The root of the Eleutherococcus senticosus plant, also called Siberian ginseng or Eleuthero, is often used medicinally to combat fatigue, stress and herpes. The plant belongs to the ginseng family, Araliaceae, but is botanically different from true ginseng, Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius. It can grow in colder areas than real ginseng and usually costs less.
The Chinese have used Eleutherococcus for 4000 years for longevity, health, to stimulate appetite and to improve memory. Russians discovered it in late 19th century and studied it in the late 1950s as a ginseng substitute. They studied the plant’s adaptogen properties on about 4,300 people. The property “adaptogen” was defined by Lazarev, a Russian scientist, who wished to put a more precise name to the tonic properties of ginseng-like plants. Adaptogen refers to a substance that promotes adaptation to environmental stress of all kinds. It regulates several physiological functions without targeting one organ in particular. Eleutherococcus was introduced as a medicinal plant in Western Europe and North America in 1975.
Today many people use it to increase endurance and resistance to stress. Its effect on fatigue, convalescence and concentration problems were partially proven in a recent double blind study on 20 elderly people . Results indicated that after four weeks of 300 mg of Eleutherococcus per day, it had a positive impact on stress, fatigue and vitality, but results were not sustained after eight weeks.
Preliminary studies also suggest that Eleutherococcus promotes immune functions. It was found to have a pronounced effect on T lymphocytes, cytotoxic and natural killer cells. A German double blind study was conducted monitoring immune functions in 18 individuals taking 1 tablespoon of Eleutherococcus senticosus extract three times daily compared to those of the 18 people taking a placebo for four weeks. After four weeks, they measured immune cell concentration in blood samples. The group taking Eleutherococcus had a higher concentration of all immune cells. Total T-cell numbers increased by 78 percent, T helper/inducer cells by 80 percent, cytotoxic Ts by 67 percent, and NK cells by 30 percent. B Lymphocytes also expanded by 22 percent compared to controls. No side effects were noted, even five months after administration. Researchers concluded that, “Eleutherococcus senticosus exerts a strong immunomodulatory effect in healthy normal subjects.”
A double blind study on 93 people suffering from recurrent herpes infections indicates that 2g of Eleutherococcus per day may limit or reduce the frequency of herpes infections. However, these findings concern only herpes virus simplex 2, usually causing genital herpes. A 2001 German in vitro study showed that Eleutherococcus had no impact on herpes virus simplex one (HSV-1) cells. HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes.
From personal experience, I can say that Eleutherococcus is a real adaptogen plant. I’ve used it successfully to cope with stress, build resistance and limit the frequency of genital herpes outbreaks. It helps me to stay focused without straining and provides a sense of overall serenity.
Eleutherococcus must be taken for several days to show effects. Nathuropaths usually say 21 days, but I usually feel an improvement after 10 days.
Eleutherococcus is contraindicated for children under 12, pregnant and breastfeeding women and people suffering from hypertension. It may cause palpitations and increase blood sugar after a meal. It has virtually no side effects, except for mild diarrhea and temporary sleep perturbations.
Eleutherococcus can be taken as an herbal tea, dried root extract, tincture, or water extract. I usually take the tincture because it is more convenient, easier to find and usually contains stronger concentrations of active ingredients. Dosage can vary from 10 ml to 20 ml per day in a glass of water. It is also recommended to stop taking Eleutherococcus for one week every six weeks.