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Background & General Info

Eleuthero is a shrub vastly distributed in some regions of Russia, the Far East, Korea, China, and Japan. It is also called Siberian ginseng, especially in Western markets, in reference to its herbal effects that allegedly appear to be similar to those of “true” ginseng (Panax ginseng). This small woody plant is scientifically referred to as Eleutherococcus senticosus, but less common synonyms also apply to the plant such as Acanthopanax senticosus. [1]


Growing to a height of 5 to 8.5 feet, eleuthero is an erect shrub with spiny shoots that are surrounded by light gray to brownish bark. It holds long leaves in compound palmate configuration and has five elliptic leaflets that are finely serrated at the margins at both sides. [1]

History & Traditional Use

Eleuthero possesses a long history of medicinal use in traditional Chinese medicine, particularly as a tonic and sedative for a number of conditions. Its use in Chinese medicine dates back more than 4000 years ago, making it among the most ancient valued medicinal herbs. [1] Extensive pharmacological and clinical research that numbered up to approximately 1000 studies was published in Russia until 1982 regarding the efficacy of extracts from or isolates of Eleutherococcus senticosus. [2]

General Herbal Uses

In Chinese herbal medicinal system, eleuthero upon regular use is believed to lengthen lifespan, enhance general well-being and appetite, and restore memory. [1] According to Chinese and Russian ethnomedicine, the plant can serve as potent treatment of physical fatigues. Its fruits have long been incorporated as ingredient of fermented wine, whereas its leaves have been employed as a tonic and a functional beverage that can supposedly decrease liver damage and hasten the detoxification process of ingested alcohol. Eleutherococcus senticosus is also employed as remedy for inflammatory diseases, anemia, and rheumatoid arthritis. [3]

Constituents/Active Components

Eleuthero roots and fruits contain abundant amounts of eleutherosides, flavonoids (such as hyperin, rutin, afzelin, quercetin, and kaempferol), phenolic acids, triterpenic acids, and anthocyanins, whereas the leaves have quercetin, quercitrin, and rutin. [3]

Medicinal/Scientific Research


Findings from a 2001 research demonstrated the potent immunomodulatory influence of ethanol extract obtained from eleuthero roots on the synthesis of cytokines (cell-secreted substances that regulate human immune response) in activated whole blood cultures of ten healthy volunteers. The extract significantly suppressed the release of interleukin-4, interleukin-5, and interleukin-12 and boosted the synthesis of RANTES (a chemokine that is involved in the migration of effector and memory T cells when acute infection occurs) over a wide range of concentrations. [4]


Eleuthero is regarded as a very powerful and extensively studied adaptogen, able to boost one’s nonspecific resistance during stressful conditions. [5] Different preparations from the dried roots and rhizomes of eleuthero are advertised to promote better well-being and to prevent various diseases in both healthy and ill individuals by offsetting environmental and physical stressors. [6] Based on results from several pharmacological/toxicological studies, as an adaptogen, eleuthero can stimulate a state of nonspecific resistance against microbes and highly toxic chemicals such as chlorophos, phosphorus, strychnine, aniline, sodium nitrite, and narcotics like sodium barbital. [2] There is generally good scientific evidence from trials supporting the efficiency of Eleutherococcus senticosus to boost endurance and mental performance in patients manifesting mild fatigue and weakness. [7]

Cited research works published in peer-reviewed journals about the chemistry of eleuthero’s secondary compounds and their pharmacological activities strongly equate the favorable adaptogenic effects of eleuthero to its capacity to exert protective and/or inhibitory action against free radicals. Secondary substances isolated from eleuthero possess a wide range of activities based on results from studies using laboratory animals, cultured cell lines, and human subjects. For instance, a few of pharmacologically active compounds in eleuthero have been evidenced to show various levels of antioxidant activity, anticancer action, hypocholesterolemic activity, immunostimulatory effects, choleretic activity, radioprotective action, and anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and antibacterial properties. In general, some of these compounds present more than one pharmacological effect. [8]


Eleuthero, being an adaptogen, has been demonstrated to protect brain neurons from a variety of injuries, suggesting its promising therapeutic role as therapeutic modulator in neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. [9] In cultured cortical neurons of rats afflicted with injury by amyloid β (25–35), extracts of eleuthero had been found to particularly exert protective activity on regeneration of neurites and reconstruction of synapses.

