Ginseng is an herb that is rich in antioxidants. Research suggests that it may offer benefits for brain health, immune function, blood sugar control, and more.
Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
This slow-growing, short plant with fleshy roots can be classified three ways, depending on how long it is grown: fresh, white, or red.
Fresh ginseng is harvested before 4 years, while white ginseng is harvested between 4–6 years, and red ginseng is harvested after 6 or more years (
There are many varieties of this herb, but the most popular are American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng).
American and Asian ginseng vary in their concentration of active compounds and effects on the body. According to some older research, it is believed that American ginseng works as a relaxing agent, whereas the Asian variety has an invigorating effect (
Ginseng contains two significant compounds: ginsenosides and gintonin. These compounds complement one another to provide health benefits (
Here are 7 evidence-based health benefits of ginseng.
Ginseng has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (
Some test-tube studies have shown that ginseng extracts and ginsenoside compounds could inhibit inflammation and reduce oxidative damage to cells, which can contribute to chronic disease (
The results are promising in humans, as well.
One study in 12 active males found that short-term supplementation with American ginseng extract reduced exercise-induced muscle damage and decreased markers of inflammation compared to a placebo (
A larger study in 2014 followed 71 postmenopausal females who took 3 grams (g) of red ginseng or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. Antioxidant activity and oxidative stress markers were then measured (
Researchers concluded that red ginseng may help reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzyme activities (
Ginseng has been shown to help reduce inflammatory markers and help protect against oxidative stress.
Ginseng could help improve brain functions like memory, behavior, and mood (
Some test-tube and animal studies show that components in ginseng, like ginsenosides and compound K, could protect the brain against damage caused by free radicals (
Interestingly, one study in 6,422 older adults found that regular consumption of ginseng for at least 5 years was associated with improved cognitive function later in life (
Another small study showed that taking 200 milligrams (mg) of American ginseng significantly improved working memory after 3 hours, compared to a placebo (
According to one review, ginseng could also help ease stress and may offer benefits for depression and anxiety (
What’s more, other studies found positive effects on brain function in people with Alzheimer’s disease (
Ginseng has been shown to improve memory and suppress stress. While more research is needed, it may also be beneficial against cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and anxiety.
Some research suggests that ginseng may be a useful alternative for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) (
According to some older research, certain compounds found in ginseng may protect against oxidative stress in the blood vessels and tissues of the penis to help restore normal function (
Additionally, studies have shown that ginseng may promote the production of nitric oxide, a compound that improves muscle relaxation in the penis and increases blood circulation (
Still, research on the effects of ginseng on ED has turned up mixed results and more high quality studies are needed.
In fact, one review of nine studies found that ginseng could improve self-reported ability to have intercourse in males (
However, researchers also noted that ginseng had little to no effect on ED or satisfaction with intercourse compared to a placebo (
Ginseng may improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction by decreasing oxidative stress in tissues and enhancing blood flow in penile muscles. However, more research is needed.
According to one review, ginseng possesses potent anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties and may enhance the function of the immune system (
Interestingly, one animal study found that black red ginseng extract increased the number of immune cells and enhanced antioxidant levels in the liver (
Similarly, another study in 100 people showed that taking 2 g of Korean red ginseng per day for 8 weeks significantly increased levels of immune cells compared to a placebo (
However, more studies in humans are needed to understand the potential effects of ginseng on immune function.
Ginseng can boost immune function and may increase levels of immune cells. However, more research is needed.
Ginseng may be helpful in reducing the risk of certain cancers (
Ginsenosides in this herb have been shown to help reduce inflammation and provide antioxidant protection (
The cell cycle is the process by which cells normally grow and divide. Ginsenosides could benefit this cycle by preventing abnormal cell production and growth (
A review of several studies concluded that people who take ginseng may have a a 16% lower risk of developing cancer (
Ginseng may also help improve the health of people undergoing chemotherapy and could reduce side effects and enhance the effect of some cancer treatments (
However, while studies on the role of ginseng in cancer prevention show some benefits, they remain inconclusive (
Ginsenosides in ginseng seem to regulate inflammation, provide antioxidant protection, and maintain the health of cells, which could help decrease the risk of certain kinds of cancer. Nevertheless, more research is needed.
