What is it?
Ginseng is a plant. The roots of the ginseng plant are used as an alternative medicine, particularly in Chinese medicine. There are three types of ginseng plant: Chinese ginseng (Latin name: Panax ginseng), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Chinese and American ginseng are closely related plant species, while Siberian ginseng is a more distantly related plant. All types are thought to have similar medicinal effects.
How does it work?
It is unclear how ginseng might help depression. One way ginseng might help is by improving energy levels. It may also be able to help the body cope with stress through its effect on the adrenal gland.
Is it effective?
There is very little scientific evidence on ginseng for the treatment of depression. More studies of better quality are needed.
There have been two studies which examined the effects of ginseng in menopausal women. Both studies found women who took ginseng experienced a greater reduction in depression symptoms (which are common symptoms of menopause) than those who took a placebo (dummy pill). However, these studies had a small number of participants, and the participants did not have clinical depression.
Another study treated patients diagnosed with depression with ginseng alongside their usual antidepressant medication. Patients in this study had a reduction in depression symptoms, but it is possible that this effect was simply due to their standard antidepressant medication.
Are there any disadvantages?
Like all herbs, ginseng can cause side effects in some people, although these are generally minor.
Ginseng may have negative interactions with prescribed medications or other supplements. As with all supplements, you should check with your GP or pharmacist to see if it might interfere with other medications or supplements you are taking, and talk with your doctor if your symptoms worsen or new ones develop.
Where do you get it?
Capsules of powdered ginseng root are available from health food shops and most supermarkets. Ginseng is also available as a tea.
There is not enough good evidence at this stage to recommend ginseng as a treatment for depression.
- Geller, S. E., & Studee, L. (2007). Botanical and dietary supplements for mood and anxiety in menopausal women. Menopause, 14(3 Pt 1), 541-549.
- Jeong, H. G., Ko, Y. H., Oh, S. Y., Han, C., Kim, T., & Joe, S. H. (2015). Effect of Korean Red Ginseng as an adjuvant treatment for women with residual symptoms of major depression. Asia Pacific Psychiatry, 7(3), 330-336.
- Lee, K. J., & Ji, G. E. (2014). The effect of fermented red ginseng on depression is mediated by lipids. Nutr Neurosci, 17(1), 7-15.
Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016