A Complete Guide to Panax (Asian) Ginseng: History, Benefits, Studies, Side Effects, & More

Published on April 25, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Asian Ginseng, also known as Panax Ginseng, has been widely used in traditional Asian wellness practices for millennia.

It is one of the first herbs documented in the original Chinese Materia Medica (believed to have been written during the Han Dynasty, 220 BCE), the textbook used in Traditional Chinese medicine.

As one of the most revered plants in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Asian Ginseng was used for nearly all aspects of health, including energy, libido, fertility, immunity, and digestion, and to enhance emotional and spiritual well-being.*

Fast-forward to the modern day, and Ginseng is one of the most popular herbal supplements in the world.REF#1412 

But does Asian Ginseng live up to its historical and modern hype?

In this article, you’ll learn the fascinating history behind Asian Ginseng, its traditional uses, what modern research has uncovered about how it works, side effects and contraindications, and how to find high-quality, authentic, and unadulterated Asian Ginseng.

The Fascinating History Behind Panax Ginseng (Asian Ginseng)

Asian Ginseng, also known as Panax Ginseng, Chinese Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, or Red Ginseng, was discovered in the mountains of Manchuria, China over 5000 years ago. REF#1413 REF#1414

The name Ginseng refers to many species within the genus Panax, but there’s so much more to its name!

The name Panax is derived from the Greek word for “total healing” or “for everything.”

The word “Ginseng” is Chinese and comes from the term Hokkien jîn-sim which means “human root.” Ginseng was likely given this name due to its forked-shaped root, which resembles human feet. 

According to Asian tradition, its human form represented humans in transmigration of matter and spiritual energy.

Panax Ginseng was considered the ultimate “tonic” and, thus, used for nearly any health reason that you can think of

It is believed to strengthen the body's five digestive organs, bring peace of mind, and remove bad energies.

Herbalists today consider Panax Ginseng an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body adapt and thrive under various physical, mental, and emotional stressors.

Panax Ginseng also played an important role in shaping Asian economies.

Its benefits were considered so impressive that its use was restricted to Emperors who could afford it.

Rumors of its benefits brought a flourishing international trade to places like Korea, where Koreans supplied China with silk and medicines in exchange for wild ginseng.

Today, Ginseng is present in 35 countries, but is primarily cultivated in Korea, China, Japan, America, and Russia.

American Ginseng Versus Panax Ginseng—What’s The Difference?

Many people wonder if there is a significant difference between American and Panax Ginseng. 

The answer is yes.

Although they come from the same genus, American Ginseng, also known as Panax quinquefolius or Yellow Ginseng, is native to North America's eastern and midwestern regions. 

Unfortunately, its popularity has made wild American Ginseng an endangered species. Therefore, most of the Ginseng available today is cultivated in the northern, midwestern, or southern states.

Due to the complexities involved in American Ginseng cultivation, it tends to be more expensive than Panax Ginseng.

Like Panax Ginseng, American Ginseng resembles the human body. Hence, its traditional use in folklore and Native American wellness practices for supporting the whole person—body, mind, and spirit.

Although the two Ginsengs share many traditional uses and benefits, such as supporting energy, stamina, and immunity, they have also demonstrated unique benefits.*

For example, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, American Ginseng is considered less stimulating and more cooling than Panax Ginseng.*

To learn more about American Ginseng, check out our Herb Library.

Next, we’ll explore some specific benefits of Panax Ginseng.

The Health Benefits Of Panax (Red or Korean) Ginseng

As you just learned, Panax Ginseng has been traditionally used for nearly everything, from digestive health issues to libido.*

Its glowing reputation has led scientists to conduct various studies on Panax Ginseng to try and determine how it works and who may benefit.

Researchers have learned a lot about this ancient herb's chemical properties and mechanisms. 

For instance, Panax Ginseng contains various beneficial plant compounds such as antioxidants, polyphenols, and saponins.REF#1415

One example is the main active compound in Panax Ginseng, known as Ginsenoside Rd or Panaxosides, which has been shown to support normal inflammatory response, the clean up of damaged cells, cell health, and vitality, and acts as an antioxidant.REF#1416

Here we’ll explore the science behind some of the traditional uses and benefits of Asian Ginseng.