Ginseng has been shown to help ease fatigue and increase energy levels.
Various animal studies have linked some components in ginseng, like polysaccharides and oligopeptides, with lower oxidative stress and higher energy production in cells, which could help decrease fatigue (
One review of 10 studies concluded that ginseng could significantly improve symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome compared to a placebo, even after just 15 days (30).
Another review showed that taking American or Asian ginseng could decrease symptoms of cancer-related fatigue when taken in doses of 2,000 mg or 3,000 mg per day, respectively (
Furthermore, a review of over 155 studies suggested that ginseng supplements may not only help reduce fatigue but could also enhance physical performance (
Ginseng may help fight fatigue and enhance physical performance by lowering oxidative damage and increasing energy production in cells.
Ginseng seems to be beneficial in the control of blood sugar levels in people both with and without diabetes (
American and Asian ginseng have been shown to improve pancreatic cell function, boost insulin production, and enhance the uptake of blood sugar in tissues (
Moreover, studies show that ginseng extracts help by providing antioxidant protection that can help reduce free radicals in the cells of those with diabetes (
One review of eight studies found that ginseng supplementation could decrease fasting blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes (
Another 8-week study showed that taking 3 g per day of American ginseng significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels and improved hemoglobin A1c, a marker of long-term blood sugar control, compared to a placebo in people with type 2 diabetes (
It seems that fermented red ginseng could be even more effective at blood sugar control. Fermented ginseng is produced with the help of live bacteria that transform the ginsenosides into a more easily absorbed and potent form (
In fact, a 2014 study demonstrated that taking 2.7 g of fermented red ginseng per day was effective at lowering blood sugar and increasing insulin levels after a test meal, compared to a placebo (
Ginseng, particularly fermented red ginseng, may help increase insulin production, enhance blood sugar uptake in cells, and provide antioxidant protection.
Ginseng root can be consumed in many ways. It can be eaten raw or you can lightly steam it to soften it.
It can also be stewed in water to make a tea. To do this, just add hot water to freshly sliced ginseng and let it steep for several minutes.
Ginseng can be added to various recipes like soups and stir-fried dishes, too. Additionally, the extract can be found in powder, tablet, capsule, and oil forms.
How much you should take depends on the condition you want to improve. Overall, daily doses of 1–2 g of raw ginseng root or 200–400 mg of extract are suggested. It’s best to start with lower doses and increase over time.
Look for a standard ginseng extract that contains 2–3% total ginsenosides, and consume it before meals to increase absorption and get the full benefits.
Ginseng can be eaten raw, made into tea or added to various dishes. It can also be consumed as a powder, capsule, or oil.
According to research, ginseng appears to be safe and should not produce any serious adverse effects (
However, people taking diabetes medications should monitor their blood sugar levels closely when using ginseng to ensure these levels do not go too low.
Additionally, ginseng may reduce the effectiveness of anticoagulant drugs (
For these reasons, it’s best to talk to a doctor before supplementing with it.
Note that due to the lack of safety studies, ginseng is not recommended for children or people who are pregnant or breastfeeding (
Lastly, there is evidence suggesting that the extended use of ginseng could decrease its effectiveness in the body.
To maximize its benefits, you should take ginseng in 2–3-week cycles with a one or two week break in between (
While ginseng appears to be safe, people taking certain medications should pay attention to possible drug interactions.
Ginseng is an herbal supplement that has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine.
It is commonly touted for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It could also help regulate blood sugar levels and have benefits for certain types of cancer.
What’s more, ginseng may strengthen the immune system, enhance brain function, reduce fatigue, and improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
Ginseng can be consumed raw or lightly steamed. It can also easily be added to your diet as a supplement and is available in extract, capsule, or powder form.
Whether you want to improve a certain condition or simply give your health a boost, ginseng may be worth a try.