Ginseng is an herb that is well-known for its energizing, immunity-boosting, and libido-enhancing effects. Originally used in east Asia as an herbal remedy, ginseng has gained broad popularity thanks to research indicating that it could help with everything from erectile dysfunction to fatigue to immune system function.
Our research team has tracked down the best studies on ginseng’s benefits, plus gathered info on optimal dosing and potential side effects. Read on to find out more.
1. Ginseng can treat erectile dysfunction
One of the traditional uses of ginseng is as a sexual health supplement—indeed, you’ll occasionally find it in male enhancement pills and testosterone boosters.
One study showed that ginseng significantly improved erectile dysfunction after both four and eight weeks, and generated no remarkable side effects (1).
These results suggest that men with erectile problems could benefit substantially from a ginseng supplement.
2. Ginseng could boost libido in men
Other research suggests that ginseng may also alter hormone levels and act to increase libido in men, providing further evidence that men with a variety of sexual health concerns may benefit from ginseng supplementation (2).
According to one study published by researchers in Italy, ginseng’s ability to regulate libido may be attributed to alterations in adrenal and pituitary gland function (3). Some research has investigated ginseng for potential sexual health benefits for women, but results have not been successful so far (4).
3. Ginseng can help boost your immune system
A 2008 study investigated the effects of a ginseng supplementation routine on the body’s immune response to exercise (5).
The results showed that the men who had taken the ginseng supplement increased production of a protein called interleukin 2, which helps your body activate infection-fighting white blood cells.
These results indicate that ginseng could upregulate your body’s response to infection
The researchers noted, however, that the overall effect was a moderate one, and other parts of the immune system remained unchanged by the ginseng supplementation routine.
4. Ginseng can reduce feelings of fatigue
Ginseng is an incredibly common ingredient in energy supplements, and for good reason.
A 2011 study examined the effect of Asian (Panax) ginseng on physical and psychological energy levels in mice (6).
This might sound like a silly experiment—how do you measure psychological fatigue in mice?—but the researchers subjected the mice to both exercise (which induces physical fatigue) and stressful conditions, which induces psychological fatigue.
They found that, while the ginseng supplementation regimen had no effect on biological markers related to exercise performance, like blood lactate levels, mice who were usually sapped of energy and unmotivated after being exposed to stressful conditions had more energy when taking a ginseng supplement.
5. The evidence for ginseng and sport performance is not as promising
A 1996 study tested the effects of a 200 mg per day supplementation routine of Asian ginseng in adult females (7).
The test subjects performed a graded exercise test on a treadmill before and after the supplementation routine, which lasted for eight weeks.
The researchers found that there were no detectable effects on the exercise performance test—further, the women’s self-reported activity levels did not differ either.
This might call into question the ability of a ginseng supplementation routine for sports performance.
6. Ginseng might not act directly on testosterone
Ginseng is commonly used as a testosterone booster, but although it seems to have many of the same effects (higher libido, improved erectile function, more energy), research suggests that ginseng supplementation doesn’t actually change testosterone levels after workouts (8).
This indicates that ginseng probably acts on other physiological pathways, and could serve as a complement to testosterone-focused supplements.
Ginseng side effects
Even though the science behind ginseng is not bulletproof, the good news is that ginseng appears to be a pretty safe supplement.
Most studies find no side effects at typical doses. Studies on its use as a supplement, such as a 1995 study on ginseng therapy in diabetic patients, find that there are no well-known negative side effects associated with taking a ginseng supplement at the usual dosages used in these studies (9).
There are a few case reports of serious medical issues associated with ginseng use. One study describes a 56 year old woman who suffered a manic episode when she started a ginseng supplementation routine (10). Notably, she had a known mood disorder before she started taking ginseng.
Another study described a possible drug interaction with the blood thinner warfarin (11). A 47 year old man with heart disease had abnormal blood markers of clotting at one of his regular check-ups.
After reviewing his medication, the doctors determined the only major change had been an introduction of a ginseng supplement. After discontinuing the ginseng supplement, the man’s blood clotting factors returned to normal.
Don’t take ginseng with MAO inhibitors. Ginseng is also reported to interact with MAO inhibitors, a class of drug used to treat various mental health conditions.
Though neither of these are definitive cause and effect relationships, they are worth noting.
Until there are larger studies on the possible side effects of ginseng, people with a history of serious mood disorders and people taking blood thinners like warfarin should refrain from a ginseng supplementation routine.
