Ginseng pharmacology: multiple constituents and multiple actions

Biochem Pharmacol. 1999 Dec 1;58(11):1685-93. doi: 10.1016/s0006-2952(99)00212-9.


Ginseng is a highly valued herb in the Far East and has gained popularity in the West during the last decade. There is extensive literature on the beneficial effects of ginseng and its constituents. The major active components of ginseng are ginsenosides, a diverse group of steroidal saponins, which demonstrate the ability to target a myriad of tissues, producing an array of pharmacological responses. However, many mechanisms of ginsenoside activity still remain unknown. Since ginsenosides and other constituents of ginseng produce effects that are different from one another, and a single ginsenoside initiates multiple actions in the same tissue, the overall pharmacology of ginseng is complex. The ability of ginsenosides to independently target multireceptor systems at the plasma membrane, as well as to activate intracellular steroid receptors, may explain some pharmacological effects. This commentary aims to review selected effects of ginseng and ginsenosides and describe their possible modes of action. Structural variability of ginsenosides, structural and functional relationship to steroids, and potential targets of action are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System Agents / pharmacology
  • Ginsenosides
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional
  • Panax / chemistry*
  • Panax / therapeutic use*
  • Phytosterols / pharmacology
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plants, Medicinal*
  • Saponins / pharmacology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Ginsenosides
  • Phytosterols
  • Saponins