The Ginseng History Collections







Ginseng History


Dr Iwan Suwandy,MHA

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Ginseng Too Precious to Sell

Two citizens take a look at a 300-year-old ginseng root that went on display in a mall in Ningbo

A 300-year-old ginseng root, a therapeutic perennial herb, debuted at a mall in Ningbo, a coastal city in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province.

The local news Web site reported on Tuesday that the root weighs 98 grams, and was sold in an auction for 2,800,000 yuan (around 387,000 US dollars) in 1998. Now its estimated market value is as high as 5,000,000 yuan (around 691,000 US dollars).



Panax quinquefolius foliage and fruit


Scientific classification




























Subgenus Panax

Section Panax

Series Notoginseng

Panax notoginseng

Series Panax

Panax bipinnatifidus

Panax ginseng

Panax japonicus

Panax quinquefolius

Panax vietnamensis

Panax wangianus

Panax zingiberensis

Section Pseudoginseng

Panax pseudoginseng

Panax stipuleanatus

Subgenus Trifolius

Panax trifolius


Ginseng (generic term)

Chinese name

Traditional Chinese

人蔘 or 人參

Simplified Chinese





ngin11 sem24


Hanyu Pinyin

rén shēn


ㄖㄣˊ ㄙㄣ


Hokkien POJ

jîn-sim; lîn-sim



zen sen

Cantonese (Yue)



Vietnamese name

Quốc ngữ

Nhân Sâm

Korean name









in sam

Japanese name







chōsen ninjin



Ginseng species

Chinese name

Traditional Chinese


Simplified Chinese





ngin11 sem24 sug5


Hanyu Pinyin

rén sēn shǔ


ㄖㄣˊ ㄙㄣ ㄕㄨˇ


Hokkien POJ




zen sen tsoh

Cantonese (Yue)



Korean name









in sam sok

Japanese name





tochibaninjin zoku



Ginseng field in Wisconsin



Ginseng hand cream from North Korea

Ginseng (pronounced /ˈɪnsɛŋ/[1]) is any one of eleven species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, belonging to the genus Panax of the family Araliaceae.

Ginseng is found only in the Northern Hemisphere, in North America and in eastern Asia (mostly Korea, northern China (Manchuria), and eastern Siberia), typically in cooler climates. Panax vietnamensis, discovered in Vietnam, is the southernmost ginseng known. This article focuses on the Series Panax ginsengs, which are the adaptogenic herbs, principally Panax ginseng and P. quinquefolius. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides.

Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is in the same family, but not genus, as true Ginseng. Like Ginseng, it is considered to be an adaptogenic herb. The active compounds in Siberian Ginseng are eleutherosides, not ginsenosides. Instead of a fleshy root, Siberian Ginseng has a woody root, (see below).


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.[2] The English pronunciation derives from a southern Chinese reading, similar to Cantonese yun sum (Jyutping: jan4sam1) and the Hokkien pronunciation “jîn-sim”.

The botanical/genus name Panax means “all-heal” in Greek, sharing the same origin as “panacea“, and was applied to this genus because Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine as a muscle relaxant.

Besides Panax ginseng, there are many other plants which are also known as or mistaken for the ginseng root. The most commonly known examples are Xiyangshen, also known as American Ginseng 西洋参 (Panax quinquefolius), Japanese ginseng 东洋参 (Panax japonicus), crown prince ginseng 太子參 (Pseudostellaria heterophylla), and Siberian ginseng 刺五加 (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Although all have the name ginseng, each plant has distinctively different functions. However, true ginseng plants belong to the Panax genus.[3]

Traditional uses

Both American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) roots are taken orally as adaptogens, aphrodisiacs, nourishing stimulants,[citation needed] and in the treatment of type II diabetes, as well as for sexual dysfunction in men. The root is most often available in dried form, either whole or sliced. Ginseng leaf, although not as highly prized, is sometimes also used; as with the root, it is most often available in dried form.

This ingredient may also be found in some energy drinks, often the “tea” varieties; in these products, ginseng is usually present in subclinical doses and does not have measurable medicinal effects.[4][citation needed] It can be found in cosmetic preparations as well, but has not been shown to have clinically effective results.

Modern science and ginseng

Ginsenosides are the active compounds that distinguish the Panax species, and the beneficial ginsenosides are contained in the fleshy portions of the plant.

