WHAT IS GINSENG?
Ginseng has been known for thousands of years as a cure-all miracle herb, and ginseng’s multiple health benefits as naturally-occuring adaptogen continue to be researched and validated both through modern, scientific testing and verified, personal testimonies from its innumerable devotees. Today, herbalists and physicians in the western world use ginseng to treat everything from fatigue to hypertension. Its most widely accepted and well-documented use is tied to its adaptogenic effects–its ability to enhance the body’s overall resistance to physical stress. This may include everything from increasing one’s stamina to withstanding cold temperatures.
Ginseng is any one of 11 species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, belonging to the genus Panax of the family Araliaceae. It is found only in the Northern Hemisphere, in North America and in eastern Asia (mostly Korea, northeastern China, Bhutan, and eastern Siberia), typically in cooler climates. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides.
The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn (simplified: 人参; traditional: 人蔘). Rén means “man” and shēn means a kind of herb; this refers to the root’s characteristic forked shape, which resembles the legs of a man. The botanical/genus name Panax means “all-heal” in Greek, sharing the same origin as “panacea”.
It is uncertain when the first pre-historic human experimented with Chinese ginseng ( Panax panax ) , but the first written Chinese Herbal (encyclopedia of medicinal plants) appeared in the first century AD. The Shen-nung pen-ts’ao-ching stated that ginseng or “ schinseng ” could boost longevity and increase one’s endurance. The text stated that it was good for “enlightening the mind, and increasing the wisdom. Continuous use leads one to longevity.” Chinese herbalists also believed that ginseng functioned as an aphrodisiac. No doubt, this attribute led to an even higher demand for the product.
The expression ‘schinseng’ meant ‘essence of the earth in the form of man.’ This poetic title relates to the human-like form of the root of the genus, Panax. Ancient cultures on all continents independently evolved the belief that the shapes of plants or plant parts were a clue to their curative powers. The Panax root is shaped like the human form, thus its use as a cure-all or panacea for the whole body. In the West this philosophy was formally called the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’.
Publication in Chinese herbal news popularized the use of the plant and this knowledge spread rapidly throughout northern China. Eventually, both powerful lords and the centralized government soon controlled regions of ginseng habitat. The plant became as precious as gold, and massive armies fought for control of ginseng territories. By the sixth century wild Chinese ginseng had become scarce.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) was used by native Americans for similar purposes, but was not accorded any special status. In 1714, a Canadian Jesuit named Father Lafitau received a dried plant of Chinese ginseng from a colleague, Father Jartoux. Working in China, Father Jartoux asked his Canadian counterpart to see if it grew in the New World. Father Lafitau then went on to discover American ginseng and ship several pounds of the treasured herb to China, where the Jesuits were compensated $5 per pound for the plant.
Besides Panax ginseng, many other plants are also known as or mistaken for the real thing. The most commonly known examples are American ginseng, Japanese ginseng, crown prince ginseng and Siberian ginseng. Although all have the name ginseng, each plant has distinctively different functions and true ginseng plants belong only to the Panax genus. Mr. Pink Ginseng Drink uses only pure, highest quality Panax ginseng.
The part of the ginseng plant most commonly used is the root, usually in dried form whether in whole or sliced. While still used, the ginseng leaf is not as highly treasured as the root. The roots may be taken orally for many claimed benefits, such as weight control (appetite suppressant), for aphrodisia, physical/mental stimulants, type II diabetes, cancer relief, menstrual problems and for sexual dysfunction in men.