Ginseng is one of the most widely used herbal medicines and is reported to have a wide range of therapeutic and pharmacological applications. Ginsenosides, the major pharmacologically active ingredients of ginseng, appear to be responsible for most of the activities of ginseng including vasorelaxation, antioxidation, anti-inflammation and anti-cancer. Approximately 40 ginsenoside compounds have been identified. Researchers now focus on using purified individual ginsenoside to reveal the specific mechanism of functions of ginseng instead of using whole ginseng root extracts. Individual ginsenosides may have different effects in pharmacology and mechanisms due to their different chemical structures. Among them the most commonly studied ginsenosides are Rb1, Rg1, Rg3, Re, Rd and Rh1. The molecular mechanisms and medical applications of ginsenosides have attracted much attention and hundreds of papers have been published in the last few years. The general purpose of this update is to provide information of recently described effects of ginsenosides on antioxidation, vascular system, signal transduction pathways and interaction with receptors. Their therapeutic applications in animal models and humans as well as the pharmacokinetics and toxicity of ginsenosides are also discussed in this review. This review concludes with some thoughts for future directions in the further development of ginseng compounds as effective therapeutic agents.