Modern Aging

Risa drinks ginseng tea every morning to start her day positively and full of energy. My mom makes ginseng chicken soup (often in the winter time) to boost blood and respiratory circulation. What exactly is this food? Ginseng is a root vegetable with a long stalk and green leaves. There are 11 different varieties of ginseng, most notably American Ginseng and Asian Ginseng. From the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, American Ginseng is less stimulating because it has a different chemical makeup and contains a different concentration of active ingredients. 

Asian Ginseng is native to China, Korea, and part of eastern Siberia. It has a heat producing and stimulating effect and has been used as a medicine in TCM for thousands of years. Some of it’s known benefits are:

  • Increase energy, especially for those who feel tired, weak, and/or fatigued.
  • Stimulate cognitive function and improve memory and concentration
  • Improve physical stamina
  • Stimulate immune function 
  • Reduce inflammation

It is believed that this Asian Ginseng is better suited for short term use to avoid some potential side effects such as insomnia, headaches, and/or dizziness although this is not severe. This variety is credited for helping with physical endurance, mental performance, and stress and wellbeing. 

American Ginseng is native to eastern North American, but it’s also cultivated in China and used as medicine. It’s cooler and less stimulating than Asian Ginseng, but this doesn’t mean it’s not as good. Some of it’s known benefits are:

  • Boost immune function and thus, inhibiting cancer cells
  • Balance blood sugar levels
  • Fight fatigue
  • Protect against viral respiratory tract infections
  • Increase cognitive performance

It is believed that American Ginseng is more suitable for long term use because it is less stimulating and thus less likely to produce potential side effects. American ginseng has also been studied more for long term use especially for regulating blood sugar in diabetic patients. However, the outcome of these studies show that both Asian and American Ginseng may lower blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetic patients and that ginseng is generally safe for long term. 

As we get older, our cognitive function will decline, but it’s not inevitable because we can mindfully choose to eat foods that may improve our cognitive function. Ginseng is great for improving short-term memory. It’s also great for increasing energy. If you find yourself sluggish all the time, ginseng can help you revive your energy for the long run (unlike caffeine). Additionally, Ginseng is known as an immune booster and blood sugar regulator. Thus, having ginseng everyday can lower the risk of developing diabetes and decrease the likelihood of getting sick. Although Asian and American ginseng have different effects on the body, both varieties have the common benefits of improving cognitive function, promoting energy, regulating blood sugar levels, and boosting immune function. So, try both and see which variety works best with your body!

Ok, so you’ve got your ginseng from your local market and it looks like maybe a radish or a really dull carrot with long roots. You might be thinking, how do I eat this food? There’s actually many ways to consume ginseng. You can eat it raw because it’s a vegetable after all. Alternatively, you can steam it until it’s soft to eat. It’s like eating a steamed potato or steamed yam. You can also easily incorporate ginseng into various recipes. Add ginseng to your favorite soups, stir-fries, or stews. Be creative.

Other than eating ginseng whole, you can drink it as a tea. Just add hot water to a few slices of fresh ginseng and let it seep in the water before enjoying. You can also make ginseng tea with dried ginseng powder. Whether you are using fresh or dried ginseng, make sure you let the ginseng seep in the hot water for at least 5 minutes to ensure that you get all of ginseng’s health-promoting compounds. If you prefer a sweet tea, you can add a little bit of honey. You can also go the extra mile to make ginseng infused honey. Steam freshly sliced ginseng and store it in a jar with honey. Overtime, your ginseng honey will be more fragrant and flavorful as the aromatic compounds from the ginseng diffuse out. 

Lastly, there are many ginseng supplements that you can purchase. As with purchasing any supplement, be aware of the active ingredients, and where it came from (What kind of ginseng were these ingredients extracted from?). Supplements are usually a blend of ginseng nutrients and other vitamins, minerals, and herbs. When it comes to choosing a ginseng supplement to purchase, look for ginseng extract because it is closest to the plant itself. Ginseng extract has all of the beneficial nutrients of fresh ginseng in its most potent state. Risa likes to purchase Korean Red Ginseng Extract (Asian Ginseng). It has a thick gel-like consistency. Just like fresh, dried, or powder ginseng you can have it as a tea. Just take a small bit with a spoon, add to hot water with some honey if you find it to be too bitter.         

The potential benefits of ginseng for your physical and mental health are profound. To name a few, it can help your body cope with stress, increase energy levels, and boost immune function. There are 11 different varieties of ginseng to choose from. Whether you decide to purchase a supplement, eat ginseng whole, or drink it as a tea, be consistent. You won’t regret it when you feel energized and ready to conquer another day.

Celeste Cheung

Celeste Cheung is a student at Cornell University majoring in Nutritional Science. She is also a pre-medicine student looking to build a multidisciplinary foundation of knowledge on the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of human health.

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