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An adaptogenic herb used to support stress and energy levels

Siberian Ginseng

Eleutherococcus senticosus syn. Acanthopanax senticosus Araliaceae

This shrubby herb is a well-known adaptogen hailing from the mountainous regions of Eastern Russia, China, Korea, and Japan.

  • How does it feel?

    The tincture has an earthy and sweet smell and taste, with a very gentle bitter and warming aftertaste.

  • What can I use it for?

    Siberian Ginseng is an adaptogen. It can be used in times of stress, whether physical or mental, to support the nervous system.

    It may be used to support immunity as preventative, or for convalescence after a period of illness to help the body recover.

    It is safe for the elderly as a support for general vitality as well as younger adults, as it is considered gentler than the herb it is often conflated with, Panax ginseng.

    Some sensitive people may find that Siberian Ginseng is too stimulating for them, so this should be taken into consideration.

  • Into the heart of Siberian Ginseng

    With the pace of modern life, many people are juggling multiple responsibilities. Stress is a major contributing factor to a number of conditions, yet most people are chronically stressed. With this reality in mind, adaptogenic herbs have been very popular.

    Although it is necessary to address the root cause of stress in someone’s life, and make sustainable changes when necessary, sometimes we just need the support to get through to the other side.

    Siberian Ginseng is one such herb that can support a person through brief periods of stress and fortify the body.

    It is generally well tolerated by most as it is considered to gently increase energy and stamina, while supporting regular sleep patterns.

  • Traditional uses

    Siberian Ginseng has been used in the East for thousands of years as a medicine. It has been used, along with other species of the same genus, in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a number of complaints.

    These include oedema, joint pain, lower back pain, bronchitis, insomnia, anorexia, hernias and paralysis. It was also used to support general vitality, libido, memory, and longevity.

    In the 1950’s, scientists in The Soviet Union investigated its ability to improve performance. This was spurred on by supporting the productivity of the working class, in addition to improving the performance of Olympic athletes and cosmonauts.

    It was thus included in the Soviet Pharmacopoeia. By 1976, 3 million people were using the herb regularly.

  • Traditional actions

    Western herbal actions are

    • Adaptogenic
    • Tonic
    • Immunomodulating
    • Anticholesterolemic
    • Antioxidant
  • What practitioners say

    Nervous system: As an adaptogen, Siberian Ginseng is useful for those going through stressful periods and need extra support to help the system cope. This stress may be physical, such as the stress of training for athletes, or mental, such as the stress of preparing for exams. If someone is exhausted from overwork, illness, or other long-term stress, Siberian Ginseng is also indicated for the period of recovery. Those who suffer from chronic fatigue may find it useful, but it is to be used with caution here as it can be overly stimulating for sensitive people. People with ADHD may also find Siberian Ginseng helpful in a formula. Although it is generally not thought of for insomnia, it can be used in certain cases. It is appropriate for use in the elderly.

    Immune system: If someone is experiencing frequent infections, it is important that other pathologies are ruled out. In the absence of other pathology, if low immunity is a part of the constitution of the patient, Siberian Ginseng can be helpful. It can be used prophylactically or at convalescence. Use during infection is not always recommended, traditionally.  Siberian Ginseng may be advised as part of a complementary therapy alongside chemotherapy in cancer patients.

    Cardiovascular system: Although not a classic heart remedy, Siberian Ginseng shows anticholesterolemic activity and ban support the proper functioning of the heart and cardiovascular system. It improves oxygenation, which is one way it supports athletic performance. However, traditionally there is caution when using in people with high blood pressure.

  • Research

    A recent review on the archival literature from the USSR’s studies showed that the effects of eleutherococcus had been studied on cognitive performance, physical performance, cancer, pregnancy, cardiovascular disease, hearing impairment, and immunology. The impact on cognitive performance appeared to be dose-dependent. The studies found that a maintenance dose of Eleutherococcus improved physical work capacity, stamina, and recovery time.

    There was potential for the herb to be used as an influenza prophylaxis. Heterogenicity was observed in the cardiovascular studies, with mixed results on hypercholesterolaemia and hypertension, though there were improvements of symptoms in atherosclerotic participants. In pregnancy, reduced numbers of spontaneous miscarriage and improved birth outcomes were observed. Eleutherococcus treatment alongside chemotherapy improved quality of life and white blood cell recovery times. There was also an observed improvement in sensory parameters.

    Several clinical studies support the use of Eleutherococcus as a herb that improves physical performance, though the study designs have been criticised. Other studies have observed no difference in performance. There is a need for more rigorous human trials in this area to confirm this action.

    When compared with an echinacea extract, Eleutherococcus improved total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose in a sample of healthy males. Another trial found improvements in oxygen uptake and oxygen pulse.

    A clinical trial with patients with herpes found that those receiving Eleutherococcus treatment experienced improvements in frequency, severity and duration of their episodes. Immunomodulatory activity has also been observed, with the ethanol extract increasing lymphocyte count in healthy participants.

    A number of animal studies have been conducted with Eleutherococcus, which highlights the need for further clinical trials, as animal studies frequently do not translate to human models.

  • Did you know?

    The common name of Siberian Ginseng evolved from the popularity of Panax ginseng in the West for its effects on energy and stamina. Panax was over-harvested as a result, and the expense was prohibitive. Siberian Ginseng may share properties with Panax, but they differ chemically and are not the same genus or species.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Traditional Russian literature suggests to avoid using Siberian Ginseng in cases of perimenopause, nervous tension or mania, or high blood pressure. The literature also suggests contraindications with hormonal or anti-psychotic treatment, or coffee.

    However, as there have been limited clinical trials on the safety of Siberian Ginseng, these claims are not supported by scientific literature. Studies have found that participants experience mild side effects such as headache, breast tenderness, and nervousness. The data on the effect on high blood pressure is inconclusive (barnes).

    A case study observed lower plasma levels of digoxin when taken with Siberian Ginseng, so is not recommended in patients taking this type of medication.

    A period of treatment following a break is generally recommended. Mills and Bone recommend a 6 week period of treatment followed by a 2 week break in healthy individuals. The European Medicines Agency recommends that it is taken for a maximum of two months.

    Preparations of Eleutherococcus senticosus have been frequently adulterated with Periploca sepium, which may have been responsible for reports of contraindications and toxicity. As such, it is critical to buy from a reputable source to ensure safety.

  • Dosage

    • 1-4g daily of dried root
    • 2-8ml daily of 1:2 tincture
    • 1-3 tablets daily of 1.25g standardised 0.7g eleutheroside E
  • Constituents

    • Eleutherosides A-G (0.6-0.9%). Eleutherosides are a chemically diverse group of constituents that are not unique to Eleutherococcus. Eleutherosides B (a phenylpropanoid) and E (a lignan) have been considered to be the most important active constituents
    • Triterpenoid saponins (glycosides of protoprimulagenin)
    • Glycans (eleutherans A-G)
    • Oleanolic acid
    • Volatile oil (0.8%)
siberian ginseng illustration
  • Recipe

    Adaptogenic hot cocoa

    Ingredients:

    • 1/2 tsp Siberian Ginseng powder
    • 1/2 tsp Ashwagandha powder
    • 1 tsp Cocoa powder

    Method:

    • Blend with 250ml of hot milk of choice.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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