Find out all about ginseng, including what it does, the benefits of taking it and how much you might need
Written by Cheryl Freedman on December 11, 2018
Reviewed by Dr Sarah Schenker on December 18, 2018
What is ginseng and what does it do?
Ginseng is a popular herbal remedy that grows in parts of Asia and northern America. The roots of ginseng plants have been used as a herbal remedy for centuries in China, Korea and other Asian countries.
Traditionally, ginseng has been used:
- to boost energy
- improve cognition function
- reduce blood sugar
- eliminate stress
- balance cholesterol
- prevent sexual problems in men1,2
Nowadays, ginseng is most commonly used as a herb to beat tiredness and restore vitality.3
There are two types of ginseng:
- white ginseng – this is made using dried ginseng root
- red ginseng – the root is dried, then steamed4
Ginseng is available as capsules, liquid extract or as a tea.
What does ginseng do in the body?
The main active ingredients in ginseng are ginsenosides, which scientists think have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.5
Ginseng is also thought to have the following effects:
It can help beat fatigue: ginseng can be used for short-term treatment of fatigue, weakness and lack of vitality, according to the European Medicines Agency’s Committee on Herbal Medicine Products (HMPC).6
It can stabilise blood sugar: a number of studies suggest ginseng can help to regulate blood sugar levels. For example, a 2018 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology reported that Panax ginseng reduced blood sugar within one hour of consuming it.7
It may support your brain: scientists think ginseng has a stimulatory effect on the brain.8 In fact, the above study found that after taking ginseng, participants performed better on a mental arithmetic test than those taking the placebo.9
Meanwhile, a 2010 study by Northumbria University reported that 400mg of ginseng taken daily for eight days increased participants’ sense of calmness and ability to perform mental arithmetic.10 However, other studies into ginseng’s effect on memory and concentration have had mixed results, so more research is needed.
It can increase blood circulation: in 2013, Korean scientists also reported that red ginseng in particular can dilate blood vessels – improving the flow of blood not just through each vein, but throughout the whole circulatory system.11
If you’re interested in taking ginseng, talk to your GP or a healthcare professional before you do.
How much ginseng is safe to take?
There is no standard dose of ginseng, so make sure you follow the instructions on the label carefully. Ginseng root medicines should only be used by adults and taken for no longer than three months.12
If you are on medication, talk to your GP before taking ginseng – it can interact with certain medicines, including warfarin and aspirin.13
The following groups should not take ginseng:
- children under 12 – this has not been proven safe
- pregnant or breastfeeding women – scientists are not certain this is safe
- people with diabetes, as ginseng can interact with blood sugar levels
What are the side-effects of taking ginseng?
Ginseng is considered safe to take. However, side-effects reported from ginseng include:
- allergic reactions, such as itching or a rash
- digestive problems including nausea and diarrhoea
- sleep issues
- changes to blood pressure14
Ginseng is a stimulant, so you may also experience more enhanced effects after drinking caffeine, such as a racing heart and insomnia.15
If you experience any of the symptoms above, stop taking ginseng and talk to your GP.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
1. Medical News Today. What are the health benefits of ginseng?
2. Arlene Semeco. Healthline. 8 proven health benefits of ginseng
3. European Medicines Agency. Assessment report on Panax Ginseng C. A. Meyer, radix
4. Baeg IH, So SH. The world ginseng market and the ginseng (Korea)
5. Kim JH, et al. Role of ginsenosides, the main active components of Panax ginseng, in inflammatory responses and diseases
6. As source 3
7. Reay JL, Kennedy DO, Scholey A. Effects of Panax ginseng, consumed with and without glucose, on blood glucose levels and cognitive performance during sustained ‘mentally demanding’ tasks
8. Ong W-Y, et al. Protective effects of ginseng on neurological disorders
9. As Source 7
10. Reay JL, Scholey AB, Kennedy DO. Panax ginseng (G115) improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults
11. Kang J, et al. Study on improving blood flow with Korean red ginseng substances using digital infrared thermal imaging and Dopler sonography: randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial with parallel design
12. As Source 3
13. As Source 1
14. As Source 1
15. As Source 1