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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ginseng is the root of plants in the genus Panax, such as Korean ginseng (P. ginseng), South China ginseng (P. notoginseng), and American ginseng (P. quinquefolius), typically characterized by the presence of ginsenosides and gintonin.
Ginseng has been used in traditional medicine over centuries.
The English word “ginseng” comes from the Hokkien Chinese jîn-sim (人蔘). The first character 人 means “person” and the second character 蔘 means “plant root”; this refers to the root’s characteristic forked shape, which resembles the legs of a person.
The botanical genus name Panax, meaning “all-healing” in Greek, shares the same origin as “panacea” and was applied to this genus because Carl Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine as a muscle relaxant.
One of the first written texts covering the use of ginseng as a medicinal herb was the Shen-Nung Pharmacopoeia, written in China in 196 AD. In his Compendium of Materia Medica herbal of 1596, Li Shizhen described ginseng as a “superior tonic”. However, the herb was not used as a “cure-all” medicine, but more specifically as a tonic for patients with chronic illnesses and those who were convalescing.
Control over ginseng fields in China and Korea became an issue in the 16th century.
Ginseng plants belong only to the genus Panax. Cultivated species include Korean ginseng (P. ginseng), South China ginseng (P. notoginseng), and American ginseng (P. quinquefolius).
Ginseng is found in cooler climates—Korean ginseng (P. ginseng) native to Korean Peninsula, Northeast China, and Russian Far East, and American ginseng (P. quinquefolius) native to Canada and the United States—although some species grow in warm regions—South China ginseng (P. notoginseng) native to Southwest China and Vietnam. Vietnamese ginseng (P. vietnamensis) is the southernmost ginseng known.
Wild and cultivated ginseng
Wild ginseng (Hangul: 산삼; Hanja: 山蔘; RR: sansam; lit. mountain ginseng) grows naturally in mountains and is hand-picked by wild ginseng gatherers known as simmani (심마니).
Wild ginseng grows naturally and is harvested from wherever it is found. It is relatively rare and even increasingly endangered due to high demand for the product in recent years, leading to the harvest of wild plants faster than the growth which can take years to reach maturity.
Wild ginseng can be processed to be red or white ginseng.
Cultivated ginseng (Hangul: 인삼; Hanja: 人蔘; RR: insam; lit. human ginseng) is less expensive compared to rarely available wild ginseng.