Archive for the ‘Ginseng’ Category

American Ginseng Improves Working Memory in Middle-Aged Adults

Ginseng is widely used in herbal medicine as an ‘adaptogen,’ which is a plant that ameliorates the effects of stress. In particular, ginseng has been recognized as having substantial effects on the central nervous system, but there are few well-designed clinical trials evaluating the effects of American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius L.) on human neurological performance.

In a recent study, Ossoukhova et al [1] studied the effects of a single dose of a standardized extract of P. Quinquefolius on the performance of middle-aged (40-60 years old) healthy individuals on a battery of standardized cognitive tests. This same research group had previously studied the effects of single-dose P. Quinquefolius cognitive performance in younger adults [2]. Their hypothesis was that similar cognitive improvement would be observed in an older population, given the normal decline in CNS performance due to aging.

The study was a placebo-controlled, double-blinded, single center, crossover design. A total of 52 subjects were enrolled, and were assessed on 2 days a week apart after informed consent. Subjects were given either placebo or a 200 mg dose of a standardized ginseng extract. All subjects were given the Cognitive Drug Research Battery and the Computerized Mental Performance Assessment System to evaluate cognitive function at 1, 3 and 6 hours after treatment.

The 200 mg dose of ginseng was found to acutely improve overall working memory and spatial working memory at 3 hours after the dose. This study has several limitations; first is the ‘crossover’ design in which all subjects take the treatment (ginseng) and the placebo at some point in the trial. Effects due to the order of treatment (placebo or ginseng) may be present. Second, subjects may exhibit a ‘learning effect,’ in that they become more familiar with the cognitive test battery due to practice.

In summary, this study by Ossoukhova et al suggests that P. Quinquefolius may acutely improve some measures of cognitive performance in middle-aged adults.





1. Ossoukhova, A., et al., Improved working memory performance following administration of a single dose of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) to healthy middle-age adults. Hum Psychopharmacol, 2015. 30(2): p. 108-22.

2. Scholey, A., et al., Effects of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) on neurocognitive function: an acute, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 2010. 212(3): p. 345-56.



Ginseng Facts

There has been a recent surge in the interest in the Ginseng trade, thanks in part to more media coverage of the plant and associated trade. Fox News and CBS have both had recent news items regarding American Ginseng, and the new History channel show “Appalachian Outlaws” has brought this plant species into the spotlight this season.


First, a few facts:

Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial plant which takes 4 years before the roots are harvestable. It takes closer to 7-10 years before the roots are large enough to be of any real interest to the market buyer. 98%+ of all American Ginseng is exported to Asia, and most of it is sent to Hong Kong to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. A pound of good quality roots that a digger sells to a dealer in the States for $500-700 may get as high as $4000-5000 once it reaches Hong Kong, if not more. This past 2013 season saw prices as high as $1000 a pound in some Stateside markets. The Ginseng market fluctuates seasonally, usually averaging between $400-800 a pound. It is one of a very few products is always in demand.


American Ginseng grows naturally in the Appalachian mountains and surrounding areas. It requires 70-80% shade in deciduous forests, and grows on steep slopes to ensure good soil drainage. The plants start producing red berry pods at 3 years old, with each berry in the pod containing 2 or 3 seeds. These seeds should not be planted immediately, they need a stratification period of warm/cold temperatures before they will germinate reliably. The germination rate for fresh seeds is very poor and often the seeds will not germinate until the following season, pretty much stratifying themselves. Stratified seeds have a much better initial germination rate, and because the stratification process is controlled, fewer seeds are lost during the stratification process.


If the right type of habitat is available with good shade, rich soil, adequate drainage and slope, it is possible to grow your own Ginseng patch. We recommend only planting stratified seeds to increase germination rates.


How to plant Ginseng:

You can plant seeds either in the late Fall or early Spring. Fall plantings tend to have fewer problems with foraging wildlife. Plant individual seeds about 6 inches apart to a depth of ~1/2 inch in a circular patch (as opposed as in rows). You want to plant seeds deep enough that the roots won’t be affected by the occasional dry season or drought. (We DO NOT recommend tilling the soil before planting, this will make your roots look “carrot-like” and cultivated, resulting in lower prices when you go to sell them. If you do choose to till the soil, you will also need to use fungicides to prevent diseases like root rot, because tilling introduced pathogens into the soil which can easily destroy your entire root crop.)

Cover the planted patch with a thick layer of leaf litter, several inches deep; this acts as insulation against the winter cold when planted in the Fall or late Spring frosts, and may add some protection from foraging animals for Spring plantings. In mid Spring, go back and check your patch to make sure the mulch layer is not stopping the little seedlings from coming up. If the mulch is causing problems you will have to remove some or all of it.

Ginseng will grow well in the right habitat even if left alone. If you want to add soil amendments, using an organic calcium additive such as bonemeal is a good idea. Beyond that, check your patch for signs of damage from wildlife and poachers. Wildlife problems can be controlled by hunting and traps; human poaching is more difficult to control for. In summer, you may want to remove the tops of established plants so poachers won’t see them to steal them.


Types of Ginseng and its Effects:

There are several types of Ginseng with the most commonly known being American ginseng, Asian ginseng, and Korean ginseng. Ginseng has been used medicinally by Native American tribes and later American settlers as well as many Asian cultures to treat a number of ailments, such as blood sugar problems, increase immune function, support libido and vitality, alleviate the aches and pains associated with a the aging process, among other things. There has been some research into the effects of the compounds found in Ginseng, and with the increase in awareness of the plant we expect to start seeing more research into its medicinal effects. Asian and American ginseng are very similar in their effects, but there are a few differences. American ginseng seems to be more effective as a treatment to stabilize blood sugar, and is more widely available as Asian ginseng has been harvested in the wild to near-extinction.

People interested in saving American ginseng should consider planting ginseng patches of their own if at all possible. Ginseng diggers have been replanting berries and seeds for generations, to responsibly steward the wild populations of this plant. There are also state and federal regulations in place to help conserve the wild populations of this plant. It is very important to pay attention to local and federal laws about Ginseng harvesting. Good conservation practices help conserve American ginseng for future use and generations.|