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Traditional Medicinal Uses
Probably the most famous plant in Chinese traditional medicine, Panax ginseng is consumed by itself, as a culinary ingredient, and as ingredient to many traditional drugs. It was first described 2000 years ago in the Materia Medica and is still widely used today (Lambert et al. 1997). It is commonly called Asian Ginseng and can be found in China, Korea, Japan, Russia and North America (Kiefer and Pantuso 2003). It has historically been a highly valued commodity and continues to do brisk sales in the Chinese domestic markets and international markets (Lambert et al. 1997).
Herbal remedies that refer to ginseng actually refer to the roots of many plants which are all commonly known as ginseng of which Panax ginseng is among the most widely used and researched (Kiefer and Pantuso 2003). It is often prescribed as a folk remedy for enhancing stamina and capacity to cope with fatigue and stress and has long been believed to be effective in curing disease and acting as a general cardiac tonic because of the root shape can resemble a human form (Gillis 1997; Lambert et al. 1997).
Some studies suggest that Panax ginseng leads to improved nitric oxides synthesis in the endothelium of the lung, heart and kidney, as well as in the corpus cavernous which may lead to vasodilatation—this could explain the improved blood circulation with which the root has been traditionally associated (Gillis 1997). Additionally, Panax ginseng has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer effects due to a class of steroid glycosides alternately called ginsenosides or panaxosides that are found only in the Panax genus.
Some clinical research has suggested that Panax ginseng may improve immune function, and conditions that may arise in association with diabetes (Kiefer and Pantuso 2003).
The ginsenoside Re, found in the berry extract of Panax ginseng has demonstrated antihyperglycemic effects in obese diabetic mice (Attele et al. 2002). It has been shown to be effective in improving blood glucose levels, and improving glucose tolerance in obese diabetic mice; while also leading to weight loss, food intake reduction, increased energy expenditure and increased body temperature. Obese diabetic mice treated with Panax ginseng berry extract also experience in reduced plasma cholesterol levels (Attele et al. 2002).
While Ginseng is generally well tolerated, caution is recommended in cases of simultaneous use with some pharmaceuticals, such as warfarin, insulin, phenelzine and oral hypoglycemic agents (Kiefer and Pantuso 2003).