Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/2/2020
Along with premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, or ED, is one of the most common sexual health issues in men. In fact, an estimated 30 million adult men are affected by some form of ED in the United States alone.
So, if you’re having trouble getting it up or keeping it up, you’re definitely not alone. And if you’re lucky enough to have avoided this common problem so far, there’s a real possibility that it could affect your quality of life at some point in the future.
The good news is that there are lots of options for the treatment of erectile dysfunction available today, including FDA-approved medications such as sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®).
One natural product that’s promoted as a treatment for erectile dysfunction is Panax ginseng — a medicinal root that’s extracted from an East Asian plant.
Like most natural treatments for ED, the scientific evidence on Panax ginseng and male sexual health is mixed at best. However, a small amount of research suggests that ginseng might offer some benefits for your erections and sexual performance.
Below, we’ve discussed what ginseng is, as well as the potential health benefits it may offer for men. We’ve also covered how Panax ginseng may help with erectile dysfunction by promoting better blood flow.
Finally, we’ve listed several evidence-based treatment options to consider if you find it hard to get or maintain an erection and want to improve your sexual function.
Panax ginseng is a type of Asian ginseng that’s widely promoted as a supplement for improving heart health, reducing blood sugar, boosting cognitive function and helping with immune function.
Evidence for most health benefits of ginseng is limited, although some research does show that it may help to improve glucose metabolism and lower blood sugar.
Ginseng is rumored to provide benefits sexually, but most published research on these supposed benefits is low in quality and doesn’t show strong efficacy for ginseng use.
A systematic review found that ginseng offers benefits for erections and sexual function in men, but that these benefits are very small.
Panax ginseng is considered safe, though there is very little research on its potential to produce long-term side effects.
Panax is the Latin name for Asian ginseng, a plant that’s native to China, Korea and far-eastern Siberia. The roots of the ginseng plant are commonly used in herbal supplements and have an extensive history in traditional Chinese medicine.
Panax ginseng is closely related to the American ginseng herb. Both forms of ginseng contain a variety of pharmacologically active components called ginsenosides, which are credited for their health benefits.
Siberian ginseng, on the other hand, is a different plant entirely that doesn’t contain these active components.
Panax ginseng is sometimes promoted as “red ginseng” or “white ginseng,” with manufacturers of ginseng products occasionally attributing different health benefits to each type of the plant.
The terms “red” and “white” don’t really refer to different plants — instead, they refer to ginseng roots prepared using different methods.
The “red” in Korean red Panax ginseng refers to a preparation method of the plant. Red ginseng is prepared using a water extraction and concentration process, while Korean white ginseng has a simpler production process that involves simply drying the plant root.
According to the traditional production process, which is still used today, ginseng is grown for six years, the dirt is shaken off, the roots are washed and the root is steamed for one to three hours before drying by hot air and/or sun.
Panax ginseng is referred to as an adaptogen — a term used in alternative medicine to describe ingredients that purportedly improve resistance to stress and increase vitality.
Like many other herbal medicines, you can find Panax ginseng in plenty of dietary supplements, either on its own or with other ingredients as part of a “blend.”
So, does Panax ginseng offer any real benefits for your health and well-being, or is it nothing but hype?
Like with many other natural ingredients that are marketed as do-all treatments, there isn’t much in the way of large-scale, high-quality clinical research on the beneficial effects of ginseng, either for men’s sexual dysfunction or general well-being.
However, there are several smaller studies of ginseng that suggest it may have some degree of clinical efficacy, at least for certain conditions.
Before we go into more detail about these studies, it’s important to provide a disclaimer. Most of the research on Panax ginseng isn’t especially high in quality, with sample sizes small and study design far from optimal.
This means that most findings are best viewed as suggestions, or “maybes,” not as confirmation that ginseng is an effective alternative to conventional treatments for any condition.
As the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes, based on the research that’s available right now, “our understanding of Asian ginseng’s health effects is limited.”
Despite this, research does suggest that Panax ginseng may have some promising benefits for people’s health. Here are a few of them:
Improvements in heart health. A review published in the Journal of Ginseng Research in 2014 noted that ginseng could offer benefits for improving blood circulation, reducing cholesterol and improving general cardiovascular health.
While this is certainly promising, some of the studies used in this review were carried out using animals, not humans.
Better mental function. A few small studies have shown improved mental functioning in people who used Panax ginseng. However, like with heart health, much of the research on the mental effects of ginseng relies on studies performed on animals.
Potential for improving diabetes. One study of 36 newly diagnosed diabetics without insulin dependence found that Panax ginseng lowered blood sugar levels, produced an improvement in mood and reduced body weight.
Improved immune function. A 2021 study, which was also published in the Journal of Ginseng Research, found that use of ginseng improved T cells, B cells and white blood cell count in healthy adults, which may improve immune system function.
Over the years, several studies have looked at the potential sex-related effects of supplements that contain ginseng.
Many of these studies have produced mixed results. For example, a 2020 review published in the World Journal of Men’s Health found that some studies showed that ginseng produced an improvement in sperm quality, while others revealed little or no benefit.
When it comes to erectile dysfunction, most high-quality research suggests that ginseng has a very mild impact on men’s ability to get and maintain an erection during sex.
In a Cochrane review published in 2021, researchers analyzed nine studies involving 587 men with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction. The men were aged between 20 and 70 and all of the clinical studies compared ginseng supplements to a non-therapeutic placebo.
The authors concluded that ginseng appears to have a “trivial effect” on erectile dysfunction in otherwise healthy men. However, they noted that ginseng might improve men’s ability to have sex successfully, at least according to the self-reported responses provided by participants.
No significant benefits were noted for sexual desire, sexual arousal or other aspects of sexual health that could affect performance in bed.
In other words, ginseng only appears to have mild benefits for erectile dysfunction, although it was associated with improvements in general sexual ability.
Currently, there’s no research that compares different types of ginseng or ginseng products as treatments for erectile dysfunction.
If you’re interested in trying ginseng, you can find high-quality supplements online and in many health food stores. Many of these products are marketed as “ginseng complex” supplements — capsules that contain ginseng with vitamins and minerals.
Panax and Korean ginseng are generally considered safe, but that doesn’t mean that there are no potential adverse effects.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, known side effects of Panax ginseng include:
Increased heart rate
Changes in blood pressure
Loss of appetite
In women, Panax ginseng may cause menstrual problems, as well as pain or discomfort in the breasts.
Because of its possible blood sugar effects, diabetics should use caution if supplementing with Panax ginseng. Ginseng products may interfere with the blood clotting process and should not be used by people on blood thinning medications.
If you’re considering using ginseng, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider beforehand about keeping yourself safe and limiting your risk of adverse events.
Panax ginseng is associated with some health benefits, including improvements in diabetes and certain aspects of heart health.
While ginseng does appear to produce some improvements in ED symptoms, they’re very small and might not be enough to help you maintain optimal sexual performance if you have moderate or severe erectile dysfunction.
Overall, like with many other herbal remedies, the science on Panax ginseng as a sexual health supplement is, to put it simply, a little thin.
If you have erectile dysfunction and want to treat it, you’ll likely get significantly better results by using evidence-based medications than supplements such as ginseng.
Want to learn more before you get started? Our guide to the best treatment options for ED goes into more detail about what you can do to improve your erections, from ED medications to pelvic floor exercises, vacuum constriction devices and more.