8 Ways Ginseng Works for Memory and Brain Health

Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC | Written by Deane Alban

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American ginseng is known for its proven ability to improve memory, counteract stress, boost mood, and protect against neurological diseases. Read how.

ginseng tea and ginseng root

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” — Panax meaning “all-heal” 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’s believed to bestow wisdom, strength, and a long life to those who take it.

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.

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 contains ginsenosides, compounds unique to ginseng that are responsible for this herb’s many physical and mental health benefits.

Over 100 ginsenosides have been discovered so far; they have been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties. (23)

They also stimulate the release of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter associated with learning and memory. (4)

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. (5)

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 guard against age-related mental decline.

There’s evidence that at least some of ginseng’s cognitive-boosting capacity is due to its anti-fatigue effects. (6)

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. (7)

Encouragingly, this effect was apparent even in those with moderately severe Alzheimer’s. (8)

Ginseng can also improve memory in stroke patients. (9)

When ginseng and ginkgo are taken together, they seem to have a synergistic effect, improving both working and long-term memory. (10)

Researchers found that when healthy adults take American ginseng, Asian ginseng’s close cousin, they experience memory improvements within hours after just one dose. (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 show promise for preventing and treating 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.

This same mechanism also increases blood flow to the brain. (13)

A steady flow of blood delivers oxygen, glucose, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and other nutrients that your brain needs to survive and thrive.

Cerebral blood flow also carries away things your brain doesn’t need such as carbon dioxide, toxins, and metabolic waste products.

Ginseng can help restore sufficient blood supply to the brain after a stroke or brain injury. (1415)

4. Ginseng Increases Important Brain Chemicals

Ginseng increases important neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine. (16, 171819)

In substance abusers and Parkinson’s patients, it helps keep the brain cells that create dopamine from dying. (20)

Ginseng increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein known mostly for its ability to encourage the growth of new brain cells. (21)

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. (2223242526)

5. Ginseng Increases Resilience to Stress

Ginseng belongs to a group of supplements known as adaptogens.

Adaptogens are herbal remedies that make you more resilient 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 over-stimulating.

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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.

This combination of herbs has been found to be just as good as Prozac for treating depression. (2829)

Ginseng is particularly helpful for managing the unwanted symptoms of menopause, especially low libido, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue. (30)

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 over-imbibe 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)

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8. Ginseng Defends the Brain Against Secondary Health Effects

Ginseng’s ginsenosides modulate both the immune system and the inflammation response.

These properties can help ease symptoms, improve quality of life, and even improve survival rates for a wide array of health conditions including: (33, 3435)

  • asthma
  • bronchitis
  • cancer
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • diabetes
  • fibromyalgia
  • 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 Europeans 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.

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.

It must meet rigorous standards and is widely considered the best ginseng in the world. (37)

In an ironic twist, the people of China now prefer American ginseng for its superior quality and its proven ability to enhance brain function.

Even the Chinese have become wary of their own healing herbs which are laden with pesticides and other contaminants. (38)

The Los Angeles Times reports that “Few consumers are more faithful to American products than Chinese users of ginseng. American ginseng fetches the highest price of any cultivated variety.” (39)

Traditionally American ginseng is considered a cooling, soothing herb compared to the warming and stimulating quality of Asian ginseng. (40)

This makes American ginseng the better choice for stress.

Why American Ginseng Is the Better Memory Supplement

American ginseng is highly regarded not just for its superior quality, but for its effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer. (41)

Cereboost is a patent-pending ginseng formulation derived from American ginseng.

It works to improve memory by increasing acetylcholine levels. (42)

In clinical trials, a single dose of Cereboost quickly improved memory, mental clarity, and sharpness within hours after ingestion. (43)

Brain supplement brands that contain this proven ingredient include Pure Encapsulations, Dr. Sinatra, and ResVitale.

Warning: When buying ginseng, quality matters. Walmart, Target, GNC, and Walgreens store brand ginseng supplements were found to contain either contaminants and/or little to no ginseng. Walgreens’ brand was found to contain nothing but garlic and rice. (44)

How to Use 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.

These are generally used to make tea or are added to cooked foods like soup.

If you don’t mind the taste, you can even gnaw on dried slices of ginseng.

Asian and American Ginseng Dosages

If you are taking Asian ginseng supplements, the general dosage is 200 to 400 mg daily.

The higher 400 mg dose is usually needed to provide maximum benefits for brain function. (45)

A typical dose of American ginseng is 100 to 200 mg daily. (46)

Brain supplements that contain Cereboost usually contain 200 mg.

Ginseng Side Effects and Interactions

A review of over 1,400 studies on ginseng concluded that it is generally safe, and, during clinical trials, no serious adverse effects were reported. (47)

However, it’s not right for everyone.

Ginseng’s most common side effects are insomnia or nervousness, especially if you take it while consuming caffeine.

Less common reactions are headache, anxiety, and digestive upset. (48)

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, an autoimmune disease, or a history of breast cancer.

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. (50)

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 at Drugs.com. Most notable on this list are blood thinners, diabetic medications, and anti-inflammatory drugs, including over-the-counter (OTC) pain remedies such as aspirin and Tylenol.

Ginseng for Memory: Take the Next Step

Ginseng is truly 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, if it’s memory improvement and resilience to stress you’re after, American ginseng is the better option.

With its proven brain-enhancing benefits, strict growing standards, high levels of active compounds, and fewer contaminants, American ginseng is widely considered to be the best in the world.

READ NEXT: 36 Proven Ways to Improve Your Memory