The Russian scientist Dr. N.V. Lasarev coined the term adaptogen in 1947, to describe a group of medically effective substances that heightened resistance to stress. Adaptogenic substances produced different effects depending upon the individual it was administered to. Adaptogens are substances that promote a non-specific increase in resistance against a variety of adverse conditions.
Dr Israel Brekhman, one of Laserev’s students, further described and detailed the properties and characteristics of adaptogens. According to DR. Israel Brekhman, an adaptogen must be; “innocuous, cause minimal disorder to physiological functions and have a non-specific normalizing action”. Ginseng is the classic adaptogen, an equilibrating tonic with anti-stress activity.
The active constituents of adaptogenic plants are the plant steroids or saponins. It is these compounds that are considered adaptogenic. An adaptogen is a substance that lacks toxicity and produces a non-specific normalizing action. The successes enjoyed by Russian athletes, reveals how useful these adaptogens have been in helping athletes improve their training and enhance performance. These herbs are recommended by The Athlete’s Diet because exercise is the most stressful event in life.
The ability to manage or reverse exercise stress is essential to long-term health. Ginseng is the classic adaptogen and is described here in detail.
There are various species of ginseng (Panax ginseng, Panax quinquefolius and Panax notoginseng). Panax ginseng was originally discovered growing wild in the mountain forests of Northeast China and North Korea. Ginseng is now widely cultivated in many countries while its wild form has become very rare.
History of Ginseng
In Chinese, the word ginseng is directly translated as “the essence of man” and from Greek, panax translates “for all things.” Panax Ginseng is the most valued herb in China and for thousands of years has been consumed by common people as a tonic, and by the wealthy as a rejuvenating and revitalizing agent.
Marco Polo brought ginseng to the West, where it gradually gained the attention of scientists and the aristocrats of Russia and Europe. True Panax ginseng is generally regarded as indigenous to Korea and China. Genuine Chinese ginseng, first described in the two thousand year old Herbal Classic of the Divine Plowman, was collected from the Kilin Mountains of Manchuria. The wild root is at the brink of extinction and fiercely hunted. It currently sells for upwards of $100,000 per kilo.
Cultivated ginseng, as a reasonable alternative, combines reasonable cost with ecological soundness.
There are five major species of the genus panax:
4. Quinquefolius (American)
For thousands of years in China, the harvesting of ginseng was restricted by the imperial dynasties. The local residents risked beheading for stealing and 40 strokes with a wooden plank for using ginseng. Due to its rarity and cost, many counterfeit ginseng-like plants were used as substitutes. Siberian ginseng was originally introduced for this purpose before gaining acceptance in its own rite.
Traditionally, ginseng is used short-term to improve stamina, concentration, healing, and stress resistance. Ginseng is also thought to improve wellness and help delay the degenerative conditions associated with old age.
Ginseng is given to individuals that are deficient in qi, with marked restlessness, irritability and insomnia. Ginseng is an excellent short-term treatment for the anticipated effects of stress including exercise, examinations, jet lag and work. Ginseng raises the threshold at which stress becomes debilitating and out of control. Athletes may find their emotions are more energetic when experiencing the effects of ginseng.
Only the root of the ginseng plant is used in preparations. White ginseng represents the peeled and sun dried root, while red ginseng root is unpeeled, steamed and dried.