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Ginseng helps your health

Historically, ginseng has been considered a cure-all by herbalists and said to perform as a medicinal tonic for everything from baby gripe to impotence. Today, the white root is increasingly being used as an energy booster, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant due to its saponin content and capacity to increase circulation and balance the system -- plus it enhances sexual function in both men and women. 

Ginseng grows wild in China and other East Asian countries and has been used for well over 5,000 years for its legendary physical restorative properties. The North American species was first found growing wild in 1716 near Montreal by a French Jesuit priest. Native Indians of the time used ginseng (gisens) for digestive, bronchial and pain problems. 

Ginsengs are classified as adaptogens -- agents that help the body adjust to negative stress levels. And there is a difference between the various species. North American ginseng is used when a yin (cooling or neutral) effect is desired for the body, whereas the Asian ginseng is said to have a yang (warming) effect on the body and is used for shorter time periods. North American ginseng is said to act as a restorative tonic for fatigue, while Siberian ginseng works on the adrenals to pump up the body's immune system. The leaf is used to regulate blood sugar levels. 

"Asian ginseng is more stimulating than North American ginseng," says Danette Steele, who has been a clinical herbalist for 20 years. "For a person who is depleted or has been ill for a long time," she adds, "an Asian ginseng wouldn't be my first choice in terms of boosting their energy levels. It may be too stimulating." Instead, she recommends a more gentle adaptogen, such as an Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera), which is gentle enough for children and can help people sleep. 

Shali Rassouli, D.T.C.M., a Chinese medicine practitioner in Toronto, uses primarily Canadian and Siberian ginsengs in her practice as an anti-aging tool to increase the skin's circulation. "If you take it internally it increases circulation," Rassouli says. "In Chinese medicine, it gives you qi -- energy. As we age, we get sagging skin and a sallow complexion because of lack of qi." She also recommends using it topically: "There is an herbal mask I apply over the face and neck.".

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