A white plate topped with some food and a cup of tea.

The Flu – Ginseng

During upper respiratory viral infections such as influenza cells express CD69 markers and pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6.  This leads to comorbidities (pneumonia) associated with influenza infections.  In this study vaccinated mice who were given ginseng and sage demonstrated a down-regulation of their CD69 and inflammatory markers as well as an increase in antibodies to the flu virus. [1]

Ginseng has powerful antiviral effects and has been supported in numerous studies.  In one study daily oral doses of Korean Red Ginseng protected vaccinated mice “… against antigenically distinct H1N1 and H3N2 influenza viruses.† Even unvaccinated mice who were “infected with virus mixed with red ginseng extract showed significantly enhanced protection, lower levels of lung viral titers and interleukin-6, but higher levels of interferon-gamma compared with control mice having virus infections without red ginseng extract, indicating an antiviral effect of ginseng.†[2]

In this same study the researchers investigated the effect of ginseng on the growth of cell cultures infected with the flu virus.  They found that those cultures including Korean Red Ginseng extract showed significant inhibitory effects on the growth of the influenza virus.  â€œThis study provides evidence that intake of ginseng extract will have beneficial effects on preventing lethal infection with newly emerging influenza viruses.â€[2]

In another study it was concluded that ginseng polysaccharides “could be used as a remedy against influenza viral infectionâ€.[3]

In a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial of 227 volunteers 100 mg of ginseng was given to the treatment group, which consisted of 114 subjects.  The placebo group consisted of 113 subjects.  The study lasted for 12 weeks.  At week 4 all volunteers were given the flu vaccine.  Between weeks 4-12 42 (37%) individuals in the placebo group contracted the flu and only 15 (13%) in the treatment group contracted the flu.  This was a statistically significant result  (p < 0.0001).   The researchers also looked at antibody titers and natural killer (NK) cell activity.  By week 8 the antibody titers rose to 171 units in the placebo group and to 272 units in the treatment group.  NK cell activity was doubled in the treatment group. [4]

This study shows not only that ginseng extract can decrease the virulence of the flu virus and increase immune activity in the host, but also shows that the vaccine, on its own, performs poorly at best. 

In my next post I will be discussing research regarding Elderberry and Licorice root.


1.         Quan, F.S., et al., Ginseng and Salviae herbs play a role as immune activators and modulate immune responses during influenza virus infection. Vaccine, 2007. 25(2): p. 272-82.

2.         Yoo, D.G., et al., Protective effect of Korean red ginseng extract on the infections by H1N1 and H3N2 influenza viruses in mice. J Med Food, 2012. 15(10): p. 855-62.

3.         Yoo, D.G., et al., Protective effect of ginseng polysaccharides on influenza viral infection. PLoS One, 2012. 7(3): p. e33678.

4.         Scaglione, F., et al., Efficacy and safety of the standardised Ginseng extract G115 for potentiating vaccination against the influenza syndrome and protection against the common cold [corrected]. Drugs Exp Clin Res, 1996. 22(2): p. 65-72.