There are many manufacturers of ginseng products who, knowingly or unknowingly, actually use counterfeit products or ginseng leaves instead of roots. Herbal companies who follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regularly test for the quality, potency, and species authentication of herbs using cross-sectional microscopic examination, thin layer chromatography, and high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC). One study found HPLC is especially useful in the differentiation and authentication of Panax ginseng from Panax quinquefolius due to the unambiguous distinction of slightly varying isotypes of ginsenoside compounds.[5]

Ginseng is noted for being an adaptogen, one which can, to a certain extent, be supported with reference to its anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties.[6] Some studies have found no adaptogen responses in animal studies (Survival test on mice swimming).[7]

Many studies have been done with varying results using only ginseng extracts. However, when ginseng is used in combination with other traditional Chinese herbs, the synergistic effects had many more definitive and positive results. For example, Si Jun Zi Tang, a traditional Chinese formula, the main ingredient of which is ginseng, has been shown in multiple studies to have radioprotective effects, preventing a decrease in the hematocrit during radiotherapy.[8][9]

In research, it has been difficult to either verify or quantify the exact medicinal benefits of ginseng using science, as there are contradictory results from different studies, possibly due to the wide variety and quality of ginseng used in the tests. High-quality studies of the effects of ginseng in the United States are rare.[10] However, many high-quality, double blind, randomized controlled trials have been done in Asian countries, such as China, South Korea and Japan.[citation needed]

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), similar to Panax ginseng in that they both contain the active component ginsenoside, is distinguished in traditional Chinese medicine theory by having a cold property while the property of ginseng is warm. Japanese ginseng, though the same species as ginseng, is thought to have cooling properties similar to American ginseng due to the difference in cultivation environment. (cite M5050) American ginseng has been shown in various studies to have a beneficial effect for diabetes in the regulation of blood sugar levels.[11]

A comparative, randomized and double-blind study at the National Autonomous University of Mexico indicated it may be “a promising dietary supplement” when assessed for an increase in quality of life.[12]

A randomized, double-blind study showed that an extract of American ginseng reduced influenza cases in the elderly when compared to placebo.[10]

A recent study at the University of Hong Kong has identified ginseng to have anti-inflammatory effects. The study found of the nine ginsenosides they identified, seven could selectively inhibit expression of the inflammatory gene CXCL-10.[citation needed]

P. ginseng appear to inhibit some characteristics associated with cancer in animal models; nevertheless, this effect is unclear in humans.[13] A randomized, double-blind pilot study noted Ginseng appeared to reduce fatigue in cancer patients.[14]

There are references in literature, including authoritative compendia, that show interactions with ginseng. Herbalist Jonathan Treasure of the British National Institute of Medical Herbalists traces the growth of misinformation on an alleged adverse herb-drug interaction between the monoamine oxidase inhibitor phenelzine and Asian ginseng (P. ginseng C.A. Meyer). This originally was mentioned in a 1985 editorial by Shader and Greenblatt in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. Shader and Greenblatt devoted a couple of lines to the case of a 64-year-old woman who took an undisclosed dose for an undisclosed time of a dietary supplement product called “Natrol High” while concurrently taking phenelzine 60 mg qd. She experienced symptoms of “insomnia, headache, and tremulousness”. Treasure contacted Natrol by e-mail and discovered within ten minutes that there was no P. ginseng in the formula, but instead Eleutherococcus senticosus which was then called by the popular name “Siberian ginseng”, and it was given in a subclinical dosage mixed with a variety of other herbs. The purported interaction effects are well-known side effects of phenelzine alone, which had been given in a high dosage and are not at all suggestive of Eleutherococcus. However, this misinformed article with a misidentified herb has been picked up in literature searches and megastudies, and is now documented by conventional medical authorities, such as Stockley’s, and is repeated in several botanical monographs, e.g. World Health Organization (WHO 1999).[15][16][17]

Ginseng and reproductive activity

A 2002 study by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (published in the annals of the New York Academy of Sciences) found that in laboratory animals, both Asian and American forms of ginseng enhance libido and copulatory performance. These effects of ginseng may not be due to changes in hormone secretion, but to direct effects of ginseng or its ginsenoside components on the central nervous system and gonadal tissues.[18][19] In males, ginsenosides can facilitate penile erection.[20] This is consistent with traditional Chinese medicine and Korean medicine medicinal uses of ginseng.

