Ginseng is a slow-growing herb found exclusively in the northern hemisphere. The root is most often used for medicinal purposes, and is generally available in dried form, either whole, sliced, or in powder. Powdered ginseng can be purchased in capsules as a health supplement.
Traditionally, ginseng has been taken for its known effects as an aphrodisiac and a stimulant, and to treat sexual dysfunction in men. Because it helps to regulate blood sugar, it has also been used to treat type 2 diabetes.
More recently, ginseng has been shown to have antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties, possibly due to its nature as an adaptogenic (generally, this means that it helps the body to return to an optimum state). A recent study in Hong Kong also seems to indicate that ginseng has anti-inflammatory effects.
Some lesser effects of ginseng include enhanced memory and other brain functions, such as the ability to think and focus, reduced stress and increased immunity to disease.
Unpleasant or unintended side effects may include headache, dizziness, feelings of euphoria, insomnia, upset stomach, breast pain, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and vertigo. Potentially serious side effects are vaginal bleeding, heart palpitations, and changes in blood pressure; these should be reported to your healthcare provider immediately.