There’s a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herb used to heal almost anything that might ail you. Named after the Greek goddess able to ‘heal all’, Panacea, that herb is Ginseng (Panax ginseng). In Western herbalism Ginseng’s use isn’t quite that extensive, but this herb is believed to benefit fertility and overall health and vitality in a myriad of ways.
Ginseng is probably the most researched and used medicinal herb in the world. There are 11 different varieties of Ginseng, eight species of Panax in all, and only two with medicinal value: Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng or P. ginseng), and American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius or P. quinquefolius). This brief article is meant to share the benefits to overall health as it relates to fertility and reproductive function.
The Fertility Benefits of Ginseng
Ginseng is one of several fertility herbs classified as an adrenal tonic and adaptogen, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory and overall tonic for vitality, energy and overall well-being. Asian and American Ginsengs support fertility by helping the body to:
- boost immune system health
- increase low sperm count and motility
- raise low testosterone levels in men
- boost libido and erectile function
- lower blood glucose levels
- support a healthy stress response
The Two Medicinal Ginsengs
Asian or Oriental Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
Asian Ginseng comes in two forms, white and red, and is known as a sexual tonic (aphrodisiac), rejuvenative, stimulant and nervine.
White Ginseng is fresh Asian Ginseng root that has been peeled and dried. It is warming, but not as much as red Ginseng, and most often used to boost energy. “The best white Ginseng is actually a very pale yellow, ” shares Herbalist and Botanist Dr. Christopher Hobbs.
Red Ginseng is also fresh Asian Ginseng root, but it is prepared slightly different: it is peeled, steamed and then dried. In TCM, Red Ginseng is used for people age 40+ who have “collapsed qi” meaning low vital energy and sex drive.
Traditional Suggested Use:
Ginseng root is used as medicine.
Tincture: 20-40 drops, 1 to 3 times a day
Capsule: 400-500mg, 2 to 3 times per day
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
American Ginseng is thought of as the botanical cousin to Asian Ginseng. TCM and Ayurveda consider American Ginseng cooling making it better suited for younger, fiery and over stimulated (indicating excess heat) individuals. For these indications it is thought to be a better choice than Asian Ginseng which is stimulating and warming. American Ginseng is most known for its male fertility health benefits.
The benefits of American Ginseng for male fertility are many and include its support of:
- healthy libido and sexual stamina
- erectile dysfunction
- hormonal balance
Traditional Suggested Use:
Ginseng root is used as medicine.
Tincture: 3-5 mL which is 60-100 drops, 3 times a day
Capsule: Two 500mg capsules, 2 times a day (4 capsules per day for 2,000mg per day)
Important Note: Wild American Ginseng is near extinction because of irresponsible harvesting due to its high resale value. It is important to follow your state’s rules for harvest to allow this plant to repopulate itself and to prevent extinction (if you wild harvest plants or buy from a local source that is)!
Ginseng is available commercially in many forms; dried root, tincture and capsules. Dr. Hobbs suggests purchasing Ginseng products “that are standardized to at least 4 to 5 percent ginsenosides… It is important to use a bottle of capsules or tablets within a year of purchase, as ginsenosides becomes less effective over time.” It is suggested to take Ginseng for one to two months, then to stop its use for a week before resuming use an additional one to two months more if needed (also a Dr. Hobbs recommendation).
The Other “Ginsengs”
Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Eleuthero is a member of the Ginseng family, but different than Panax Ginseng. Eleuthero root, stem and bark are known to offer support for a healthy stress response and to strengthen the immune system. It may help you recover from and feel better quicker after illness. Eleuthero does not offer the benefits of energy or sexual enhancement.
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis)
“In Asia, Dong Quai is to women’s health as Ginseng is to men’s health,” shares NFI.com founder Hethir Rodriguez in her article Dong Quai: Uterine Tonic and Fertility Herb…. Dong Quai is thought of as the female Ginseng. It has been found useful for menstrual cramps, nourishing and building the blood in cases of anemia from heavy menstruation, PMS and for fatigue or low energy. Opposite of Ginseng, Dong Quai is thought to be better suited for calm, mild-mannered (not-firey) individuals.
Ginseng Safety Rating: The Botanical Safety Handbook lists Asian Ginseng in Safety Class: 1A with no known contraindications. American Ginseng is in Safety Class: 1B with potential interactions with Warfarin. It is also suggested that those with diabetes talk to their healthcare provider before using this herb. Dong Quai is in Safety Class: 1C with no known contraindications although it is best avoided in pregnancy.
Avoid the use of Ginseng with caffeine and other stimulants. Talk to your healthcare provider if you take heart health, blood thinning or blood pressure medications, antidepressants, estrogens, corticosteroids or antipsychotics, and are interested in trying Ginseng.
Use in Pregnancy: The safety of Ginseng in pregnancy isn’t well documented so it’s contraindicated in pregnancy. Dr. Aviva Romm suggests (because it is used in pregnancy in China and not restricted in pregnancy by the American Herbal Products Association and German Commission E) that it “… is best to avoid except in specific TCM formulae specifically for pregnancy-related problems and under the supervision of a qualified TCM practitioner or herbalist skilled in obstetric herbal medicine.”
– Gardner, Z. E., & McGuffin, M. (2013). American Herbal Products Association’s botanical safety handbook (pp. 619-630). Boca Raton: American Herbal Products Association, CRC Press.
– Hobbs, C. (1997, March/April). Ginseng: Facts and Folklore. Retrieved from http://www.motherearthliving.com/plant-profile/Ginseng.aspx
– Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: Modern herbal medicine (pp. 418-432). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
– Romm, A. J. (2010). Botanical medicine for women’s health (pp. 202-205). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.
– Weiss, R. F., & Meuss, A. R. (2001). Weiss’s herbal medicine (pp. 176-177). Stuttgart: Thieme.