Eleutheroside B, eleutheroside E, and isofraxidin, the major components isolated from eleuthero fractions, have been revealed to evidently protect axons and dendrites against atrophies that can be caused by amyloid β (25–35) at concentrations of 1 and 10 μM. It should be noted that atrophy of neurites and synaptic loss are pathogenic mechanisms that directly cause memory deficit in Alzheimer’s disease. [10]


Eleutheroside E is a major constituent of eleuthero with known anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective effects against ischemia. [11] In an ex vivo human mucosal tissue model, Zhang et al. (2012) demonstrated the efficacy of a combination of Baical skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) and eleuthero to block allergic mediators at early and late phases and inhibit the release of proinflammatory cytokines. Such combination potently suppressed the release of prostaglandin 2, histamine, and interleukin-5 and significantly inhibited the cytokines induced by 6-hour stimulation using Staphylococcus aureus superantigen B. These anti-inflammatory effects were regarded as comparable or superior to those of fluticasone propionate, a well-known topical corticosteroid. [12]


Aside from analyzing genetic relationships within eleuthero from ten collections, Yu et al. (2003) investigated the biological activity of eleuthero root extract and determined strong antioxidant activity by the ethyl acetate and n-butanol fractionations against scavenging on DPPH free radicals, as well as high anti-lipid peroxidative activities by the ethyl acetate fractionation. [13]


Eleutheroside E from eleuthero extracts had been demonstrated in the study of Ahn et al. (2013) to ameliorate insulin resistance and lessen hyperglycemia associated with diabetes in mice. This compound augmented the glucose uptake induced by insulin in C2C12 myotubes and improved the suppression of glucose uptake in 3T3-L1 adipocytes induced by tumor necrosis factor-α. Feeding of diet comprising eleuthero extract or eleutheroside E resulted in enhanced serum lipid profiles and a significant drop in blood glucose and serum insulin levels in 5-week-old db/db mice. Based on results from glucose tolerance and insulin tolerance tests, eleutheroside E was shown to increase insulin sensitivity, whereas findings from immunohistochemical staining indicated that both eleuthero extract and its constituent, eleutheroside E, protected pancreatic alpha and beta cells from diabetic damage. It appears that both improved glucose metabolism in the liver via upregulation of glycolysis and downregulation of gluconeogenesis in obese mice afflicted with type 2 diabetes. [11]

Syringin, another major active component of eleuthero, also possesses therapeutic promise in the management of diabetes in humans and had been shown in the study of Niu et al. (2008) to boost the utilization of glucose and reduce levels of plasma glucose in insulin-deficient rats. Intravenous injection of this compound into fasting streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats led to a dose-dependent decrease in plasma glucose levels. At a dose of 1.0 mg/kg, syringin considerably diminished any elevation of plasma glucose in normal rats resulting from an intravenous glucose challenge, whereas at a dose of 0.01 to 10.0 µmol/L, the compound encouraged the uptake of glucose in soleus muscle of diabetic rats in a dose-dependent manner and enhanced the synthesis of glycogen in liver cells. [5]


Eleuthero can potentially help cancer patients because of its immunostimulant and anti-fatigue property and capability to affect tumor growth. A carbohydrate identified in this plant has been reported to likely exert both immunostimulatory and antitumor effects. [14] Yu et al. (2003) evaluated the cytotoxic effect of eleuthero root extract on seven human cancer cell lines and found values of 50% growth inhibition (GI50) mostly below 30 µg/mL for crude extracts, suggesting significant cytotoxic activity. [13] A 2015 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention provided evidence on the proliferative and inhibitory activities of Siberian ginseng methanol extract against five cancer cell lines, namely, A-549 (small cell lung cancer), XWLC-05 (Yunnan lung cancer cell line), CNE (human nasopharyngeal carcinoma cell line), HCT-116 (human colon cancer), and Beas-2b (human lung epithelial). At a dose of 12.5–50μg/mL, the methanol extract inhibited A-549 cells in a concentration-dependent manner. Only minimal suppression of growth of QBC-939 cells was observed at a concentration of 12.5 and 25 μg/mL, but such inhibition of QBC-939 cells’ growth steadied at doses of 50, 100, and 200 μg/mL. The inhibitory effect of the extract against XWLC-05 cells plateaued at increasing dosages. A dose-dependent proliferative response and inhibitory effect were also found in CNE and Beas-2 cells, respectively. [14]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

