Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ginseng and Tonic Herbalism

Many people today are aware that many of the pharmaceutical medicines we use regularly are derived from traditional herbal remedies. Many are also aware that there is a tremendous amount of research happening today trying to derive new medications from traditional herbs.
Every culture around the world has developed some form of natural medical system, generally including some variety of herbal remedies. In some cultures, the level of sophistication developed around herbal remedies is astounding. Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Japanese Kanpo, and other styles of herbalism developed many complex formulae to treat a wide range of diseases and injuries.
There is also another style of herbalism in most cultures, besides medical herbalism. This is the tradition of Tonic Herbalism.
Tonics may be defined in many ways; in this article, the term will be used to describe a certain subset of medicinal herbs. (That means that all the tonic herbs may be used as medicinal herbs, but not all medicinal herbs can be used as tonics.)
The focus of tonic herbs is not relieving symptoms, but to increase or fortify the natural processes and systems of the body. Tonic herbs are generally very safe to use, with few or no contraindications, and many benefits.
In Chinese medicine, they divided the tonic herbs into two classes, Superior (or Celestial) and Inferior tonics. Some Western herbalists use the terms Major and Minor tonics to describe these two classes of tonics.
The Superior Tonics generally have very broad effects on a wide range of body functions; some are even believed to affect psychic and spiritual energies.
More recently, researchers have coined the term "adaptogen" to describe some of these tonic herbs. They discovered that adaptogenic herbs actually have a stronger effect when the organism taken those herbs is under greater levels of stress.
Ginseng is probably the most familiar tonic herb. There are several types of ginseng, including Panax Ginseng, probably the most famous of the ginsengs, and for the oldest roots, the most expensive. It is most commonly available as red or white Ginseng. The difference between red and white ginseng is how the roots are treated after harvesting.
There is also a Siberian Ginseng, although this term is used to describe several different plants. Eleutherococcus Senticosus (often called Eleuthero) is the most researched of these, and may actually be the most researched herb on the planet. This was the herb first described as an adaptogen. Acanthopanax Gracilistylus is also sold as Siberian Ginseng, and shares many properties.
There is also an American Ginseng, Panax Quinquefolium, which once grew wild in great abundance, but over-harvesting has made wild American Ginseng scarce. Botanically, it is the closest of the Ginsengs to Panax Ginseng.
All these varieties share many characteristics. They all function as adaptogens, they all tonify a range of body systems and they all are safe to use, and are suitable for long-term use.
Some people find that Panax ginseng over stimulates them, and find that Siberian or American ginseng are better choices.

The material presented in this blog is for informational use only and should in no way be used as a substitute for needed medical treatment. I am not a doctor, I do not diagnose or treat disease. If you need medical care, please consult the appropriate medical professional. And please discuss with your doctor if you are taking or planning to take any herbal preparations.

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