Siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng. However, it is worthy of the name because it shares Panax ginseng's many attributes. Siberian ginseng, more correctly called Eleutherococcus senticosus, is a prickly shrub that grows in Korea, China, Japan and abundantly in Siberia. It belongs to the same family as Panax ginseng but not the same genus.
In Siberian ginseng the active ingredients are called eleutherosides and chromatographic analysis shows they are not the same as the ginsenosides found in Panax ginseng. That being said, both plants are taken for the similar reasons and both share a long and glorious history in Oriental medicine and are revered as elixirs of life.
Adaptogen history abounds with claims - almost miraculous, and certainly many too good to be true - about the virtues of Siberian ginseng. When fact is separated from fiction, a truly remarkable adaptogen emerges. As defined by the Russian pharmacologist I.I. Brekhman, an adaptogen must "first be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism, and secondly it must have a nonspecific action (i.e., it should increase resistance to adverse influences by a wide range of physical, chemical, and biochemical factors), and thirdly it usually has a normalizing action irrespective of the direction of the pathologic state." An adaptogen is any substance that increases the ability of the body to adapt to stress and which works only when needed and is very protective against mental and physical fatigue. Russians are so convinced of its abilities to modulate stress that they give Siberian ginseng to their Olympic athletes and to their cosmonauts to take into outer space. As an adaptogen Siberian ginseng stands shoulder to shoulder with its more famous cousin, Panax ginseng.
Uses of Ginseng
The Shen-nung pen-ts'ao-ching, a Chinese medical text of the first century A.D. says that ginseng is beneficial for "enlightening the mind, and increasing the wisdom. Continuous use leads one to longevity..." Siberian ginseng also has that reputation. When scientists studied the effects of Siberian ginseng in animals and humans a variety of important health enhancing benefits were found. In Russia, Professor Brekhman and his team studied ginseng for over 20 years. Study after study in different population groups reveals that Siberian ginseng has a positive effect on numerous conditions with almost no side-effects. For instance, 1200 drivers at the Volga Automobile Plant were given Siberian ginseng for two years. When results were tallied at the end of the experiment, incidences of disease had dropped by 20 to 30 percent. The results were so impressive that management included it in the diet of their workers. "Altogether, 13,096 persons took part in the experiments. Disease incidence dropped by 30 to 35 percent in comparison with a control group that did not use the remedy."
Siberian Ginseng for the Mind
Herbalists have used Siberian ginseng to treat a variety of psychological disturbances, ranging from depression to insomnia. The method of action is not well understood but in animals, researchers have found that Siberian ginseng extract increases - dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and serotonin - content of the brain. In humans, a correct balance of these neurotransmitters is linked with psychological well-being. "Consistently, ginseng has demonstrated an ability to increase the sense of well-being regardless of the psychological complaint...A possible explanation of this effect is improved balance between transmitters in the nervous system."
Siberian Ginseng for Numerous Conditions
Siberian ginseng has been used with success in north eastern China to ward off colds, flu and especially the chronic bronchitis that affects older persons in that region. Siberian ginseng is given to Russian factory workers as an influenza preventive. Siberian ginseng has also been used to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
As a classic adaptogen it isn't a surprise that Siberian ginseng is used for a broad range of conditions. Daniel Mowrey in his book The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine, summarizes the research on Siberian ginseng: "Ginseng species stimulate the central nervous system in small amounts and depress the central nervous system in large doses; they protect the body and nervous system from stress; they stimulate and increase metabolic function; increase physical and mental efficiency; lower blood pressure and glucose levels when high, and raise them when low; increase gastrointestinal movement and tone; increase iron metabolism; and cause changes in nucleic acid (RNA) biosynthesis."
Siberian ginseng preparations are virtually nontoxic even when administered over a long time. However, as with most herbal remedies, pregnant women should be cautioned unless they are under the care of a knowledgeable health care practitioner.
A Standardized Extract Available
Ginseng has sometimes had a dubious reputation because of the inconsistent quality of products in the marketplace. Many products tested found no eleutherosides present at all.
Look for products containing Siberian ginseng standardized extract that guarantees a minimum 0.4% eleutherosides, the active ingredient primarily responsible for its health-enhancing reputation. As with most fine standardized herbal extracts, look for the Standardized Potency seal when purchasing Siberian ginseng.