William Ecourt

Former Reader in Pharmacognosy, University of Bradford, UK

During the past 50 years a vast amount of literature of widely varying quality has accumulated concerning the pharmacology of ginseng and its preparations and by 1990, despite the scepticism of many orthodox Western physicians and pharmacologists, ginseng had already attracted considerable interest and an ever increasing degree of respectability as a herbal medicine worthy of further study and of discussion at medical and scientific meetings worldwide.

Initial studies concentrated on the proof and explanation of traditional use in eastern Asia and it was assumed that the main active compounds were the saponin glycosides, the ginsenosides. As chemical separation of pure ginsenosides improved and samples of individual compounds became available, the biochemical mechanisms underlying the pharmacological effects were explored with varying degrees of success. More recent studies, which are reviewed in this chapter, do suggest that it is the combinations of ginsenosides and other compounds that may play the important pharmacological role.

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