Ginseng is known to contain phytoestrogens.[21][22][23] In some studies, ginseng has been demonstrated to have a stimulating effect on the pituitary gland to increase the secretion of gonadotropins. Another study found that in young mice, it speeds up the development of reproductive organs, while in adult male mice, it stimulates the production of sperm, and lengthens the estrus period in female mice.[3]

Side effects

According to a Sports Nutrition FAQ published by UMass Amherst, one of P. ginseng’s most common side effects is the inability to sleep.[24] However, other sources state ginseng causes no sleep difficulties.[25] Other side effects can include nausea, diarrhea, headaches, nose bleeds,[26] high blood pressure, low blood pressure, and breast pain.[27] Ginseng may also lead to induction of mania in depressed patients who mix it with antidepressants.[28]

Ginseng has been shown to have adverse drug reactions with phenelzine and warfarin, but has been shown to decrease blood alcohol levels.[29]


The common adaptogen ginsengs (P. ginseng and P. quinquefolia) are generally considered to be relatively safe even in large amounts. One of the most common and characteristic symptoms of acute overdose of Panax ginseng is bleeding. Symptoms of mild overdose with Panax ginseng may include dry mouth and lips, excitation, fidgeting, irritability, tremor, palpitations, blurred vision, headache, insomnia, increased body temperature, increased blood pressure, edema, decreased appetite, increased sexual desire, dizziness, itching, eczema, early morning diarrhea, bleeding, and fatigue.[3]

Symptoms of gross overdose with Panax ginseng may include nausea, vomiting, irritability, restlessness, urinary and bowel incontinence, fever, increased blood pressure, increased respiration, decreased sensitivity and reaction to light, decreased heart rate, cyanotic (blue) facial complexion, red facial complexion, seizures, convulsions, and delirium.[3]

Patients experiencing any of the above symptoms are advised to discontinue the herbs and seek any necessary symptomatic treatment.[3]

Common classification



Ginseng roots in a market in Seoul, 2003

P. quinquefolius American ginseng (root)

According to traditional Chinese medicine, American ginseng promotes yin energy, cleans excess yang and calms the body. The reason it has been claimed that American ginseng promotes yin (shadow, cold, negative, female) while Asian ginseng promotes yang (sunshine, hot, positive, male) is because, according to traditional Chinese medicine, things living in cold places or northern side of mountains or southern side of rivers are strong in yang and vice versa, so that the two are balanced.[citation needed] Chinese/Korean ginseng grows in Manchuria and Korea, the coldest area known to many Koreans in ancient times. Thus, ginseng from there is supposed to be very yang.

Originally, American ginseng was imported into China via subtropical Guangzhou, the seaport next to Hong Kong, so Chinese doctors believed American ginseng must be good for yin, because it came from a hot area. They did not know, however, that American ginseng can only grow in temperate regions. Nonetheless, the root is legitimately classified as more yin because it generates fluids.[30]

The two main components of ginseng are claimed to be in different proportions in the Asian and American varieties, and are speculated to be the cause of the excitatory versus tonic natures.[31] The ginseng is traditionally hewn and a few slices are simmered in hot water to make a decoction.

Most North American ginseng is produced in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia and the American state of Wisconsin, according to Agri-food Canada. P. quinquefolius is now also grown in northern China.

The aromatic root resembles a small parsnip that forks as it matures. The plant grows 6 to 18 inches tall, usually bearing three leaves, each with three to five leaflets two to five inches long.

Panax ginseng Asian ginseng (root)



Ginseng and reishi mushrooms in bottles being sold in Seoul, Korea.

Panax ginseng is available in four forms:

  1. 1.     The form called fresh ginseng is the raw product.
  2. 2.     The form called white ginseng (WG) is fresh ginseng which has been dried. It is grown for four to six years, and then peeled and dried to reduce the water content to 12% or less. White ginseng is air dried in the sun and may contain less of the therapeutic constituents. It is thought by some that enzymes contained in the root break down these constituents in the process of drying. Drying in the sun bleaches the root to a yellowish-white color.
  3. 3.     The form called red ginseng (RG) is harvested after six years, is not peeled and is steam-cured at standard boiling temperatures of 100 °C (212 °F), thereby giving it a glossy reddish-brown color. Steaming the root is thought to change its biochemical composition and also to prevent the breakdown of the active ingredients. The roots are then dried. RG is more common as herbal medicine than WG, and there is increasing research on the pharmacological activities of RG specific ginsenoside.
  4. 4.     The form called sun ginseng (SG) is created from a heat processing method which increases ginsenoside components such as ginsenoside-[Rg.sub.3], -[Rk.sub.1] and -[Rg.sub.5] by steaming white ginseng at a higher temperature than red ginseng. The herb is steamed for three hours at 120 °C (248 °F). Research has shown that SG has increased nitric oxide, superoxide, hydroxyl radical and peroxynitrite scavenging activities compared with conventionally processed RG or WG. The increased steaming temperature produces an optimal amount of biological activity due to its ability to amplify specific ginsenosides. Japanese researchers set out to investigate the antioxidant effect of SG on oxidative stress.

