The Benefits of Siberian Ginsing

Increase stamina with siberian ginseng.

| July/August 1997


Eleuthero or Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), unlike its shorter fellow family members American and Asian ginseng (Panax quinquefolius and P. ginseng), is a flowering shrub growing to 9 feet tall in northeast China, eastern Russia, Korea, and Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island.

Photography by Steven Foster

Soviet cosmonauts and Olympic athletes have used it; the German government endorses it. It’s said to improve stamina, performance, endurance, reflexes, and concentration. Siberian ginseng isn’t really a ginseng, but it’s a natural for boosting athletic performance, and it combats stress as well.

The root of the matter

The word ginseng is of Chinese origin and means “the essence of earth in the form of a man”. For Chinese medicinal plant diggers, the word seng refers to any nonwoody, fleshy rootstock (picture a carrot pulled fresh from the garden) used to make a medicinal tonic.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognizes only one true ginseng, known as either Panax ginseng or Panax quinquefolius (North American ginseng). Both are members of the Araliaceae, or ginseng, family, which includes more than 800 species and is composed mostly of tropical trees, shrubs, and vines.

The plant known on the American market as Siberian ginseng is also a member of the Araliaceae family, but is a different genus than Panax (for more information about P. ginseng, see “Ginseng—Facts and Folklore” in the March/April 1997 issue of Herbs for Health). Siberian ginseng is actually Eleutherococcus senticosus, or eleu­thero, a shrub that grows to about 9 feet tall in northeastern China, Korea, far eastern Russia, and the northern island of Hokkaido in Japan. Eleuthero has a woody rootstock, so can’t be considered a seng-producing plant in the traditional Chinese sense. But it has played an important role in TCM for at least 2,000 years: its root bark has been used to create an herbal drug known as ci-wu-jia, which is used as a tonic and appetite enhancer and to relieve lower back and kidney pain, among other purposes.

Eleuthero became known as Siberian ginseng during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when extracts of its root were first marketed in the United States. Some contend that labeling this herb a ginseng was the result of a marketing campaign to capitalize on the emerging popularity of ginseng, rather than to provide an accurate description. Members of the American Herbal Products Association suggest that eleuthero is the more appropriate name. Nevertheless, the name Siberian ginseng has stuck.

Adapting skills

Modern interest in Siberian ginseng as an herbal medicine stems from Russian studies during the 1950s and 1960s, when researchers developed it as an inexpensive substitute for true, or Panax, ginseng, which they believed possessed the ability to enhance athletic performance. They called this ability “adaptogenic”, a term coined in 1947 by a Russian scientist to describe substances that increase resistance to adverse influences. Adaptogens do so in nonspecific ways, modulating stress and improving performance under a wide variety of stressful conditions while causing little disruption to the body.

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