American ginseng is known for its proven ability to improve memory, counteract stress, boost mood, and protect against neurological diseases. Read how.
Ginseng is one of the most popular and widely-researched herbal remedies.
It’s close to being a natural cure-all.
In fact, the botanical name for ginseng is Panax ginseng, with panax meaning “heal-all” or “panacea.”
Its use in Asia, where it is known as the “elixir of life,” goes back over 5,000 years. (1)
Ginseng has been used as a balancing tonic, an herb with the unique ability to both stimulate and relax the nervous system.
It is now marketed mostly as an energy and sexual vitality booster, but ginseng also offers a wide array of cognitive and mental health benefits.
The Cognitive and Mental Health Benefits of Ginseng
The sale of ginseng has become a multibillion-dollar industry with 99% of the world’s supply coming from four countries: China, South Korea, the United States, and Canada. (2)
Ginseng is commonly referred to as Asian, Chinese, or Korean ginseng, depending on where it is grown.
There is also a separate species grown in North America known as American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).
All species of ginseng contain ginsenosides, compounds unique to ginseng that are responsible for this herb’s many physical and mental health benefits.
" American ginseng is highly regarded not just for its superior quality, but for its effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer.
They also stimulate the release of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter associated with learning and memory. (5)
In South Korea, 1,000 researchers are devoted to the study of ginseng and publish more than a hundred research papers on it every year. (6)
Here’s a look at some of the most notable proven brain-related benefits of ginseng:
1. Ginseng Improves Memory and Mental Performance
Ginseng can help prevent memory loss and mitigate age-related mental decline.
There’s evidence that at least some of ginseng’s cognitive-boosting power is due to its anti-fatigue effects. (7)
This makes ginseng a good choice if you want an increase in mental performance and physical energy.
When Alzheimer’s patients took ginseng root daily for 12 weeks, they experienced improved cognitive performance. (8)
This effect was apparent even in those with moderately severe Alzheimer’s. (9)
Ginseng can also improve memory in stroke patients. (10)
When ginseng and ginkgo supplements are taken together, they seem to have a synergistic effect, improving both working and long-term memory. (11)
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2. Ginseng Protects Against Neurodegenerative Diseases
Oxidative stress and inflammation are key contributing factors to neurodegenerative diseases.
Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, ginseng shows promise for preventing and treating many of the most severe neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, brain ischemia, and stroke. (12)
3. Ginseng Increases Blood Flow to the Brain
Ginseng increases circulation, sending more blood to all your organs.
This is why it’s often taken for erectile dysfunction.
A steady flow of blood delivers oxygen, glucose, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and other nutrients that your brain requires.
Cerebral blood flow also carries away substances that your brain doesn’t need such as carbon dioxide, toxins, and metabolic waste products.
4. Ginseng Increases Important Brain Chemicals
In substance abusers and Parkinson’s patients, ginseng helps keep the brain cells that create dopamine from dying. (20)
BDNF also keeps existing brain cells healthy via a number of mechanisms.
It increases brain plasticity, suppresses brain inflammation, acts as a natural antidepressant, offsets the negative effects of stress on the brain, and guards against neurodegenerative diseases. (22, 23, 24, 25, 26)
5. Ginseng Increases Resilience to Stress
Ginseng belongs to a group of supplements known as adaptogens.
Adaptogens are herbal remedies that increase your resilience to mental, physical, and environmental stress.
They work by reducing the stress hormone cortisol, while strengthening the adrenal glands.
Adaptogens can simultaneously reduce stress and increase energy without being overstimulating.
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6. Ginseng Boosts Mood and Mental Well-Being
Ginseng study participants often report improved overall well-being, as well as better energy, sleep, sex life, and personal satisfaction. (27)
Ginseng is a main ingredient in the traditional Chinese herbal formula Kai-Xin-San.
7. Ginseng Can Ease Addiction Withdrawal
The mental and energy boosts from ginseng are smooth compared to the ups and downs of caffeine.
This makes ginseng tea a good coffee substitute for those quitting caffeine.
If you drink too much alcohol, it’s a proven herbal hangover remedy. (31)
There’s evidence that ginseng may be useful for treating the anxiety and depression that can accompany alcohol withdrawal. (32)
8. Ginseng Defends the Brain Against Secondary Health Effects
Ginseng’s ginsenosides modulate both the immune system and the inflammation response.
