Siberian ginseng, also known as santa root or root of life, is a spiny, woody shrub with a carrot-like root, in the family Araliaceae. It is native to East Asia, China, Japan, and Russia. It is sometimes referred to as eleuthero Siberian ginseng and should not be confused with Chinese or American (panax) ginseng. Although they share similar properties, each belongs to a different genus.
Siberian ginseng grows in coniferous mountain forests as undergrowth, or in thickets. The herb is tolerant of many different types of soils, from sandy loam to heavy clay. It can grow in full sun to partial shade, but will not thrive in deep shade.
A recent addition to Western natural medicine, Siberian ginseng is similar to the better known Chinese ginseng. The two herbs have different chemical components, but their effects are similar. The Siberian variety is an adaptogen, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune tonic. Research indicates it may alleviate symptoms of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) depletion, such as sore muscles, adrenal exhaustion, and dark under-eye circles.
Further studies conducted by Russian and Korean researchers have revealed many other healing qualities of the herb. Increased endurance, improved memory, enhanced immune function and improved cognitive and physical performance are some of the reported health benefits of Siberian ginseng. It has been used successfully in the treatment of angina, headache, insomnia, poor appetite, and bone marrow suppression caused by chemotherapy.
The herb is used primarily for immune deficiency, as it contains triterpenoid saponins, or adaptogens, which increase resistance to emotional, chemical and physical stress. These saponins are not the same kind found in panax ginseng, which makes Siberian ginseng uniquely useful in herbal medicine. It also contains many essential nutrients, including sodium, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, B3, B12, C, and E.
Siberian ginseng has also become a popular home remedy for a weakened immune system. A tonic made by combining two ounces of honey with one ounce of Siberian ginseng, 40 drops wintergreen oil, and one cup of hot water can be taken freely to strengthen immunity. Teas and capsules made with the herb are also frequently used.
Although generally safe, people with high blood pressure, heart or circulatory disorders, or hypoglycemia, should consult a qualified medical professional before taking Siberian ginseng. It may reduce the need for prescription medications taken for these conditions, rendering current dosage levels unsafe. It may also enhance the effectiveness of mycin class antibiotics.