#1: Panax Ginseng May Support Exercise Performance and Stamina

Athletes and active adults have long used Panax Ginseng to support energy, stamina, and exercise performance.*

Considered “the King of tonics” in Traditional Chinese medicine, it was used by the ancients to help prepare for battle and adapt to the stressors of everyday life and by modern folks and athletes to boost energy and workout performance.*

Several studies have suggest Panax Ginseng’s potential benefits for exercise performance, stamina, and energy.

An animal study published in the journal Molecules found Panax Ginseng extract increased muscle mass and improved exercise performance and energy utilization while decreasing fatigue and lactic acid (lactic acid can create soreness after exercising).REF#1417

Another animal study published in the journal Nutrients found a component of Panax Ginseng, known as ginseng oligopeptides or GOP, may exhibit anti-fatigue properties.REF#1418

Scientists believe this may be due to the GOPs' antioxidant properties, which support cell function in skeletal muscles.

Until recently, human trials on the performance benefits of Panax Ginseng were lacking.

However, in 2018 a randomized, placebo-controlled human trial entitled: “Effect of high-dose ginsenoside complex (UG0712) supplementation on physical performance of healthy adults during a 12-week supervised exercise program” was published in the Journal of Ginseng Research.REF#1419

Researchers followed the effects of Panax Ginseng supplementation on three groups of sedentary individuals.

One group received a low-dose supplementation of 100 mg daily, another group received a high-dose supplementation of 500 mg daily, and the other group received a placebo. 

All participants participated in 12 weeks of supervised aerobic and resistance exercise, and their results were recorded.

Researchers concluded that both Ginseng groups showed significant increases in aerobic capacity, including VO2 max (oxygen consumption during physical excursion) and muscular strength. 

However, there were no differences in muscular strength, anaerobic threshold (the highest level of exercise intensity a person can sustain), or lactic acid levels during exercise training among the three groups.

More research is needed to draw definitive conclusions about using Panax Ginseng to maximize stamina and exercise performance.

#2: Panax Ginseng May Promote Various Aspects Of Brain Health

Panax Ginseng is a staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine for supporting various aspects of cognitive function.

Given the rise in age-related cognitive health, researchers have been investigating how herbs, like Panax Ginseng, may affect brain health.

Like many cognitive support herbs, Panax Ginseng contains various plant compounds, such as antioxidants, polyphenols, and saponins, that may support brain function.

A review published in Phytomedicine: The International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology found, through summarizing existing research, that Ginsenoside Rd, the main active compound in Panax Ginseng, supported several aspects of brain function including:REF#1420

  • Calcium influx
  • Normal inflammatory response
  • Mitochondrial health (mitochondria are the energy-producing powerhouses of cells)
  • Nerve growth factor
  • Normal nerve regeneration

The mechanism of action can be partly explained by Ginsenoside Rd’s antioxidant properties, which support normal inflammatory response and overall cellular function.

This review led researchers to conclude Panax Ginseng may be a “promising natural neuroprotective.”

Another review published in Frontiers of Cellular Neuroscience drew similar conclusions.REF#1429

The scientists related Panax Ginseng’s supportive effects on brain health and cognitive function to the effects of its antioxidants and saponins—a protective plant compound that deters pests. 

The authors also noted Panax Ginseng has been shown to support other factors related to brain health, such as: 

  • Neurotransmitter function 
  • Hormonal balance (sex hormones and stress hormones)
  • Blood sugar
  • Inflammatory response
  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (a protein associated with various aspects of brain function, including neurotransmitter production)REF#1430
  • And various intracellular signaling molecules

This is significant given new evidence about the correlation between brain health and things like inflammation, blood sugar, and stress.

The authors concluded Panax Ginseng appears to have a positive effect on brain health and deserves further research and development, but more research is needed to confirm these benefits

For this reason,Panax Ginseng is common in supplements for cognitive or stress support, such as Gaia Herbs Adrenal Health Jump Start

Learn more about how to use herbs to support brain health in: 7 Best Herbs For Memory Support And Brain Health.

#3: Panax Ginseng May Support Immunity 

Ginseng was often used historically to support a strong constitution and immune system.*

There is now evidence validating this age-old practice.

Research has shown that Panax Ginseng supports normal regulation of the immune system.REF#REF#1429

Long-term intake of Panax Ginseng extracts has also been shown to positively affect gut microbiota intestinal structure in rats.

