I promised in the article on headache remedies to discuss eleuthero, or Siberian ginseng, in its own article. The botanical name for Siberian ginseng is Elutherococcus senticosus, and the plant is not related to true ginseng (Panax family). Eleuthero tends to be cheaper than true ginsengs, but less popular for some reason. This article will discuss the benefits of Siberian ginseng/eleuthero and provide some reasons for adding it to your herbal collection.
Eleuthero is considered first and foremost an adaptogen. Russian scientists tested eluthero thoroughly at the Far Eastern Center of the Siberian division of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and substantiated many of the claims traditional medicine made of the herb. 
Eleuthero will condition the body and enhance all systems against various “stress” effects, whether they are mental or physical stress. It is said to restore vitality and general vigor, similar to true ginsengs.
Soviet scientists tested eleuthero extensively on animals and humans and found that its use increased stamina and resistance to physical stress. The chemical constituents that seem to be the most responsible for these effects are particular glycosides named eleutherosides, particularly Eleuthroside B and E. A 1993 study by I.N. Tadorov demonstrates that it is Eleutheroside B that is the most responsible for the anabolic and anti-stress effects. This site claims that this constituent is highest in the Russian plant and completely absent in the same plant when grown in China.
Remark: I have ordered eleuthero from here and used it some. The source is China, and I ordered it prior to finding the above claim that the Chinese-sourced eleuthero lacks most of the necessary eleutherosides. Upon looking further into the claim that Chinese eleuthero is essentially useless, I could not find any botanical studies that compared the active constituents of eleuthero based on the source. That’s not to say there is no difference, only that I could not find another source to back up this claim.
Eleuthero has been popular enough among endurance athletes to even rate articles in mainstream publications, and its study in Olympic athletes began with the Soviets and continues even today. Here are a few links to explore this deeper.
Personal Remark: I have bought and used eleuthero root as a brewed decoction, which yields a lower dose than an extract or tincture. Because I drink many different adaptogenic herbs and teas, I cannot personally say that this herb has increased my stamina or athletic performance in an obviously causal way. I have felt much better now than I did even a year ago, and my weightlifting performance has increased, but I’ve made quite a few changes in my diet, supplements, and activity within the year. However, I cannot clearly attribute any of these things to eleuthero alone. There are no known side effects (short or long term) from the use of eleuthero and its extracts, so I would recommend anyone try it out.
Anti-anxiety and other Nervous Disorders
Russian scientists also tested eleuthero’s use in functional nervous disorders such as anxiety, moodiness, apprehension, depression, general loss of vigor, and other “blues” type disorders. They found that most patients experienced better sleep, higher energy, and happier moods when given a course of eleuthero. As another nod to its adaptogenic effect, they found that eleuthero gave vitality and energy to those who were depressed, and produced a calming effect on those who experienced nervous tension and hyperactive anxiety. Other researchers have also studied this, with positive results.
Normalizing Blood Pressure
Eleuthero has also been carefully studied as a “normalizer” for blood pressure, raising blood pressure when it’s too low, and lowering it when it’s too high. There’s some discord among medical professionals regarding a potential side effect of long-term use in severely hypertensive patients. Some argue that eleuthero raises blood pressure over time to dangerous levels, and others claim this is a misinterpretation of the original Soviet studies.
As with most herbal remedies, the studies purporting benefits of eleuthero have been criticized by (mostly Western) physicians and researchers. Most of the clinical research on eleuthero was done in the Soviet Union, and it seems like this is an issue for westerners in their criticisms.
I also looked into various potential side effects, particularly the “high blood pressure” issue. There are a couple case studies, but it’s impossible to tell if the issues were a result of the herb or of adulteration to the product. Most of these side effects are theoretical and (frankly) fear-mongering, particularly from WebMD. They also provide lots of potential drug interactions, but these interactions are again primarily posited ones rather than through direct testing and observation.
Most of the counter-evidence I found against taking eleuthero is primarily concerned with quality issues of the herb itself rather than the actual effects. It is the sourcing of good eleuthero that is likely the source for any claims of ineffectiveness, since there is little standardization around the growth and extraction of the herb. Unscrupulous retailers will cut eleuthero with cheaper plants, so your ultimate dosage is lower than what is effective.
Using and Trying Eleuthero
As I mentioned previously, the eleuthero I bought from Mountain Rose Herbs is sourced from China. I could not find any additional evidence to back up the above claim that Chinese-sourced eleuthero is ineffective, but you may choose to buy only Russian-sourced eleuthero.
I buy the cut and sifted root rather than the extract and make a decoction from it. To do this, simmer 2 tbsp. of the eleuthero in 1 qt. of water for 30 minutes, ensuring the pot is covered the entire time. Bottle it and leave in the refrigerator and drink as an iced tea.
Other references are found in the links throughout the article.
- Lucas, R.Secrets of Chinese Herbalists (1977). Parker Publishing Company. IBSN: 0-13-797639-9