Knocking Out Colds with Ginseng

A woman at home with a cold.
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In herbal medicine, several species of ginseng are used to fight colds. These species include American ginseng and Panax ginseng. Although it not a "true" ginseng, an herb known as Siberian ginseng is also widely used to treat or prevent colds.

Why Do People Sometimes Use Ginseng for Colds?

Ginseng is one of the most popular natural remedies for colds. Widely available for purchase online, dietary supplements containing ginseng are sold in many natural-foods stores and other stores specializing in natural products.

Proponents suggest that American ginseng, Panax ginseng, and Siberian ginseng can help stimulate the immune system and shore up the body's defense against the common cold.

Related: 5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System Naturally

Additionally, Siberian ginseng is considered an adaptogen (a class of herbs said to boost the body's resistance to everyday stress). Since chronic stress is thought to weaken the immune system, it's said that Siberian ginseng can also fight colds by shielding the body from the negative effects of stress.

Research on Ginseng for Colds

While few studies have focused on the effectiveness of using ginseng for cold relief, some research shows that certain species of ginseng may aid in the prevention and/or treatment of colds. Here's a look at several key findings from this research:

1) Siberian Ginseng 

Several studies suggest that Siberian ginseng may help alleviate symptoms of the common cold.

Many of these studies have involved the use of an herbal formula containing a combination of Siberian ginseng and andrographis.

In a 2002 study published in Phytomedicine, for instance, 95 cold sufferers were treated with a combination of Siberian ginseng and andrographis for five days. Compared to 90 patients given a placebo for the same time period, those who took the herbal formula showed a significantly greater improvement in nasal symptoms, throat symptoms, and headache.

However, improvement in cough and eye symptoms did not differ between the two groups.

2) American Ginseng 

For a report published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2011, researchers reviewed five clinical trials (with a total of 747 participants) examining the use of American ginseng for the prevention of colds. Results revealed that American ginseng may help shorten the duration of colds when taken preventatively for eight to 16 weeks. However, there wasn't enough evidence to support the claim that American ginseng can lessen the severity of colds or reduce cold incidence.

3) Panax Ginseng 

Panax ginseng may help protect against colds, according to a study published in Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research in 1996. In a 12-week-long trial involving 227 volunteers, researchers observed that people given a supplement containing Panax ginseng had a significantly lower incidence of colds (compared to those given a placebo).

In traditional Chinese medicine, Panax ginseng (and Korean ginseng) are said to have a hot nature and are not usually taken during a cold, but may be used for prevention.

Safety Concerns

Although short-term use of ginseng may be safe when used in appropriate amounts by healthy people, each type of ginseng is associated with a number of side effects. For example, side effects linked with the use of Panax ginseng and American ginseng include insomnia, headache, diarrhea, and nervousness. 

Siberian ginseng, meanwhile, may trigger side effects like anxiety and muscle spasms. 

Since the use of ginseng may also increase blood pressure and lead to changes in heart rhythm, you should avoid it if you have or are at risk for heart disease.

Also avoid it if you have a bleeding disorder, hormone-sensitive condition (such as breast cancer), autoimmune disease, schizophrenia, are pregnant or nursing, have received an organ transplant, or are undergoing or recovering from surgery.

Many types of ginseng may interact with a number of commonly used medications (for instance, it can't be taken with warfarin), so it's crucial to consult your physician prior to taking ginseng.

Alternatives to Ginseng

When using ginseng as a treatment for colds, taking the herb as soon as cold symptoms start is sometimes suggested to achieve maximum benefit. 

Echinacea and astragalus are two of the herbs with the most support for their effectiveness in reducing cold duration and severity. Increasing your intake of garlic and ginger may also help fend off colds.

Furthermore, there's some evidence that getting your fill of vitamin C and zinc and maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D may lower your odds of coming down with a cold.

For more help in staying cold-free, make sure to wash your hands frequently. A number of lifestyle practices (such as getting sufficient sleep, exercising regularly, and managing your stress) can help rev up your immune system as well.


Gabrielian ES, Shukarian AK, Goukasova GI, et al. "A double blind, placebo-controlled study of Andrographis paniculata fixed combination Kan Jang in the treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infections including sinusitis." Phytomedicine 2002;9:589-97.

Hancke J, Burgos R, Caceres D, Wikman G. "A double-blind study with a new monodrug Kan Jang: decrease of symptoms and improvement in the recovery from common colds." Phytotherapy Res 1995;9:559-62.

Melchoir J, Spasov AA, Ostrovskij OV, et al. "Double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot and phase III study of activity of standardized Andrographis paniculata Herba Nees extract fixed combination (Kan Jang) in the treatment of uncomplicated upper-respiratory tract infection." Phytomedicine 2000;7:341-50.

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Seida JK, Durec T, Kuhle S. "North American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) Preparations for Prevention of the Common Cold in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review." Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:282151.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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