Zhiding, Yu. 1647-aft 1709. Chinese Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, China.
Ginseng, or panax ginseng specifically, was not something featured within the main text however that does not mean that it is an unimportant plant. Ginseng is extremely important to Chinese culture, especially within the medicinal field. There are two types of ginseng. There is an Asian ginseng as well as an American ginseng and while similar, the Chinese thought that the American ginseng was a more mild type. The earliest known reference to Asian Ginseng was in the late Han Dynasty. This reference shows that ginseng has been in use since a very long time ago and truly is no modern fad.
Where are they produced?
The Asian ginseng is a smooth perennial herb that can grow up to 24 inches tall. It is found growing in China on the declivities of mountains, in forests, on the banks of torrents, or on the roots of trees. It dislikes sun and mostly grows in places with ample shade. It prefers growing in places with a cooler climate.
Ginseng was a very important ingredient in ancient Chinese medicinal practices due to its medical properties. The Asian ginseng is used alone or in prescriptions for weakness, lack of vital energy, anemia, a lack of appetite, shortness of breath, spontaneous sweat, nervous agitation, forgetfulness, thirst, and impotence. The root, as well as its leaves, are used in many different ways to combat sickness. The leaves of the plant can be made into a tonic tea. The leaves have also been used for fevers in Chinese folk tradition. The plant is edible and its flavor is considered to be sweet, bitter, and warm.
Ginseng is usually pictured in artworks with an emphasis on the root rather than the leafy part of the plant. This may be due to the many uses of the root of the plant itself. The plant is not exactly considered beautiful to look at and therefore does not have a wide array of pieces where it is front and center nor does it have the alluring appeal to bring in tourists for its scenery.
Ginseng requires a lot of effort to cultivate and has a lot of issues with the environment destroying the plant before it is fully grown. So much so to the point that the plant is actually listed as an endangered species. They only grow in a specific habitat with very rich moist soil and deep shade, so creating the right location for it to grow can be very difficult. The seeds also take quite a long time to grow. The seeds may take 6 to 24 months to germinate. For farmers, this means waiting a very long time before having a sellable product, making it difficult for them to meet supply and demand. The plants are not very resistant to nature inhibiting its growth either. The plants are often eaten by rodents and insects and are also affected by root rot and leaf and root blights. Farmers have to create fields of ginseng with artificial shade in order to grow their product. Creating these fields change the environment around it. The land had been cleared to create the fields themselves and not removing trees is a big challenge for farmers. Pesticides that are used to deter animals, as well as other chemicals that are utilized to prevent the roots from diseases, can alter the soil and also be washed into water supplies. Overall, cultivating ginseng is both challenging on the farmer as well as the environment.
If cultivating ginseng is so difficult, why would the people of China do it?
Is growing the plant worth it the repercussions?
Why do you suppose even after modern medicine was introduced to China, the plant is still often used medicinally?
- Foster, Steven, and Yue Chongxi. Herbal emissaries: bringing Chinese herbs to the West: a guide to gardening, herbal wisdom, and well-being. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 1992.
- “Ginseng.” WWF.
- Hayward, Douglas G., and Jon W. Wong. “Organohalogen and Organophosphorous Pesticide Method for Ginseng Root A Comparison of Gas Chromatography-Single Quadrupole Mass Spectrometry with High Resolution Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry.” Analytical chemistry 81, no. 14 (2009): 5716-5723.