The Health Benefits of American Ginseng

This medicinal root is said to fight fatigue and prevent colds

Ginseng root, capsules, tea, and extract

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), a member of the ivy family, is an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and by Native American healers. The root of the ginseng plant is said to boost energy, prevent infections, and even treat diabetes and cancer.

Indeed, research suggests that compounds found in American ginseng called ginsenosides may stimulate the immune system, inhibit the growth of cancer cells, lower blood sugar, and treat dementia. These studies, however, have been performed on animals and cell cultures; trials in humans are needed to confirm American ginseng's effectiveness.

American ginseng is available whole, as well as in supplement and tea forms.

Health Benefits

The overall evidence for American ginseng's health benefits is limited, but the available pool of research is growing. Here's a look at what is known about the herb so far.

Fatigue

Like other forms of ginseng—such as Panax ginseng, a.k.a. Korean ginseng or Asian ginseng—American ginseng has also been found, in preliminary research, to fight fatigue.

A review of studies published in 2018 stated that American and Asian ginseng may both be viable fatigue treatments in people who have chronic illnesses. However, researchers added that there's a "critical need" for more and stronger trials.

In a 2010 study published in Supportive Care in Cancer, cancer patients who took American ginseng supplements daily for eight weeks showed greater improvements in vitality compared to those assigned to a placebo.

Mental Function

A supplement containing American ginseng plus whole coffee fruit extract and an herb called Bacopa monniera appeared to increase working (short-term) memory when it came to accuracy and response time, according to a study published in a 2019 edition of Nutritional Neuroscience.

That's a promising result, but as this is the first study on the topic, it's far from conclusive.

Diabetes

Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is important for both diabetes prevention and diabetes management. American ginseng may help by regulating blood sugar, according to a 2018 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

The study of 39 people with diabetes found American ginseng plus fiber helped lower blood sugar over the 12-week trial.

Though promising, more and larger studies testing American ginseng's effects on blood sugar are needed.

Common Cold

American ginseng may offer protection against viral respiratory tract infections, including influenza, flu-like illnesses, and the common cold, according to a 2017 review.

A 2011 literature review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine came to a similar conclusion. The review included five trials of a total of 747 subjects and found taking American ginseng reduced the incidence of colds by 25% compared to placebo.

Possible Side Effects

Use of American ginseng is likely safe, but it may lead to a number of side effects, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Mania
  • High blood pressure
  • Euphoria
  • Headache
  • Nosebleed
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Low blood sugar

The long-term side effects of ginseng use are not known.

Numerous possible drug interactions are possible. American ginseng should not be taken with:

  • Coumadin (warfarin), as the herb may reduce the efficacy of the drug and lead to blood clotting
  • A class of depression medications called MAOIs, as it may cause anxiousness, headache, restlessness, and insomnia
  • Blood sugar-lowering drugs, as it may cause dangerously low blood sugar
  • Antipsychotic medications, as it may increase the effects
  • Stimulants, as it may increase the effect as well as unwanted side effects

Pregnant women should not take American ginseng. A compound found in Panax ginseng, which is closely related to American ginseng, has been linked to possible birth defects.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

American ginseng is sold in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, herbal medicine shops, and stores specializing in dietary supplements, as well as online.

Dietary supplements are largely unregulated. To ensure the quality of any supplement, look for an independent third-party seal on the label, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab. The label should not make any health promises that it can treat or cure a disease, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

There is no standardized dosing for American ginseng. Follow the recommendations on product packaging.

Store supplements, tea, and root in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Common Questions

What does American ginseng look like?
The root of the American ginseng plant looks similar to a forked parsnip. It grows wild in Eastern and Central parts of the United States, particularly in the Appalachian and Ozark mountains.

Do American ginseng and Panax ginseng have the same effects?
The two plants both contain ginsenosides, and the effects of these compounds may be similar. However, every herb variety is unique, and information about one should not be considered entirely interchangeable with that of another.

A Word From Verywell

Due to the lack of scientific support for its health benefits, American ginseng cannot currently be recommended for any health condition. If you're looking to treat or prevent a specific health problem with American ginseng, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.

Keep in mind that alternative medicine should not be used as a substitute for standard care. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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Article Sources
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