Introduction to Ginseng

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Ginseng most commonly refers to the plant Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer (Asian ginseng) or Panax quinquefolius L. (North American ginseng). Ginseng is widely used in Asian countries as a tonic to promote and maintain good health, and as a constituent in herbal medicines used to treat various diseases, including liver dysfunction, hypertension, cerebrovascular disease, atherosclerosis, cancer, postmenopausal symptoms, and impotence [1-8]. Elsewhere, ginseng supplements are marketed as a natural stimulant that will increase endurance and vitality and improve overall health. It is the root of the ginseng plant that is harvested for its reported medicinal effects. The root is typically dried (white ginseng) or steamed (red ginseng) and can also be extracted to concentrate its bioactive components, the ginsenosides. Ginsenosides are unique to ginseng and are saponin glycosides containing one or more sugar moieties that form side chains off the aglycone ginsenoside structure [9]. There are over 20 ginsenosides found in ginseng, and these are mainly categorized as being a protopanaxadiol (glycoside side chains off C3 and C20) or protopanaxatriol (side chains off C6 and C20). In Fig. 4.1, ginsenoside Rg1 represents a classic pro-topanaxatriol ginsenoside with properties that will be discussed later in this chapter. Very few controlled clinical studies have been performed to validate the medicinal use of ginseng or its constituents in humans. However, laboratory studies, primarily using rodents, have elucidated potential medical uses for ginseng and ginsenosides in the treatment of a number of human disorders, including impotence and loss of libido [10].

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