Saturday, September 16, 2006

What is Siberian ginseng?

What is Siberian ginseng?

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is in the same family as American and Chinese (or Korean) ginseng but is not a Panax species. This means that although they share a similar name, use and a distant relation, Siberian ginseng is not "true ginseng" and has distinctly different characteristics from the others.Also called, Eleuthero or Spiny Ginseng, Siberian ginseng is native to eastern Russia, China, Korea, and Japan. It’s a deciduous shrub that can grow to a height of 10ft. It has 3 to 7 toothed leaflets on each stem. The medicinal part is the root, which is 1.5 to 4 cm long, brown to brownish gray, with lengthwise wrinkles. It is twisted and smells aromatic but tastes bitter and astringent. The root is commonly unearthed in autumn, dried whole, and then chopped up for use in supplements.Soviet scientists discovered the eleutherococcus species while they were looking for a cheaper form of ginseng. Ginseng had been used for centuries to help boost the immune system, as well as to enhance sexual and athletic performance. The one drawback was that ginseng was very expensive. In the 1950s, the Soviet Union introduced the world to what US doctors dubbed, "Siberian Ginseng".Tested by the Russians in several trials, this herb was soon hailed as an "adaptogenic" (stress-protective) marvel. Some American doctors greeted this proclamation with skepticism - calling the trials into question since there were seldom the types of controls, such as placebos, that western medicine had come to rely upon. Still, Soviet athletes and military personnel used it to increase physical performance and endurance. This practice was also called into question by western doctors. Even though this herb does not have the extensive historical use, it has become another mainstay in natural healing. Chinese doctors, in particular, have taken great interest. They often prescribe it for many different chronic illnesses. Even American scientists are starting to take a closer look. Europeans have already deemed the herb to be an effective tonic. In 1991 the German Commission E (the European authority on the use of plants in healing) made it official by declaring that it was effective in boosting the immune system.Some scientists now believe that Siberian ginseng was in use by the Chinese for centuries before its official "discovery". Although this theory is gaining in popularity, there has been little evidence one way or the other. One thing is for sure, the Chinese have developed a knack for using this plant that the west has yet to catch onto.

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