Siberian ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus, is also known as eleuthero ginseng or eleuthero. It is in the same botanical family as Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Siberian ginseng is one of the most widely used herbs in the world.
Siberian ginseng is a thin, thorny shrub that grows up to 15 ft (4.6 m) high. It is native to forests in southeastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea. The root of the plant is used medicinally.
The family of ginseng plants has historically been used for medicinal purposes. Korean ginseng, also called Asian, red, or white ginseng, has been used in China for thousands of years. In China, it is a celebrated herb known to promote strength, energy, and longevity. American ginseng was discovered in North America in the early 1700s, and has since been used as a medicine and tonic. Siberian ginseng has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, to increase energy and vitality and to treat respiratory and other infections, although Chinese herbalists use Korean and American ginseng much more frequently. Siberian ginseng was used in Eastern Europe as a folk remedy for hundreds of years, but it was not until the 1940s that it became a popular herb in Russia and Europe.
The Russian physician I. I. Brekhman is credited with making Siberian ginseng popular. Brekhman had studied Korean ginseng in the 1940s and documented some of its effects on the body. He determined that ginseng was an adaptogen. To be classified as an adaptogen, an agent must be shown to help the body adapt to stress, improve balance and overall immune function, be nontoxic and cause minimal side effects. Brekhman searched his native Russian forests for an alternative to expensive Korean ginseng, and concentrated on Siberian ginseng. Brekhman discovered that Siberian ginseng was also an adaptogen, offering some of the same benefits of Korean ginseng, although containing a different chemical composition.
During the next 30 years in the Soviet Union, Siberian ginseng became the focus of many studies. It was found to increase endurance and performance of athletes, and many famous Soviet Olympic champions included Siberian ginseng as part of their training programs. Siberian ginseng was so touted that Soviet astronauts carried it into space with them, as opposed to the amphetamines carried by American astronauts. Soviet scientists found that Siberian ginseng strengthened the immune system, and gave Siberian ginseng to highly stressed workers as herbal support. After the Chernobyl nuclear accident, Siberian ginseng was given to people who had been exposed to radiation.
Siberian ginseng's active ingredients are a complex group of chemicals called eleutherosides. Eleutherosides are different than the ginsenocides found in the Panax varieties of ginseng, which is consistent with Chinese herbalists' claims that Siberian ginseng acts differently in the body than Korean or American ginseng. There has been some debate among herbalists whether Siberian ginseng should be considered a true ginseng at all, due to this difference in active ingredients.
Much of the research done on Siberian ginseng was performed by Soviet scientists in the former Soviet Union. Many of the study results are still unavailable in English. Those that have been translated and more recent studies have corroborated the benefits of Siberian ginseng.
- Siberian ginseng has been documented in many studies to improve physical endurance, oxygen uptake, recovery, and overall performance in athletes, ranging from runners to weightlifters. A 1986 study in Japan showed that eleuthero ginseng improves oxygen uptake in exercising muscle.
- Siberian ginseng normalized blood pressure in patients with high and low blood pressure. Siberian ginseng has been shown to reduce stress symptoms in general. A 1996 study in Japan concluded that Siberian ginseng can protect against gastric ulcers.
- Animal studies showed Siberian ginseng helped fight against toxic chemicals and exposure to harmful levels of radiation. A 1992 Russian study showed that Siberian ginseng reduced the occurrence of tumors in rats when exposed to radiation. Another Russian study showed that women undergoing radiation for breast cancer had a significant reduction of side effects when given Siberian ginseng.
- A 1987 German study, using human subjects in a double-blind test, demonstrated that eleuthero ginseng boosts immune system response and enhances the body's overall resistance to infection. Other studies have shown that Siberian ginseng increases activity of lymphocytes and killer cells in the immune system.
Siberian ginseng can be used as an overall strengthener for the body and immune system. It is an effective herbal support for stress, fatigue, and exhaustion; for athletes in training; for prevention of colds and flus; for
A group of Armenian researchers reported in 2003 that a compound containing Siberian ginseng is safe and effective in treating familial Mediterranean fever, an inherited disorder characterized by recurrent attacks of fever and severe abdominal pain.
Siberian ginseng is available as a fresh root or dried root powder, tea, liquid extract, or capsule/tablet form. The recommended dosage for root powder is 1–2 g daily, taken in capsules or mixed with water or juice. Dosages should be divided and taken two or three times per day, between meals. The dosage for the liquid extract is 1–2 ml twice daily. Recently, Siberian ginseng products have been made available that contain standardized percentages of eleutherosides. Siberian ginseng can be taken continuously, but it is generally recommended that for every three months of ginseng use, two- to four-week rest periods should be observed. Siberian ginseng is sometimes combined with other adaptogens, like Korean or American ginseng, astragalus, or schisandra, to increase its effectiveness.
Pregnant women and children should use Siberian ginseng with caution, consulting a practitioner prior to use. Those taking hormonal drugs should use ginseng with care. Furthermore, consumers should be aware of the different medicinal properties of Korean, American, and Siberian ginseng, in order to choose the herb best suited for their constitution and health conditions.
Consumers should choose only high-quality ginseng products made by reputable manufacturers. In a 1995 Consumer Reports magazine analysis of 10 nationally distributed ginseng products, several brands were lacking in active ingredients. Ginseng product fraud has led the American Botanical Council, publisher of Herbal-Gram magazine, to initiate the Ginseng Evaluation Program. Started in 1993, this program provides a comprehensive study of ginseng products and has enacted measures to reduce mislabeling and increase consumer confidence in ginseng products. In 1999, however, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported several instances of Siberian ginseng products that contained pieces of the roots and leaves of a hazardous plant, Periploca sepium.
In general, side effects with Siberian ginseng are rare and more mild than those that occur with American and Korean ginseng. Mild diarrhea has been reported with its use, and insomnia may occur if it is taken too close to bedtime.
Siberian ginseng appears to be less likely than most herbs to interact with other medications. Researchers in South Carolina reported in 2003 that Siberian ginseng did not affect the body's metabolism of such drugs as dextromethorphan and benzodiazepine tranquilizers when the ginseng was taken in recommended dosages.
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American Botanical Council. P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345. (800) 373-7105. <http://www.herbalgram.org>.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Clearinghouse. P.O. Box 7923, Gaithersburg, MD 20898-7923. (888) 644-6226. <http://nccam.nih.gov>.
New York Ginseng Association. P.O. Box 127, Roxbury, NY 12474. (607) 326-3005.
U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857. (888) 463-6332. <http://www.fda.gov>.
HerbalGram (a quarterly journal of the American Botanical Council and Herb Research Foundation). P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345. (800) 373-7105.
Teresa G. Odle
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD