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ren shen (ginseng) 人參

By: Joe Hing Kwok Chu

Click here to see picture of herb and plant.

hong shen  紅參  literally means red ginseng, because of a steaming process used in preparing the raw ginseng. The end product is reddish brown in color.

Pharmaceutical name:Radix Ginseng
Biological name:Panax ginseng C. A. Mey

Pron. in Japanese:


Pron. in Korean:


Pron. in Cantonese:

jan4 sam1

Common Name:


ginseng root


Jilin, Liaoning, Heilongjiang provinces of China and Korea

Properties (characteristics)﹕

smells aromatic, tastes sweet and slightly warm

Channels (meridians) entered:

spleen and lung
Actions & Indications:For: tonifying qi to improve cardiac function as in cardiac exhaustion, short of breath, palpitation, instant sweating, dropping of blood pressure; for pixu condition of weak digestive system,  for prolapse of stomach, uterus and rectum. Ren shen can generates fluids and reduce thirst, for xinqixu (heart qi deficient) palpitations with instant sweating and anxiety, insomnia, dizziness/headache, forgetfulness, impotence, diabetes, bleeding in the vagina not during period, seizures in children, chronic weakness, restlessness. any qixu (qi deficient)  xue xu (blood deficient) or fluid deficient syndrome.
Medical Function:


Medical Functions:

1. Regulates central nervous system.

2. Regulates circulatory system:

small amount: stimulates, large amount: suppresses;

small amount: improves memory;

prevents  platelet coagulation;

3.   Improves immune system

4.  Anti Cancer

5.  Anti aging

6. Anti stress

7. Prevents morphine from becoming habit-forming

8. Improves condition of diabetic patients

9. Increases aldosterone (ant-diuretic action)

Chemical Ingredients:


Chemical ingredients:

(1) Saponins

ginsenoside Rc, Ra1[7-9], Ra2[7-9],Ra3[10-11], Rba, Rb2,Rc, Rd; Rg3[10-11], Rg3[12], notoginsenoside R4[9], chikusetsuaponin IV, IVa

(2) Vaporizing oil

panaxynol, ginsenyne, alpha pansinsene, beta pansinsene, beta farnesene, bicyclogermacrene, beta elemene, gama elemene, alpha neodovene, beta neodovene, alpha humulene, beta humulene, caryophyllene, beta gurjunene, alpha gurjunene, alpha selinene, beta selinene, gama selinene, selin-4, alpha guaiene, gama cubebene, beta patchoulene, hepatadecanol-1, octanal, gama cadinene, trans beta farnesene, beta guaiene, beta maaliene, cis caryophyllene,delta elemene, tetradecane, pentadecane, hexdecan, ;2,6-ditertbutyl-4methly-phenol, heptadecane, delta cadinene,widdrol, beta bisablene, octadecane, abol, alpha elemene, tridecan, eremophifene, gam patchoulene, cedrol, gama gurjunene, dodecane, alloaromadendrene, trans-caryophyllene, eicosane, alpha santalene, alpha muurodlene, palustalol, beta demene, alpha santalol, beta eubesmol, di-n-butyloxalate, eleutherosides.

(3) Organic acid and ester

citric acid, isocitric acid, fumaric acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, cis-butendicarboxylic acid, malic acid, pyuvic acid, succinic acid, tartaric acid, panax aid, salicyclic acid, vanillic acid, p-hydroxycinnamic acid, triglyceride, plmitin, palmitic acid.

(4) Sterols

Beta sitosterol, stigmasterol, daucosterol, sitosteryl-o-(6-O-fatty acyl)-glucpyranoside.

(5) Nitrogen compounds

choline, adenosine triphosphate, adenosine and other amino acids.

(6) Vitamins

B1, B2, B12, C, nicotinic acid, folic acid, biotin

(7) Enzymes

(8) Trace minerals

copper, zinc, iron, manganese and others (more than 20).

(9) Gomisin N and gomisin A.

(10) Kaempferol and pansenoside.

(11) Sugars

Fructose, glucose, arabinose, rhamnose, glucuronic acid, mannose, xylose, sucrose, maltose, raffinose, ginsengtrisaccharide A, B, C, D; maltol, nonacosane, methoxy-5, nephyl-2(5H)-furanone.



1.5 g to 38 g

1.5 克 ~ 38 克。

Commonly Used formulae:


Sample of formulae:

  1. Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang,

  2. du huo ji sheng tang 獨活寄生湯

  3. Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang,

  4. li zhong tang 理中湯

  5. liu jun zi tang 六君子湯 

  6. Ren Shen Bai Du San 人参败毒散 ,

  7. Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang 人 參養榮湯 

  8. si jun zi tang 四君子湯

  9. Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, 補中 益氣湯

  10. shi quan da bu tang 十全大補湯

  11. Gui Pi Tang,

  12. Sheng Mai San 生 脈 散

  13. Tian Wan Bu Xin Dan

  14. Wen Jing Tang

  15. wu zhu yu tang 吳茱萸湯 

  16. Xiao Chai Hu Tang, 小柴胡湯 

Modern Research:Freeze drying can prevent degradation of its saponins.

Effects of Panax ginseng, consumed with and without glucose, on blood glucose levels and cognitive performance during sustained ‘mentally demanding’ tasks

Ginseng treatment reduces bacterial load and lung pathology in chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa pneumonia in rats:

Toxicity and Side Effects:

毒性與 副作用﹕

Toxicity and Side Effects:

  • 1. Emotion : causing headaches, insomnia, anxiety.(2,3,4)

  • 2. Circulatory system: pale face, purple lips, spastic limbs, elevated blood pressure, rapid respiration, even exhaustion and death. (2,3,4)

  • 3. May cause edema

  • 4. Other side effects: hiccups, itchy skin. (2)

 Generally, the natural saponins are highly toxic. The toxicity of saponin of ginseng is relatively mild. Oral dosage of 100 ml of 3% ginseng tincture may cause anxiety and over-stimulation. Oral dosage of 200 ml may cause allergic reactions of rash, itchiness, dizziness, headache, rising of body temperature and bleeding. There is a report of death after orally taking 500ml. (1) Eleutherosides of ginseng are related to digitalis glycosides, such as digoxin, and may have an additive effect with digoxin. The concurrent  use  of digitalis glycosides and ren shen (ginseng) may increase serum levels of digoxin and possible digitalis glycoside toxicity.

A fake substitute is Hua-shan shen (華山參). The shape and color of Hua-shan shen is very similar to ren shen. Although it is also an medicinal herb that is being used for calming and as a cough suppression, cold type of diarrhea, but its dosage is very small: 0.3 g to 0.9 g being used in decoction. Dosages of Hua-shan shen (華山參) over 1 gram can be toxic. Clinical symptoms include: dry mouth, dry tongue, difficulty in swallowing, excitement, hallucination, flushing but without sweat, dilation of pupils, vomiting, dizziness, manic and delirium. The late stage symptoms include slowing down in breathing, rising body temperature but with cold extremities, spasm, coma and even death.

May not be suitable during pregnancies.



Since ginseng is expensive and difficult to produce, adulteration or substitution with cheaper products is very common in packaged ginseng products. Some manufactured "ginseng" products contain Mandragora officinarum (mandrake, a poisonous narcotic) with hyoscine bromide, rauwolfia alkaloids  with the hypertensive drug reserpine,  cola with caffeine,  phenylbutazone (a carcinogen), and aminopyrine.

An independent test commissioned by the health food trade journal “Whole Foods”  found that 60 percent of ginseng products are  worthless because they contained too little of the herb to have any biological effect. Twenty-five percent contained no ginseng at all.


Price and Quality:Price and Quality

Wild ginseng roots cost much more than cultivated roots. There is no fixed market price for good quality wild roots. Usually dealers charge what the market will bear. Chinese Manchuria wild ginseng roots fetch the highest prices in the retail market. Wild root found in Jilin province used to fetch the highest price. Now there are products that called "Jilin ren shen" sell for modest prices, less than those of Korean ginseng.  A good Jilin wild ginseng root of  about 50 grams (a little less than two American ounces) can sell for US $15,000. Usually the age, fragrance and look of the root, the market supplies, urgency of the buyers and the willingness of the sellers determined the price. Top quality American wild ginseng roots can fetch 600 to 1,200 dollars a pound. Cultivated American roots sell for US $60 to about US $120 a pound. Price fluctuation is determined more by supply. Usually the demand for the cheaper quality roots is more elastic and the demand for the higher quality roots is more inelastic.

Wild ginseng roots usually do not have symmetrical shapes and are much denser than cultivated ones. The wild roots are not even and most of the time are not straight because they have to struggle through the uneven soil in the wild. Cultivated roots are more symmetrical and straighter and much softer than the wild roots. The ring marks are not as dense as those of the wild roots and the roots are less fragrant.  Wild roots have more small, thin, hair-like whiskers growing out from the main roots for seeking water and nutrients in the wild.  The cultivated roots have very little of those because  they are watered and fertilized by farmers. The author was told by a friend who worked for an herb importing company that some crooks in Hong Kong buy American wild ginseng roots and trim off the "whiskers", and then re-attach them to the cultivated Chinese or Korean ginseng roots to make them look wild ginseng before shipping them to Europe and selling them as such. When the unwary buyers cook the roots in water, all the whiskers fall off. (In Cantonese slang, one's phony whiskers falling off means losing one's dignity, because the Chinese revere older people.)


Ginseng is sold in powder form, in capsules, and in extract. Usually the better quality ginseng roots are sold in root form. It is just like better cuts of beef, tenderloin or filet mignon are not made into hamburger.

Saponins are any plant glucosides that form soapy lathers when mixed and agitated with water. It is being used in detergents, foaming agents, and emulsifiers. Most saponins are toxic and can cause hemalysis but saponins of ginseng are mild and almost do not have that effect.

The chemical structures of saponins of ginseng are completely different from the saponins of other plants. For differentiating the saponins of ginseng from the other saponins, a term 人參皂甙 ginsenoside was created. It was a term combining the word ginseng and glycoside.

According to the characteristics and the chemical structures, ginsenosides can be divided into 3 groups:

  1. Protopanaxadiol (PD): ginsenoside-Rb1 is one of the important ingredients and it possesses the effect of CNS inhibition

  2. Protopanaxatriol (PT): ginsenoside-Rg1 is one of the important ingredients and it possesses the effect o CNS stimulation

  3. Oleanolic acid (齊墩果烷酸): saponins of most plants belong to this group.

The effects of PD and PT are opposite of each other but do not cancel each other.

Also see Siberian Ginseng.

Also see American Ginseng.

[n] Bibliography on request. You can ask the Research Librarian

(1) Xiao Pei Gen, Research and Cultivation of Ginseng, Agriculture Publications, Beijing, 1987; 252

A manuscript... writing, translating and proofreading  in progress

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Last update: April 5, 2008,  10:00  a.m. LAH ginseng.htm   ren_shen.htm