stems from the roots ‘pan’ (all) and akos (cure), translating to literally ‘cure all’ or cures anything, which many practitioners of ancient chinese medicine believed.

how to make a zesty immunity herbal tea

I love herbs. I’ve worked with them for over a decade in my ‘day job’ as a clinician. They can be quite potent and medicinal if you use them correctly in the right doses.

A really great easy way to incorporate herbs into your self-care and health/wellness routine is in the form of herbal teas.

Even if you aren’t using herbs for any medical or health reasons, herbal teas are still an excellent way to get antioxidants and beneficial nutrients that aid in liver detoxification, cellular immunity and repair, and even promote anti-aging effects like cell regeneration and improve skin appearance.

This particular herbal tea is one I make a lot lately, because it has a number of properties that i think are really important right now for me:

  • immune boosting antioxidants and herbal extracts
  • anti-aging antioxidants (i ain’t getting any younger)
  • adrenal-balancing compounds (stress has been redefined for me, personally)
  • cellular health compounds

Here’s what I put in it, but feel free to play around with ingredients to your own taste:

  • ~1 tsp hibiscus
  • ~1-2 tsp schisandra berries (dried)
  • 1 small slice ginseng (dried root)
  • ~1-2 tsp dried goji berries
  • ~3/4-1 tsp rhodiola
  • ~8-10g fresh ginger root
  • 2-3 fresh lemon slices

Here are some of the important properties of the ingredients that I take into account when I choose what to put in a particular herbal tea:

Hibiscus

Hibiscus is a tropical plant whose red calyces (the pods that form after the petals drop off) are used medicinally for a variety of reasons. It is considered a ‘cooling’ herbal ingredient in many cultures, for ailments that result from too much ‘heat’ or which are referred to as ‘hot’ conditions.

It has been used to lower blood pressure naturally in human trials [1] and has undergone cancer chemopreventive trials in animals [2].

The main antioxidant compounds in hibiscus are polyphenolic acids, flavonoids, protocatechuic acid (PCA), and anthocyanins. These come from the pigment-associated plant components, especially the deep dark reds. I’ll bring up anthocyanins again when I discuss schisandra berries. These are all compounds that reduce inflammation by either directly binding to reactive oxygen species (ROS) or inhibiting those free radicals from doing things like binding to cells and DNA, which is super bad, trust me.

Schisandra berries

For real, if you’re not eating or consuming schisandra berries all the time right now, start. These are like level 9000 super food status, and not many people know much about them outside of herbal communities and alternative medicine experts.

These little berries are native to parts of Asia and they have a (pause for suspenseful effect)…deep dark red pigment to them. Yes, these are also high in anthocyanins, the antioxidants associated with red, purple, blue, and black-pigmented plants.

Not only that, but they also have antiviral activity [3] and contain a phenolic compound called Schisandrin C, which is hepatoprotective (supports the liver and helps protect it from damage) [4]. Other important antioxidants include Schisandrin A and B (Sch A; Sch B) and gomisin A (Gom A).

And then, if that’s not enough, they also support the immune system by stimulating a specific type of white blood cells to produce certain cytokines in response to inflammation, which causes other immune cells to differentiate into helpful or beneficial responses [5].

*caution: because schisandra can stimulate TH-1 immune response, I would definitely not recommend taking this plant or its extracts if you have an active COVID-19 infection; if you take it as a preventive before contracting the virus, it will be harmless and can absolutely help boost your immune system, but during active infection in some individuals, it could increase cytokine storm, which can lead to severe complications; consult a healthcare professional before taking any new supplements, herbs, medicines, or nutraceuticals

Ginseng

This is a root that is pretty much a staple for me, and I recommend it to many of my patients for its multifaceted value in both anti-aging/longevity medicine and its cellular support properties.

Ginseng comes in several forms, but generally for those two purposes, I recommend using Panax ginseng, also referred to as Asian ginseng or Korean ginseng. This form of ginseng is the most costly, but worth it. You can purchase it already dried and sliced, or you can purchase the root dried and cut it yourself if you want to save some cash.

Important constituents of ginseng and why I add it to herbal teas so frequently are:

  •  over 30 different compounds classified as ginsenosides have been studied with effects ranging from cardiovascular, neurological, hepatic, endocrine, to immune function
  • supports memory, learning, focus, and neuroprotection [6]
  • immune-modulating properties like anticancer actions and increases production and action of immune cells such NK (natural killer) cells and T cells [7]
  • has longevity (longer life span properties) and stress reduction properties, as well as stress-modulating properties [8]

Who doesn’t want to look and feel younger, while living longer and being super chill?

Goji berries

I think most people have jumped on a variety of ‘super food’ trends over the years, and goji berries definitely had their time in the spotlight. You guessed it: they have anthocyanins in them because of their pigment! They taste great and I add them mainly for the extra antioxidant boost and their contribution to flavor.

Ginger

Ginger is another one of those non-negotiable wonder roots that I feel like everyone should be consuming in addition to ginseng. Ginger has such powerful digestive benefits (high doses of it can alleviate constipation in some people). It also has anticancer properties, as well as some strong immune boosting properties due to its antioxidants (gingerols, shogaol, and paradols) and anti-inflammatory effects [9].

Rhodiola

And last but not least, we come to rhodiola, a potent adrenal adaptogen that many people use in lieu of caffeine and other stimulants. If you’re feeling sluggish, fatigued, and burned out, rhodiola may just be your bff.

I add it here to give the whole tea a bit of a high energy vibration, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t drink this later in the day. I find that it will not keep you up or prevent sleep the way caffeine would. What I do find is it really helps me turn on the creative centers of my brain and focus my passion and creativity, which i can more easily channel into something productive.

Lemon

Fresh lemon slices are always welcome in herbal teas, IMO, because they can help to take the bite off bitter-tasting or smelling herbs, as well as help to boost the antioxidant content even further, as lemons contain a phenolic compound called limonene, which aids in supporting the liver.

Phew. got all that? If all you came here for was how to make the tea, thanks for sticking around for the rest.

all content contained in this article and on this site is not intended to be used as medical advice or a substitute for medical attention. always check with your healthcare provider before changing or beginning any herbal protocols such as those mentioned herein.

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