Ginseng: What It Is, Benefits And Uses

What is ginseng used for? We explain and talk about types like American ginseng and red ginseng

Korean ginseng comes from the panax ginseng plant.
Korean ginseng comes from the Panax ginseng plant.

Organic, ancestral, and natural remedies are becoming more and more prevalent -one of the most popular being ginseng. Korean, Siberian, and American ginseng are the most popular varieties and can be consumed as a tea or in pill form.

Below, we explain what ginseng is and its uses and benefits. Besides, we break down the differences between Korean red ginseng and other varieties of this plant's roots.

What is ginseng?

Panax ginseng is one of the best-known plants in traditional Chinese medicine. It belongs to the panax genus that is made up of plants that grow slowly and that have fleshy roots. At the same time, panax means 'panacea' (Greek for 'panakes' or 'panakos'), which means 'all healing.'

Plants that belong to this genus are mostly native to East Asia, although there are some that grow well in the Americas -which is why the properties and benefits of ginseng vary greatly. This plant is often mistaken for Ginko Biloba (a long-lived tree that also grows in East Asia, and has similar properties).

The most common types include Korean, Siberian, American, and Indian  ginseng  -later on we describe the properties and benefits of each, including the differences between white and red Korean varieties.

The color can also change depending on the state of the root (white: recently cut; brown: dry; red: roasted). Below, we describe what this plant is used for and present its properties and benefits.

What is ginseng used for?

Ginseng serves to combat exhaustion and weakness, which is why it could be considered a stimulant. But, not just this: its properties are related to many other benefits, like burning fat, improving concentration or reducing inflammation. Traditionally the root is cooked or drunk as an herbal tea, although it can also even be found in cosmetics.

In fact, its properties have even been concentrated to make pills or extract that work like vitamin or energy supplements. For example, supplements that combine royal jelly with ginseng, and vitamin C).

Ginseng is often consumed in the form of herbal tea.
Ginseng is often consumed in the form of herbal tea.


Besides its ability to improve energy levels, ginseng has many other health benefits. Here are a few.

Boosts energy

As we mentioned, one of this plant's main properties is its ability to stimulate the Central Nervous System. This medicinal plant reduces tiredness,  which is why it can increase activity in moments of fatigue.

Besides it increases the amount of phenylalanine released, an amino acid that's important for the separation of neurotransmitters and that has neuroprotective properties, which is why it has been linked to cognitive process improvement, as is the case with memory and attention span.

Stimulates the immune system

The ginsenosides present in ginseng are related to lymphocyte production  (a type of immune cell involved in the liberation of antibodies and proteins), which is why another one of its benefits is improving immune system's protection against mild illnesses like colds or the flu.

Combats sexual dysfunction

Some studies have linked ginseng consumption to improvement in cases of sexual impotence, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation due to its vasodilatory effects and its impact on the central nervous system.

Reduces anxiety

Ginseng also works to reduce anxiety to an extent -this is due to its properties as a pain reliever and since it  reduces cortisol secretion in stressful moments. 

Even so, people are cautioned to avoid taking high doses and even if they're feeling anxious since the effect could be counterproductive. This plant can also help to regulate gastric function and prevent ulcers. 

Aids digestion

Consuming this plant's root is also linked to a faster metabolism; which is probably due to its stimulating effects. That's why, another one of its benefits is improved digestion, and in some cases, it helps to burn body fat.

Lowers blood sugar levels

This root impacts the function of the adrenal gland and the pancreas, in charge of regulating secretion and distributing sugar to the bloodstream and other cells.

That's why taking ginseng can help reduce sugar levels in the blood and studies have discovered antidiabetic properties. Specifically, it has been proven beneficial when consumed approximately 40 minutes before eating lunch.


Most popular types

Although Korean red ginseng is the most consumed, there are still other popular varieties out there. For example, Korean white, Siberian, Indian, and American ginseng, that are all currently in high demand as of late.

Korean red ginseng

Korean red ginseng comes from the Panax ginseng species, the most common type that is generally used in natural remedies.

This root variety is considered a stimulant -for example, the red type works to strengthen the immune system and improve sexual performance.

The difference between the red and white versions of this plant lies in how they are processed: when steamed and then dehydrated using heat, the resulting product is called 'red ginseng.'

Korean red ginseng is pictured here on the right and white on the left.
Korean red ginseng is pictured here on the right and white on the left.

Korean white

Unlike red ginseng, the white variety comes from the root of the plant which is processed differently: it's peeled and dehydrated, but this is done by drying it in the sun for a while, not by steaming it or exposing it to heat.

Since it comes from the same plant genus, it's properties are quite similar to the red root. However, there's a consensus that the way this type is treated makes it less beneficial  than its crimson counterpart.

Siberian ginseng

This type is generally used as a treatment for chronic stress as well as fatigue and immune disorders that tend to appear as a consequence of these.

Siberian ginseng comes from  a shrub known as Eleutherococcus senticosus, a species found in Russia (specifically in the Siberian region), Korea, and in other parts of the Asian continent.

Indian ginseng

Also known as Ashwagandha, this type of root is attributed with the ability to increase the lifespan of those who consume it by the ancient Indian Ayurvedic medicine practice.

According to supporters of this plant, as is the case with other varieties of this natural remedy, the benefits of Indian ginseng helps to relieve stress and other similar symptoms. Besides, just like the red kind, it's supposed to be an excellent aphrodisiac.

American ginseng

American ginseng comes from the Panax quinquefolium  and is a trademark of the great smoky mountains in the United States.

Some of this plant's uses include anxiety and stress relief along with the reduction of associated problems such as high blood pressure and insomnia.

Placebo effect

This plant is literally a panacea. However, you need to keep in mind that its effects can vary depending on each person's different body, needs, and lifestyle. Just like diet and exercise don't work on their own, ginseng consumption requires a certain amount of discipline and this should be done in conjunction with activities that have similar benefits.

There are even several scientific studies that consider the placebo effect and ginseng consumption. That is, the positive psychological effects that we perceive in our bodies after consuming a substance that we believe has healing properties, when in reality, it doesn't.

Many studies have compared two groups of people, one of these groups takes ginseng and the other a placebo, and after, the effects seen in both are compared. In some of these cases those who were taking this root did see significant improvement, but in other instances, the effects could be the same as the placebo.

This is why the recommended dose could vary by case, which is why you should talk to a specialist first before starting a ginseng regimen, and especially when you need to get healthier.