Acute and subacute toxicity studies on Eleutherococcus senticosus as an adaptogen reported its safety. [2] In both ill and healthy individuals, the consumption of eleuthero dried roots and rhizomes in various preparations appears relatively safe and without side effects. [6] Because of insufficient information on this plant’s safety and efficacy during pregnancy and lactation, the Siberian ginseng or eleuthero should be avoided as precaution. Few adverse reactions have been documented, and interactions with digoxin and hexobarbital have been reported, although the mechanisms of such interaction remain unestablished.


[1] M. T. Murray, "Eleutherococcus senticocus (Siberian Ginseng)," in Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2013, p. 727–730.

[2] A. Panossian and G. Wikman, "Effects of adaptogens on the central nervous system and the molecular mechanisms associated with their stress-protective activity," Pharmaceuticals, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 188–224, 2010.

[3] D. Załuski, M. Olech, A. Galanty, et al., "Phytochemical content and pharma-nutrition study on Eleutherococcus senticosus fruits intractum," Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2016, p. 10, 2016.

[4] M. Schmolz, F. Sacher and B. Aicher, "The synthesis of Rantes, G-CSF, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-12 and IL-13 in human whole-blood cultures is modulated by an extract from Eleutherococcus senticosus L. roots," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 15, no. 3, p. 268–270, 2001.

[5] H. Niu, I. Liu, J. Cheng, C. Lin and F. Hsu, "Hypoglycemic effect of syringin from Eleutherococcus senticosus in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats," Planta Medica, vol. 74, no. 2, p. 109–113, 2008.

[6] T. Bleakney, "Deconstructing an adaptogen: Eleutherococcus senticosus," Holistic Nursing Practice, vol. 22, no. 4, p. 220–224, 2008.

[7] A. Panossian and G. Wikman, "Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity," Current Clinical Pharmacology, vol. 4, no. 3, p. 198–219, 2009.

[8] M. Davydov and A. Krikorian, "Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr. & Maxim.) Maxim. (Araliaceae) as an adaptogen: a closer look," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 72, no. 3, p. 345–393, 2000.

[9] E. Bocharov, V. Kucherianu, O. Bocharova and R. Karpova, "Neuroprotective features of phytoadaptogens," Vestnik Rossiiskoi Akademii Meditsinskikh Nauk, vol. 4, p. 47–50, 2008.

[10] Y. Bai, C. Tohda, S. Zhu, M. Hattori and K. Komatsu, "Active components from Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) for protection of amyloid β(25-35)-induced neuritic atrophy in cultured rat cortical neurons," Journal of Natural Medicines, vol. 65, no. 3–4, p. 417–423, 2011.

[11] J. Ahn, M. Y. Um, H. Lee, et al., "Eleutheroside E, an active component of Eleutherococcus senticosus, ameliorates insulin resistance in type 2 diabetic db/db mice," Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2013, p. 934183, 2013.

[12] N. Zhang, K. Van Crombruggen, G. Holtappels and C. Bachert, "A herbal composition of Scutellaria baicalensis and Eleutherococcus senticosus shows potent anti-inflammatory effects in an ex vivo human mucosal tissue model," Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2012, p. 9, 2012.

[13] C. Yu, S. Kim, et al., "Intraspecific relationship analysis by DNA markers and in vitro cytotoxic and antioxidant activity in Eleutherococcus senticosus," Toxicology in Vitro, vol. 17, no. 2, p. 229–236, 2003.

[14] S. Cichello, Q. Yao, A. Dowell, B. Leury and X. He, "Proliferative and inhibitory activity of Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) extract on cancer cell lines; A-549, XWLC-05, HCT-116, CNE and Beas-2b," Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, vol. 16, no. 11, p. 4781–4786, 2015.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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