WHATS BEHIND OUR INCREASING
INTEREST IN GINSENG?
ANNA MAY KINNEY
During the last few years, we have witnessed the notoriety of ginseng steadily increasing
in both North America and Europe. Many farmers, who have failed to make money growing
conventional crops, have ventured into the profitable ginseng market.
The Chinese have been growing and using ginseng (the man root) for thousands of years and
now ginseng has become one of the most sought after herbs on the market.
Whether you just want to grow a few plants for personal use, or go into it commercially,
the future for growing ginseng looks promising.
This fleshy rooted herb is native to well drained, cool, shaded hardwood forests.
Disliking full sunlight, home gardeners are clearing small sections in their maple groves
and cultivating ginseng for personal use. Some commercial growers, who are interested in a
higher quality organic product, are also selecting wooded areas to grow their crops.
Slow growing and unlike other perennials; it does not grow new tops every year and can lie
dormant for years.
Grown in most any type of soil, Fall is the time to plant both seeds and roots and they
will sprout the following spring. Ginseng will not grow in an open field like corn or
soybeans. It needs about 80% shade; fallen leaves make the perfect covering.
When planted under lath sheds or other artificial shade, the roots are heavier in weight,
they grow faster, and are shaped differently. The Chinese do not value the artificial
shade grown roots as highly as the natural grown wild ginseng.
Another method being used more extensively the last few years is to loosen up the woods
dirt with a rake or similar tool and broadcasting the seed lightly, then rake it in a
little and cover it with mulch. This method is much less time consuming than planting in
As long as you plant it in the shade, it can be grown in your backyard, in the woods or
even in pots. Plant the seeds and cover them with humus. Then add about 1 inches of rotted
leaves or mulch. If you plant seeds in small plastic trays or peat pots, you can
transplant them when they become a couple of inches high. When planting in pots, use pots
that are at least 8 inches deep.
A one-year-old plant has 3 leaflets, looking like a strawberry plant. The 2nd year, there
are usually 5 leaflets, and the following years it begins to branch out with two, three,
and four prongs, each with three to five leaflets. In the wild ginseng grows to about 1
foot tall, blooming in the summer, and takes about 6 to 8 years to grow to the point where
its roots are large enough to harvest.
The philosophy behind oriental medicine is based on three separate but intertwined
principles; 1. Prevention - The Chinese believe that it is best to keep the body in peak
physical condition rather than trying to cure the body after it is already sick, 2. Yin
and Yang, 3. Harmony of Elements.
Westerners often refer to ginseng as a Chinese "cure-all", but it is more
accurate to describe it as something that promotes "all-health". The Chinese
medical approach is not to cure diseases, but to prevent them.
Western medicine uses drugs as the primary control of disease, and powerful drugs are
regarded higher than mild drugs.
Oriental medicine takes the opposite approach, regarding the mildest herbs as the first
order, and more powerful herbs are taken only if the others fail.
The Chinese doctor is traditionally paid when the patient is healthy, and not paid when
the patient is sick, because they feel that the doctor had obviously failed to keep his
patient in good health.
You can easily see why Chinese doctors had a growing concern with keeping their patients
healthy. Maybe we would all be healthier if our doctors made more money when we are well,
rather than when we are sick. Only lately have we heard our politicians and medical
advisors talking about preventative medicine.
Another concept of Oriental medicine is Yin and Yang. Yin is considered cool, soothing,
reflective and female while Yang is considered hot, energetic, aggressive and male. The
oriental philosophy is to balance these two in all aspects of life.
For instance; if your full time employment requires physical effort, then you should have
a hobby that makes you think, providing mental stimulation. If your job requires constant
thinking such as a mathematician or physicist then your hobby should be something that
requires physical effort to bring your life into balance.
The philosophy behind Yin and Yang is not as intimidating as it sounds, and looking at it
simply you can sum it up by saying it is the art of bringing all aspects of your life into
harmony and balance.
Ginseng plays an important role in another key principle of Chinese medicine, harmonizing
the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
To maintain good health there must be a proper relationship between the elements in the
body and those of the external world. In The Ginseng Book, 1996, by Stephen Fulder,
Ginseng is described as benefiting and harmonizing all the elements.
Here is just a little bit of what you will find in Ginseng. Niacin Cadmium, Calcium,
Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium, Zinc. Proteins; Peptide glycans (panaxans),
Vitamins; niacin Amino Acids; arginine, glutamic acid, glycine, serine, lysine, adenosine
and pyro-glutamic acid.
In modern times, China, Korea and Russia have conducted a great deal of scientific
research, documenting the medicinal claims for ginseng. Researchers have found that
ginseng has the ability to relieve signs of stress and help people cope with
tension-creating situations. It was noted that ginseng positively affected the adrenal
cortex relieving its need to produce stress-combating hormones in large amounts.
Japanese scientist Dr. M. Kimura reported positive results from treating diabetic patients
Other research showed that ginseng extracts have been found to help fight fatigue,
slightly stimulate the central-nervous system. In high doses it increased locomotor
activity, while low doses improved memory and learning. There is adrenal stimulation;
short-term doses of large amounts of ginseng stimulate thyroid function, while long-term
use depresses it.
Ginseng is sold over the counter in many different forms, but even though it is easy to
obtain, no one should take this or any herb without first contacting his or her doctor to
see if there is any underlying condition that could cause side effects.