Despite its long history of use as an herbal medication, there are few good guidelines on what the appropriate or optimal amount of ginseng intake per day should be.
Target 200-1000 mg per day. Most scientific studies use doses of 200 to 1000 mg of ginseng root extract per day, using supplements that contain on the order of 5% ginsenosides by weight. This is a good place to start.
You can begin at the low end of the range (perhaps 200 mg per day) and see if supplementing at that level gives you the desired effect. If not, you can try increasing the dosage. If you still don’t have the desired effect, ginseng may not be effective for you, and you may need to look for answers elsewhere.
Ginseng benefits FAQ
Q: Is ginseng good or bad for you?
A: Ginseng, broadly speaking, is quite a safe supplement. It has a long history of use, and according to a systematic review published in 2002 in the journal Drug Safety, the incidence of side effects in studies on ginseng is typically no greater than the incidence of side effects in the placebo groups (12).
Headaches, sleep problems, and mild gastrointestinal problems are the most common issues reported with ginseng supplements, and it’s not even clear that these side effects are caused by the ginseng itself.
Q: Who shouldn’t take ginseng?
A: People on certain prescription medications should avoid ginseng.
These medications include warfarin, a powerful blood thinner, and MAO inhibitors, which are used to treat depression and some other mental health conditions.
Ginseng can interfere with these medications, and can cause headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and hyperactivity. So, for this portion of the population, ginseng would be bad.
Q: What are the benefits of ginseng for men?
A: For men, ginseng has some fairly well-documented sexual benefits. Ginseng supplementation has been studied as a way to improve erectile dysfunction and as a way to increase libido and hormones related to sexual desire.
Ginseng appears to function through at least two different pathways to accomplish these effects. The first has to do with increasing levels of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, meaning it helps blood vessels expand and increase blood flow. This can help directly with erectile dysfunction.
The libido-enhancing effects of ginseng likely come from a different pathway, because animal studies have also demonstrated that ginseng has central effects on the brain, increasing sexual appetite and sexual desire.
Beyond the sexual effects, men can also take advantage of the overall energy-boosting and fatigue-suppressing effects of ginseng, alongside its immunity-enhancing effects.
Q: What are the benefits of ginseng for women?
A: Ginseng for women has not been studied in detail as much as the effects of ginseng on men, but women still benefit from the energy-boosting, immunity-enhancing effects of ginseng. Beyond these, it’s unclear whether women also experience sexual health benefits from ginseng.
One small study of women taking ginseng to boost sexual arousal found a modest increase among the women taking the ginseng supplement compared to the women taking the placebo, but also noted that two cases of vaginal bleeding occurred in the ginseng group (13).
A different study examining a ginseng-based supplement in women found no evidence for an effect on sexual function in women (14), and a third claimed that any results might be ascribed to a particularly potent placebo effect in ginseng supplements (15).
Q: What happens if you take too much ginseng at once?
A: Taking a large dose of ginseng has only been associated with adverse effects in people who already have a serious health condition, such as chronic kidney disease (16).
However, some problems have been reported in people who use very large amounts of ginseng for very long periods of time.
This has been dubbed “ginseng abuse syndrome” and has been associated with skin problems, diarrhea, nervousness, sleeplessness, and depression, but only in a small population of people who take massive amounts of ginseng for very long periods of time (17).
Q: What is ginseng used for?
A: Ginseng has three primary uses as an herbal remedy. These are improving immune function, boosting energy levels, and bolstering sexual function (primarily in men).
Ginseng’s effects on immune function are modest, but it does appear to upregulate certain biological compounds in the blood that help activate your immune system and fight off infections.
The mechanisms behind why ginseng is able to increase feelings of energy are not entirely clear, but ginseng supplementation has been demonstrated to be an effective way to reduce feelings of mental fatigue and increase feelings of energy.
Finally, while the benefits to sexual wellness seem, at least according to the latest research, to be limited only to men, ginseng does seem to exert a solid benefit for both erectile dysfunction and decreased libido.
Related: Our best ginseng picks
Ginseng is an all-natural supplement that might boost immune function, energy levels, and sexual wellness in men.
It’s safe for most people, and easy to incorporate alongside other supplements like testosterone boosters, making it a solid addition to your routine if you want better immunity, more energy, a higher libido, or better erectile function.