Siberian ginseng: Background

Historical Note

Siberian ginseng has been used for over 2000 years, according to Chinese medical records, where it is referred to as Ci Wu Jia. It was used to prevent colds and flu and to increase vitality and energy. In modern times, it has been used by Russian cosmonauts for improving alertness and energy, and to aid in adaptation to the stresses of life in space. It has also been used as an ergogenic aid by Soviet athletes before international competitions and was used after the Chernobyl accident to counteract the effects of radiation.

Other Names

Ci Wu Jia, devil’s bush, devil’s shrub, eleuthero, eleutherococcus, eleuthero root, gokahi, ogap’l, russisk rod, taigawurzel, touch-me-not, Wu Jia Pi

Botanical Name / Family

Eleutherococcus senticosus (synonym: Acanthopanax senticosus) (family Araliaceae)

Plant Part Used


Chemical Components

Glycosides (eleutherosides A-M, includes saponins, coumarins, lignans, phenylpropanoids, oleanolic acids, triterpenes, betulinic acid and vitamins); steroid glycoside(eleutherosideA); lignan (eleutheroside D, sesamine); glycans (eleutherans A-G); triterpenoid saponins; saponin (protoprimulagenin A); hydroxycoumarin (isofraxidin); phenolics; polysaccharides; lignans; coumarins; resin.

Nutrients include magnesium 723 µg/g, aluminium 188 µg/g and manganese 37 µg/g, vitamins A and E.

Clinical note — Allostasis

Allostasis is the body’s adaptation to stress. Allostatic (adaptive) systems are critical to survival and enable us to respond to changes in our physical state (such as asleep, awake, standing, sitting, eating, exercising, infection) and psychological states (such as anticipation, fear, isolation, worry and lack of control). The consumption of tobacco, alcohol and our dietary choices also induce allostatic responses. These systems are complex and have broad boundaries, in contrast to the body’s homeostatic systems (e.g. blood pH and body temperature), which are maintained within a narrow range.

Most commonly, allostatic responses involve the sympathetic nervous system and the HPA axis. Upon activation (e.g. a challenge is perceived), catecholamines are released from nerves and the adrenal medulla, corticotrophin is secreted from the pituitary and cortisol is released from the adrenal cortex. Once the threat has passed (e.g. environment is more comfortable or infection is controlled), the system is inactivated and levels of cortisol and catecholamine secretion return to baseline.

Chronic exposure to stress can lead to allostatic load, a situation resulting from chronic overactivity or underactivity of allostatic systems. The situation is characterised by maladaptive responses whereby systems become inefficient or do not turn off appropriately. Currently, there is much interest in understanding the association between numerous diseases such as cardiovascular disease and overwhelming allostatic load.

One measure that is used to gauge an individual’s allostatic response is the cortisol response to a variety of stressors. As such, cortisol is seen as the classical ‘stress’ hormone.