Eleutherococcus senticosus, or eleuthero root, is a woodland plant in the Araliaceae family. It is native to southeastern Russia, northern China, Korea, and Japan, but now grows in British Columbia, Canada, Washington state, Oregon, and northern California. Since at least 190 A.D., Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has used the rhizome and the roots of this plant to treat a variety of diseases. Research to determine which conditions eleuthero root can successfully address shows that it is possibly effective for viral infections; many of the other curative claims made about this plant have insufficient evidence to substantiate them, however.
Eleuthero root is also known as Siberian ginseng, touch-me-not, Ussurian thorny pepperbrush, Wu Jia Pi, Ci Wu, Jia, and Devil's bush. This plant should not be confused with American or Panax ginseng, which is a plant with a different chemical makeup. The U.S. banned the use of the name Siberian ginseng when with the passage of the Ginseng Labeling Act of 2002. This law was an attempt to reduce confusion between panax ginseng and eleuthero root.
In TCM, eleuthero root is often used as an adaptogen, or tonic, for the entire body. It is available in capsule, tea, or tincture form. This herb has been used in TCM to treat atherosclerosis, kidney disease, and viral infections. Research into the effectiveness of eleuthero root has shown mixed results, however. The common cold appears to have less severe symptoms and a shorter duration if the plant is taken within 72 hours of symptom onset. It was found to work best when combined with andrographis, another herb.
A study about the effectiveness of this herb on the herpes simplex 2 virus indicated that when the patient was treated with a standardized eleuthero root extract containing 0.3% eleutherosides, the virus had a shorter duration and created less severe symptoms. Preliminary research has shown that this herb may be helpful in long-term treatment of HIV. Results indicate that T4 lymphocytes increase when healthy people take eleuthero root. More human trials need to be done to confirm how useful it will be in HIV treatment. Insufficient research has been carried out to determine if or how well eleuthero root treatment might help heart disease, fatigue, flu, kidney disease, or other conditions.
There are some side effects, such as diarrhea, insomnia or pounding heartbeat, associated with this herb. It may also act like estrogen and worsen conditions that are hormone sensitive, such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or breast cancer. Eleuthero may also make mania or schizophrenia more severe. There are also reports that this plant interacts with several different medications, including digoxin, lithium, haloperidol, and cyclobenzaprine. Those who suffer from any of these conditions or who take medications may want to consult with a professional healthcare provider prior to using eleuthero.