Are the Leaves of Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian Ginseng) Used for Medicine Rather Than the Root?
Answered by: Robert Newman, L.Ac.
Question from: Robert
Posted on: March 22, 2004

I realize that Siberian Ginseng (Devil’s Root or Touch-Me-Not) is not actually a member of the Ginseng family. Because of this, are the leaves used instead of the root?

Siberian Ginseng is Eleutherococcus senticosus. It is true that it is not considered one of the true Ginsengs (these are Panax species such as Panax ginseng, P. quinquefolius, etc.). But it has also been called by the Latin name of Acanthopanax senticosus in the past -- note the "panax" part of that genus name. This is because it actually IS a member of the same family as true Ginsengs: they are all part of the Araliaceae family. However, Siberian Ginseng is of a different genus and is therefore not considered a "true" Ginseng (additionally, it is also known to have some different medicinally active compounds in it than the well-known true Ginseng species).

Siberian Ginseng is a rhizomatous, shrubby plant -- it is in fact the root and rhizomes which are used for medicine. Unlike Siberian Ginseng, the true Ginsengs are relatively short, herbaceous perennials, generally only growing 0.5-1.0 meters tall (usually towards the shorter end of that size). Siberian Ginseng is generally a much taller plant. Taken from a monograph at the website of the Homepage of the Holistic Veterinary Medicine Club (see the link below):

"A 1 to 3 meter high shrub covered in pale, thorny bristles. The medicinal parts are the pulverized root rind, the pulverized root and an alcoholic fluid extract of the rhizome and roots. The plant grows in Siberia, northern China, Korea and Japan. It is a relative of true ginseng, but has entirely different properties."

And taken from the Health and Age website (see the link below):

"Siberian ginseng is a shrub that grows 3 to 10 feet high. Its leaves are attached to a main stem by long branches. Both the branches and the stem are covered with thorns. Flowers, yellow or violet, grow in umbrella-shaped clusters, and turn into round, black berries in late summer. The root itself is woody and is brownish, wrinkled, and twisted."

In traditional Chinese medicine, Siberian Ginseng is known as "Ci Wu Jia" (tsih woo gee-ah": this name means "thorny Acanthopanax"). The root and rhizome are used: it is considered to be acrid, slightly bitter and warming; it is said to benefit the "Qi," strengthen the "Spleen" (for an explanation of the Chinese "Spleen," see my answer on Richters website to the question on Korean Ginseng and weight loss), tonify the Kidneys, and calm the spirit; used for treating: Spleen and Kidney "Yang" deficiency; a weak body and poor energy; poor appetite; low back and knee pain; insomnia; and excess dreams. According to some research, it has been deemed an adaptogenic medicine, helping to strengthen the system and improve the body’s ability to withstand stress and maintain stamina.

Richters sells seeds of Siberian Ginseng and they also sell a book about Ginseng called "The Book of Ginseng," by Stephen Fulder.

Based on your question, I am assuming you have probably heard that it is the roots of the true Ginsengs that are typically used for medicine. But what most people don’t know is that it is not only the roots of those Panax species that are used. Other portions of the plants of some of those true Ginsengs actually also have established medicinal uses as well. This is even born out in the area of western research on some of these plants: this info was taken from the Purdue University’s horticultural page on aromatic and medicinal plants (see the link below):

"The stems, leaves, and roots of Panax species contain biologically active saponin glycosides, such as ginsenoside and panaxoside, as well as sugars, starch, mucilage, and a volatile oil (7.3-13, 7.3-14, 7.3-58, 7.3-153, 14.1-35). Most of the ginsenoside is located in the cambium (2.7-67)."

In Chinese medicine, 10 species of Panax are used for medicine, but there are really only 3 main species frequently used medicinally (P. ginseng, P. quinquefolius and P. notoginseng). And although the main part used for medicine is the root for each of those 3 species, the leaves and/or stem neck and/or flowers of two of those species also have some known traditional medicinal properties (generally considered to have different effects than the roots) and are employed as minor remedies in the Chinese pharmacopoeia.

Another useful site to check out is:

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