HEALTH One of the most important herbs in Chinese medicine, ginseng, is renowned for it's nourishing, healing, energizing and anti aging properties, making it the most popular herbal supplement in the world, finds KAMALA THIAGARAJAN

T he root of this ancient herb, ginseng, is pale yellow in colour. History has it that it was first discovered in the mountains of North America, from where it travelled to the Middle East and reached China. Widely popular in China (even though it took many years for the western world to truly appreciate its worth), it was mostly used as a soothing therapeutic aid.

Interestingly enough, the root of the plant bears a startling resemblance to the human body, a fact that sparked off several mythological stories and folklore. Today, millions of people around the world continue to use ginseng as a quick pick-me-up. Known to stimulate and energize, it can be taken after a sleepless night, before an important meeting, if you're just recovering from a bout of the flu that has sapped all your energy. Tonics made of ginseng were also touted as China's most potent anti-aging secrets.

“Taking a supplement that contains ginseng is the best way to ensure that your body functions in its highest capacity,” says Seema Singh, head nutritionist at Alchemist Health Institute and Hospital, New Delhi. “It keeps blood pressure in check, speeds metabolism, prevents excessive weight gain, improves circulation to ensure that your body gets enough oxygen and it boosts immune function to help you fight disease.”

Boosts your brain power: In a study published in the Nov 2000 issue of Pyschopharmocology, it was established that ginseng, when taken as a supplement, helped improve one's memory skills. The study involved 256 middle-aged volunteers who were divided into two groups. One group was given supplements of ginseng and the others were not. Both groups were monitored on a regular basis. Those who were given a regular ginseng supplement were said to have experienced improved memory skills. This boost in memory lasted throughout the two-week period in which they took the supplement.

Boon for cancer patients and for cancer prevention: In 2007, a study by researchers of the Mayo Clinic found that regular intake of ginseng could help prevent the extreme fatigue felt by cancer patients. In the future, ginseng injections may be available for patients who are terminally ill and those taking chemotherapy, but more research is required on this before it becomes possible to produce it en masse. But even as far back as 1978, a Korean doctor called Taik-Koo Yun, who worked at the Korea Cancer Center Hospital in Seoul, began to investigate the role of ginseng in preventing cancer. He claimed that the herb could prevent most cancers though he wasn't certain exactly how the healing properties of the herb worked.

Keeps diabetes at bay: As the largest diabetic nation in the world, it should come as good news to India that ginseng can help fight the disease and keep blood sugar levels in check.

In a study published in 2000 conducted by Dr Vladimir Vuksan, at St Michael's Hospital & Research centre, the University of Toronto, it was established that blood sugar levels dropped significantly, for both diabetics and non-diabetics, an hour after they ate a meal with ginseng.

Incorporate in your diet: “Ginseng roots can be eaten raw or chewed,” advises Singh. “Make ginseng tea by simmering the sliced roots in water, allowing these to soak thoroughly. Adding ginseng (chopped very finely) to your soups, salads and food (just as you would add ginger,) is a good option as well. Diabetics can chew on raw ginseng or use capsules and extracts.” Be sure to consult your doctor before incorporating ginseng in your diet, especially if you happen to be diabetic.

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