When The Going Gets Tough
Ginseng may be the patriarch of herbs. It has been used for more than 2,000 years across the globe for everything from boosting sexual desire to easing childbirth... improving memory to increasing energy. To this day, it is sold in Germany specifically as an aid to sexual function. In the US, ginseng root is popularly touted as a way to beat stress, improve vigor and simply feel better. According to clinical herbalist Douglas Schar, DipPhyt, MNIMH, who practices in London and Washington, DC, "Ginseng is an adaptogen. That means it can help increase your resistance to physical, chemical, mental or biological stress," he says. "The key word is stress. Technically, stress is a challenge above and beyond what your body is used to. A competitive cyclist won't ride faster by taking ginseng. He's used to the stress of exercise. A working mother of two kids won't notice a difference. She's accustomed to her daily workload." When ginseng does make a difference is when you have to push beyond your limits to the point of exhaustion, says Schar. "Studies show that organisms can resist stress for so long, then they collapse. Ginseng helps increase your resistance and prevent exhaustion," he says. "Assume that same working mother now has a sick elderly parent to care for. Now she will benefit from ginseng."
There are many varieties of ginseng from which to choose. The commercially available product made from white roots grown in Korea and China are generally of good quality. Traditionally, ginseng is used as a tea. It is thought that a better balance of all of the active components -- including the family of its hormone-like compounds called ginsenosides -- is released when the powdered root is steeped before consumption. Buying the powdered root either in powder form or capsules that can be opened is considered the best form by traditional Chinese practitioners. Steep in boiling water for five to 10 minutes. However, you also can purchase ginseng root as well as capsules, tablets and liquid extracts. Ginseng is considered generally safe and risk free for most healthy people. However, side effects can include anxiety, headache and hypertension. Those with immune-suppression due to organ transplant, HIV, hepatitis or chronic disease, as well as the elderly, should talk to their doctors before taking it. Ginseng can offer a significant boost in times of increased stress. Given its potency, however, it is best to talk to a trained professional to help determine how much and how often you should use it. Be sure to mention this and any other supplements and herbs you take to all of your medical providers.