Red ginseng



Red ginseng

Red ginseng (Hangul: 홍삼; Hanja: 紅蔘; RR: hong-sam, simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: hóng sēn), is Panax ginseng that has been heated, either through steaming or sun-drying. It is frequently marinated in an herbal brew which results in the root becoming extremely brittle. This version of ginseng is traditionally associated with stimulating sexual function and increasing energy. Red ginseng is always produced from cultivated roots, generally from Korea.

In 2002, a preliminary double-blind, crossover study of Korean red ginseng’s effects on impotence reported that it can be an effective alternative for treating male erectile dysfunction, during which 60% of study participants noted an improvement in ability to produce an erection.[32]

Another study reported red ginseng reduced the relapse of gastric cancer versus control.[33]

A study of ginseng’s effects on rats found that while both white ginseng and red ginseng appear to reduce the incidence of cancer, the effects appear to be greater with red ginseng.[34]

A study by Sung H, Jung YS, Cho YK. showed potentially beneficial effects of a combination of Korean red ginseng and highly active antiretroviral therapy in HIV-1-infected patients.[35]

Falcarinol, a seventeen-carbon diyne fatty alcohol was isolated from carrot and red ginseng, and was thought to have potent anticancer properties on primary mammary epithelial (breast cancer) cells.[36] Other acetylenic fatty alcohols in ginseng (panaxacol, panaxydol and panaxytriol) have antibiotic properties.[37]

Wild ginseng



Harvested ginseng in Germany.

Wild ginseng is that which grows naturally and is harvested from wherever it is found to be growing. Wild ginseng is relatively rare, and even increasingly endangered, due in large part to high demand for the product in recent years, which has led to the wild plants being sought out and harvested faster than new ones can grow (it requires years for a root to reach maturity). Wild ginseng can be either Asian or American, and can be processed to be red ginseng.

There are woods-grown American ginseng programs in Maine, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky,[38][39] and United Plant Savers has been encouraging the woods planting of ginseng both to restore natural habitats and to remove pressure from any remaining wild ginseng, and they offer both advice and sources of rootlets. Woods-grown plants have a value comparable to wild-grown ginseng of similar age.

Ginseng alternatives

These mostly “adaptogenic” plants are sometimes referred to as ginsengs, but they are either from a different family or genus. Only jiaogulan actually contains compounds closely related to ginsenosides, although ginsenosides alone do not determine the effectiveness of ginseng. Since each of these plants has different uses, one should research their properties before using.[40]

Other plants which are referred to as ginsengs may not be adaptogens (although notoginseng is in the genus Panax):

History of Ginseng

One of the first reliable mention of the medicinal use of ginseng is contained in the ancient work of Chinese Emperor Shen-Noon “Shen-Ben-Cao (The Healing book of Shen – Noon”, IV century BC). Later, in 502 AD , a supplement to the Shen-Noon works was writen by Tao Heung – Chin, were described information about ginseng, and where also other 730 plants were described.
Since then, the majority of books on Chinese medicine will certainly contain a section devoted to ginseng, over time, they included the conditions of growing this medicinal root.
One of the most important sources of knowledge on ginseng has been 52-volume work of the Chinese pharmacologist and physician Li Shi-Chen “Ben-Cao Kang-mu”, which was published in 1592

The author has spent 27 years to compilate a description of almost 2 thousand not only plants but also animal and mineral drugs and different compositions of them

Information on ginseng was strictly guarded. Marco Polo’s book about his journey through the East (1274) reported about some “elixir of life.” In 1610 Dutch merchants first brought home the mysterious plant from Japan. So the information about the plant with the exceptional healing properties that exist on the East gradually came to Europe.

