For many centuries ginseng has been highly valued and revered as a traditional healing aid by the Chinese.
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
Panax derives from a Greek word meaning panacea or cure-all and is widely used today to strengthen the immune system, promote energy, strength, stamina and vigour. Recent overseas research has demonstrated the benefits of ginseng in the treatment of diabetes and cancer.
The active components in ginseng are called ginsenosides which are thought to be responsible for ginseng’s medicinal value. Ginseng is considered an adaptogen or a substance that helps the body adapt to stress with few side effects. Alcohol and heat can extract the ginsenosides from the fresh root. Otherwise the root can be dried to preserve the ginsenosides.
Ginseng is an herbaceous perennial that prefers well drained, humus rich soils. In the southern hemisphere south or east facing slopes and permanent shade are required.
Ginseng has a straight stem of approximately 35cm tall, with up to five serrated leaflets. In late spring yellow or white umbrella like flowers form which later turn into green berries that turn red by late summer. Each Autumn the leaves die back, with the root remaining dormant until the following spring.
Most of the world’s ginseng comes from cultivated gardens but the preferred root and the one that commands the highest price is the revered wild root (which is extremely rare) followed by the simulated root which in most cases cannot be distinguished from the wild one.
This 124 – year-old ginseng fetched $81,000 at auction in 2001.