Ginseng, Siberian (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
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Eleutherococcus senticosus (formerly Acanthopanax senticosis) is a species of small, woody shrub in the family Araliaceae native to Northeastern Asia. In Chinese medicine it is known as Ci wu jia. It is commonly called eleuthero, and was previously marketed in the United States as Siberian Ginseng as it has similar herbal properties to those of Panax ginseng. However, it belongs to a different genus in the family Araliaceae, and it is currently illegal in the United States to market eleuthero as Siberian Ginseng since “ginseng” only refers to Panax species.
The herb grows in mixed and coniferous mountain forests, forming low undergrowth or is found in groups in thickets and edges. E. senticosus is sometimes found in oak groves at the foot of cliffs, very rarely in high forest riparian woodland. It’s native habitat is East Asia, China, Japan and Russia. E. senticosus is broadly tolerant of soils, growing in sandy, loamy and heavy clay soils with acid, neutral or alkaline chemistry and including soils of low nutritional value. It can tolerate sun or dappled shade and some degree of pollution. E. senticosus is a decidious shrub growing to 2m at a slow rate. It is hardy to zone 3. It flowers in July in most habitats. The flowers are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by insects.
E. senticosus is a new addition to Western natural medicine, but has quickly gained a reputation similar to that of the better known and more expensive Chinese Ginseng. Though the chemical make-up of the two herbs differs, their effects seem to be similar. An extensive list of research on E. senticosus with links to PubMed is available.
The herb is an adaptogen, is anticholesteremic, is mildly anti-inflammatory, is antioxidant, is a nervine and an immune tonic. It is useful when the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) is depleted. Symptoms of this condition include fatigue, stress, neurasthenia and sore muscles associated with the hypofunctioning of the endocrine system, and adrenal exhaustion indicated by a quivering tongue, dark circles under the eyes, and dilating/contracting pupils. Eleuthero may alleviate these symptoms.
E. senticosus is an adaptogen which has a wide range of health benefits attributed to its use. Currently, most of the research to support the medicinal use of E. senticosus is in Russian or Korean. E. senticosus contains eleutherosides, triterpenoid saponins which are lipophilic and which can fit into hormone receptors. Supporters of E. senticosus as medicine claim it possesses a variety of medicinal properties, such as:
Eleutherococcus senticosis is less tonifying than the true Ginsengs (Panax sp.). It is neutral energetically and so is appropriate for daily use. Taken regularly, it enhances immune function, reduces cortisol levels and inflammatory response, and it promotes improved cognitive and physical performance. In human studies Eleuthero has been successfully used to treat bone marrow suppression caused by chemotherapy or radiation, angina, hypercholesterolemia, and neurasthenia with headache, insomnia, and poor appetite.
The major constituents of E. senticosus are Ciwujianoside A-E, Eleutheroside B (Syringin), Eleutherosides A-M, Friedelin and Isofraxidin. Most of the active constituents in E. senticosus are triterpenoid saponins. Though all terpenoid compounds have bioactivity in mammals, it is the triterpenes that are most important to the adaptogenic effect. The majority of known triterpenoid compounds in E. senticosus are found as saponin glycosides which refers to the attachment of various sugar molecules to the triterpene unit. These sugars are usually cleaved off in the gut by bacteria, allowing the aglycone (triterpene) to be absorbed. Saponin glycosides have the characteristic of reducing surface tension of water and will strip the lipids. This allows them insert into cell membranes (Attele et al., 1999) and modify the composition, influence membrane fluidity, and potentially affect signaling by many ligands and cofactors.