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- immune disorders
These conditions can, in turn, contribute to memory loss, brain fog, depression, and anxiety.
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Why American Ginseng Is Superior to Asian Ginseng
American ginseng belongs to the same genus (Panax) as Asian ginseng, but is a unique species with a distinct ginsenoside profile. (36)
American ginseng was used by Native Americans as a sacred healing herb.
When the first European settlers came to North America, they made American ginseng a top export, second only to furs.
Now American ginseng is grown commercially, mainly in Wisconsin and Canada. (37)
It turns out that harsh growing conditions encourage higher concentrations of ginsenosides which protect the plant from the harsh climate and protect the health of those who consume it.
Commercially grown American ginseng must meet rigorous standards and is widely considered the highest quality ginseng in the world. (38)
Even the Chinese now prefer American ginseng since they have become wary of homegrown herbs that are laden with pesticides and other contaminants. (39)
The Los Angeles Times reports:
“Few consumers are more faithful to American products than Chinese users of ginseng. American ginseng fetches the highest price of any cultivated variety.” (40)
Traditionally, American ginseng is considered a cooling, soothing herb compared to the warming and stimulating quality of Asian ginseng. (41)
This makes American ginseng the better choice for treating stress.
American Ginseng for Memory
American ginseng is highly regarded not just for its superior quality, but for its effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer. (42)
Cereboost is a patent-pending ginseng formulation derived from American ginseng.
It works to improve memory by increasing acetylcholine levels. (43)
In clinical trials, a single dose of Cereboost quickly improved memory and mental clarity and sharpness within hours of ingestion. (44)
So far, supplements containing Cereboost are not readily available.
The one supplement I’ve found that contains Cereboost is Purity Products’ Triple Ginseng.
Warning: When buying ginseng, quality matters. The store brand ginseng supplements for Walmart, Target, GNC, and Walgreens were found to contain either contaminants and/or little to no ginseng. Walgreens’ brand was found to contain nothing but garlic and rice. (45)
How to Take Ginseng
When you set out to buy ginseng, you’ll find an abundance of options.
There are ginseng supplements in the form of capsules, tablets, powders, and liquid extracts.
There are ginseng tea bags and loose bulk tea.
You can buy dried ginseng roots either whole or pre-sliced which are usually used to make tea or can be added to cooked foods like soup.
If you don’t mind the taste, you can even gnaw on dried slices of ginseng.
If you are taking Asian ginseng supplements, the typical dosage is 200 to 400 mg daily.
If you are making tea or cooking with ginseng, aim for 0.5 to 2 grams per day. (46)
The upper-end 400 mg dose is usually needed to provide maximum benefits for brain function. (47)
A typical dose of American ginseng is 500 mg daily.
Asian Ginseng Side Effects and Interactions
A review of over 1,400 studies on Asian ginseng concluded that it is generally safe and, during clinical trials, no serious adverse effects were reported. (48)
However, it’s not right for everyone.
Ginseng’s most common side effect is insomnia, especially if you take it while consuming caffeine. (49)
Less common reactions include headache, anxiety, change in blood pressure, and digestive upset. (50)
Ginseng should not be given to children or taken by pregnant or nursing women.
Talk to your doctor before taking ginseng if you have high blood pressure, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, an autoimmune disease, or a history of breast cancer. (51)
American Ginseng Side Effects and Interactions
American ginseng is also considered generally safe.
The most common side effects include diarrhea, itching, insomnia, headache, and nervousness. (52)
Since its ginsenosides can act like estrogen, do not take American ginseng if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a hormone-sensitive cancer.
Caution: If you take any medications, check the list of drugs and OTC remedies that should not be mixed with either form of ginseng using a reputable drug/supplement interaction checker. Some medications that should not be combined with ginseng include blood thinners, diabetic medications, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Ginseng for Memory: Take the Next Step
Ginseng is one of nature’s most versatile healing herbs.
It has a 5,000-year-old history of human use for a wide variety of mental and physical conditions.
There are two main kinds of ginseng, Asian and American.
Each contains a unique profile of ginsenosides, the compounds responsible for most of ginseng’s health benefits.
Both Asian and American ginseng can help your mood and mental performance.
However, for memory improvement and resilience to stress, American ginseng is the better option.