Although human research is needed to draw a more definitive conclusion, this is a positive sign given the role of the gut microbiome in hosting 70-80% of our immune system.REF#1431

Many adaptogens, including American Ginseng, Maca, Rhodiola, and others, have a long history of use as immune support tonics.*

Although each herb harbors unique plant compounds as adaptogens, they all support a healthy stress response, which plays a vital role in immune health.

Learn more about the best herbs to support immunity in: 6 Easy Ways To Support (Boost) Your Immune System Naturally.

#4: Panax Ginseng Supports Stable Mood

Earlier, we mentioned the role Panax Ginseng plays in supporting brain health, gut health, and energy.

These properties that promote normal neurotransmitter function, hormonal balance, brain signaling, inflammatory response, energy production via mitochondria, and gut diversity make it a potentially helpful herb for supporting mood.*

Research suggests Panax Ginseng (Panax Ginseng Extract or PGE) may promote better mood by supporting: 

  • Normal brain inflammatory response
  • Amygdala signaling: The amygdala is a part of the brain involved in memory, decision making, and emotional responses
  • And hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function: Which is intimately involved in stress response and hormonal balance) via its antioxidant properties.REF#1432

More research is needed. However, preliminary evidence, coupled with Ginseng’s adaptogenic properties, suggests Panax Ginseng may help support a balanced mood and positive outlook.

Panax Ginseng Side Effects & Contraindications

Panax Ginseng has been safely consumed for millennia to support health and well-being.

According to the National Institutes for Health, short-term oral use of Panax Ginseng for up to six months in recommended amounts appears safe for most people.REF#1433

What is considered a “recommended amount” of Panax Ginseng?

That depends on your doctor or healthcare practitioner. 

However, Panax Ginseng is typically dosed at 200 to 400 mg daily for general wellness. Some studies have used higher dosages short-term, and some multivitamins or sports nutrition supplements may contain less.

Although many people have historically taken Panax Ginseng long-term, questions have been raised about its long-term safety, so check with your doctor or healthcare practitioner about using Panax Ginseng long-term.

Some experts do not recommend it for infants, children, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The most common side effect of Panax Ginseng is insomnia.

Other rare but potential side effects include: 

  • Menstrual problems
  • Breast pain
  • Increased heart rate
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Digestive problems

Since some evidence suggests Panax ginseng may affect blood sugar, consult your healthcare provider before using Panax ginseng if you have diabetes or other blood sugar issues.

Panax Ginseng Contraindications

Although there isn’t strong evidence linking Panax Ginseng with medication interactions, there are some uncertainties.

Talk to your doctor if you’re taking any medications, especially the following:

  • Calcium channel blockers and other high blood pressure medications
  • Statin medications 
  • Antidepressants
  • Warfarin (Coumadin) have had mixed results
  • Diabetes medication

There is some evidence that a plant compound in Panax Ginseng may be unsafe when taken orally during pregnancy due to congenital disabilities (formerly known as “birth defects”). 

Very little is known about the effects of Panax Ginseng on infants when taken by breastfeeding mothers.

Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional for individual recommendations.

How To Use Panax Ginseng To Energize Your Body, Mind, And Spirit 

If you want to try Panax Ginseng, finding an authentic source is essential.

Unfortunately, Panax Ginseng’s popularity has led to adulteration and false labeling of some supplements. 

In addition, many Panax Ginseng crops are grown in polluted soils and may contain high levels of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and/or heavy metals.

Panax Ginseng processing is also essential, as improper handling and drying can lead to mold issues.

Fortunately, you can still find authentic and clean Panax Ginseng by following these tips.

Look for supplement companies who:

  • Are transparent about sourcing
  • Use organic or naturally-grown Ginseng
  • Do third-party testing for contaminants (pesticides, mold, heavy metals), purity, and identity/authenticity
  • Follow cGMP manufacturing practices—cGMP stands for Current Good Manufacturing Practices which are enforced by the FDA to ensure safety, quality, and consistency in manufacturing, testing, and procurement of raw materials.

You can find authentic Panax Ginseng in these Gaia Herbs Products:

For more helpful information on the health benefits of Panax Ginseng, check out the following resources in our Herb Library & blog:


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