Only in 1711 the first serious work was written by a French Jesuit monk Jartie, which more closely acquainted Europeans with ginseng. Being in China, Jartie gathered a lot of information about ginseng.

   Jartie wrote: “.. they say that this is an excellent remedy for all kinds of weakness caused by excessive overwork of the body or spirit, that it cures the weakness of the lungs and pleurisy, and that it strengthens the chest and it’s a cure for apnea, that it strengthens the stomach and promotes appetite and that it increases vitality, improves lymph blood which is good for dizziness and poor vision, and that it prolongs life in old age.

In Russia, first mention about ginseng appeared in the compositions of translator of the embassy order N. Spafary. Spafary was in charge of the embassy sent by the king Aleksei Mikhailovich in February 1675 to China. A unique document, which was released in 1678, entitled “Description of first half of the universe called Asia, and also the Chinese state, with all its cities and provinces. “
It says: “And the root is boiled and given to those which are weak from a long illness, and the great support cast.” Spafary not only described the ginseng and methods of its usage in China, but also brought some roots to Russia.

In 1690 in Nuremberg, a court physician of the Russian monarch Lawrence Blumentroest wrote a letter, where he describes the preparation of the ginseng drugs and indications for its use. The doctors, members of the Russian mission in Beijing, as a sign of special grace several times received from the Chinese emperor about a half a pound of ginseng.
Shortly after the Jartie publication Joseph Francois Lyafito French missionary in Quebec (Canada), found five-leafed Ginseng near Montreal (1716), basing on descriptions given by his countrymen.

It turned out that North American Indians were well acquainted with this plant and used it for medicinal purposes long before European colonists appeared.

Canadian Indians used five-leafed ginseng as blood-purifuing treatment. He used by the Iroquois, known for its curative properties among Indian tribes Fox, Anandas, Oneyda, Potawatomi.

Cherokee Indians tribe called American ginseng atali gunli – “one that climb the mountains,” Iroquois called it the “guarantor-ogen, and Sioux have secret procedures for of the root preservation, as a result of which it became whitish and translucent.
  In June 1902 James Regsdeyl the American consul in Tianjin reported home: “There are four main types of ginseng, known for the trade – a local from Jilin Province and nearby provinces, Korean, American and Japanese.
Miraculous healing properties of ginseng are attributed to Jilin ginseng, and he has a very high cost: for the best roots traded for the silver by weight, and the silver was given to 200-600 times more than the weight of the root.

Of course, only rich people can benefit from this expensive drug, but the Chinese belief in the virtue of this plant is so strong, that even the poor doing terrible sacrifices to get it in cases of extreme necessity.
Due to huge demand and limited stocks of wild roots farmers near Jilin have thriving business, growing ginseng, although its price – only a small part of what one would pay for the wild ginseng.
Korean Ginseng – next by his cost. The consumption of its huge, but there is almost no statistics, because most of it being smuggled.
American ginseng every year becomes more and more famous and popular, especially in the southern provinces. Almost everyone consume it in a spring as a tonic. Cheapest Ginseng – Japanese. It is used primarily by those who can not buy the other types. “
At the end of the XIX century it was learned how to grow Ginseng at the plantation in Korea, and later in China and Japan. Ginseng is quite fragile and demanding. It requires a carefully preparation of the soil and very careful care. It is often become envenomed by fungi, and he dies. 
To harvest the Ginseng roots on the plantations is possible when the plant has reached the age of 6-7 years. The roots are carefully exhumed and thoroughly cleaned with the brush. Then dried in the dryer at a temperature of 40-60 ° C. Humidity of the dried roots should not exceed 10%.
The first Europen colonists in America was adding Ginseng to the tea in order to increase appetite and improve digestion, especially for the elderly and the weak children’s. Today in the U.S. and Canada five-leafed ginseng is becoming increasingly popular treatment and prevention tool. In 1992, American Society of Ginseng researchers published a book called “American ginseng in America,” which lists numerous examples of the use of five-leafed ginseng for medicinal purposes. Thus, the result of his admission medications (root powder, fresh root, etc.) have been lowering cholesterol levels, the disappearance of addiction to alcohol, he has assisted women in menopause, increased levels of estrogen (female sex hormone).
Oriental Medicine attributes the ginseng with the ability to prolong life,therefore in China, Korea, Japan and Indochina taking ginseng medicines encouraged not only for sick people but also healthy people who have reached 40 years.
For more information, see “Internet about Ginseng

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