Ginseng is the name of several species of plants in the genus Panax. Panax means “all heal”. Panax ginseng is native to China and Korea, and has been used for two thousand years. It grows in cooler climates and is harvested when it is 3 to 6 years old. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) grows in the Appalachian mountains of the U.S. and is native to parts of the country east of the Mississippi River and in eastern Canada. American ginseng becomes mature in 7 or 8 years.
Ginseng contains ginsenosides (triterpene saponins) which react with cell membrane proteins causing a wide variety of effects. Many variables determine the amounts of ginsenosides produced, including the age of the plant. Air drying produces white ginseng, and steaming results in red ginseng. Steaming is thought to prevent breakdown of the active ingredients.
Higher levels of ginsenosides are found in wild-grown ginseng; however it is rare and endangered. Wild ginseng is small and light weight, and the root resembles the body of a man, while cultivated ginseng is shaped like a carrot. Wood-grown American ginseng is planted and grown in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. Wood-grown ginseng has similar value to wild ginseng. Furthermore, wild simulated ginseng production is used to reestablish wild ginseng in the woods where young seedlings grow to replace harvested plants.
Other species of ginseng include Panax notoginseng from China, Panax japonicas from Japan, Panax vietnamensis from Vietnam, and Panax pseudoginseng from Nepal and the eastern Himalaya mountains. Eleutherococcus senticosus is Siberian ginseng (Eleuthero) and contains eleutherosides instead of ginsenosides. In fact, Eleuthero is not a true ginseng.
Ginseng has been cultivated in the shade in China to the point that supply exceeds demand, and prices have dropped. Current prices are close to the cost of production, so the market is shrinking. Most wild ginseng is sold to Asia. Ginseng was the second highest selling herbal supplement in the U.S. in 2000. Large amounts of American ginseng are grown in the shade in China.
Chemicals found in ginsengs include saponins (the main ingredient of ginsengs), polysaccharides, polyynes, flavonoids, and volatile oils.
CONCLUSION: Ginseng is an important product in the herbal world market. Progress has been made on the growth of ginseng, the identification of true ginsengs, and the chemicals contained.
To read the author’s abstract of the article, click on the title of the article. Then, to read the full article, click on the full text icon.