Friday, December 25, 2009

Medicinal Herbs: Siberian Ginseng

Siberian ginseng


Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), also known as eleuthero, has been used for centuries in Eastern countries, including China and Russia. Despite its name, it is only a distant relative of American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), and it has different active chemical components. The active ingredients in Siberian ginseng, called eleutherosides, are thought to stimulate the immune system.

Traditionally used to prevent colds and flu and to increase energy, longevity, and vitality, it is widely used in Russia as an "adaptogen." An adaptogen is a substance that is supposed to help the body better cope with stress, either mental or physical. For example, an adaptogen might lower blood pressure in someone who has high blood pressure, but it might raise blood pressure in someone who has low blood pressure. However, any scientific evidence of adaptogens is lacking.

Until recently, most scientific research on Siberian ginseng was conducted in Russia. Research on Siberian ginseng has included studies on the following:

Colds and flu

Some double-blind studies have found that a specific product containing Siberian ginseng and andrographis reduced the severity and length of colds, when taken with 72 hours of symptoms starting. It's not possible to say whether Siberian ginseng was responsible, or whether it was andrographis or the combination of the two herbs.

One study found that people with flu who took the same product reduced symptoms quicker than those who took the antiviral drug amantadine.

A 4-week study in healthy subjects found that those who took Siberian ginseng extract had improvements in a number of measures that indicate how well the immune system is functioning.

Herpes viral infection

One 6-month study of 93 people with herpes simplex virus type 2 (which can cause genital herpes) found that Siberian ginseng reduced frequency, severity, and length of outbreaks. Talk to your doctor about whether use Siberian ginseng as a supplement to prevent herpes outbreaks is right for you.

Mental performance

Another popular but unproven use of Siberian ginseng is to maintain or restore mental alertness. One preliminary 3-month human study found that middle-aged volunteers who took Siberian ginseng had an improvement in memory compared to those who took placebo.

Physical performance

Although Siberian ginseng is frequently suggested to improve physical stamina and increase muscle strength, studies have shown only mixed results.

Quality of life

One study found that elderly people who took Siberian ginseng improved mental health and social functioning after 4 weeks of therapy, compared to those who took placebo. But after 8 weeks, the benefits decreased.

Plant Description

Siberian ginseng is a shrub native to the Far East that grows 3 - 10 feet high. Its leaves are attached to a main stem by long branches. Both the branches and the stem are covered with thorns. Flowers, yellow or violet, grow in umbrella-shaped clusters, and turn into round, black berries in late summer. The root itself is woody and is brownish, wrinkled, and twisted.

What's It Made Of?

Siberian ginseng supplements are made from the root. The root contains a mixture of components called eleutherosides, that are thought to be responsible for some of the medicinal effects. Among the other ingredients are chemicals called polysaccharides, which in animal tests have been found to boost the immune system and lower blood sugar levels.

Available Forms

Siberian ginseng is available as liquid extracts, solid extracts, powders, capsules, and tablets, and as dried or cut root for tea.

There can be wide variation in the quality of many herbal supplements, including Siberian ginseng. Tests of commercial products claiming to have Siberian ginseng found that as many as 25% had no measurable amount of the herb at all. Plus, many were contaminated with contents not marked on the label. Be sure you purchase Siberian ginseng and all herbal products from reputable manufacturers. Ask your pharmacist.

How to Take It


Siberian ginseng is not recommended for use in children.


  • Dried root: The recommended dose is 500 - 3,000 mg, daily (tea, or in capsules).
  • Tincture: (herb and alcohol; or herb, alcohol, and water), 1/2 - 1 tsp, 2 - 3 times daily
  • Standardized extract: 100 - 200 mg, 2 times daily, standardized to contain 0.8 - 1% eleutherosides Band E

For chronic conditions, such as fatigue or stress, Siberian ginseng can be taken for 3 months, followed by 2 - 3 weeks off. These cycles can be repeated, but this should be done under the supervision of a health care provider.


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.

Siberian ginseng is generally considered safe when used as directed. However, people with high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take Siberian ginseng.

Some side effects may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Nosebleed

Possible Interactions

If you are being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use Siberian ginseng without first talking to your health care provider:

Digoxin -- Siberian ginseng may raise blood levels of digoxin, a medication used to treat heart conditions. This can increase the risk of side effects.

Anticoagulants (blood thinners) -- Siberian ginseng may interact with blood-thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), increasing the risk of bleeding.

Sedatives for insomnia -- Siberian ginseng may increase the effects of sedatives, primarily barbiturates (medications, including pentobarbital, used to treat insomnia or seizures).

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