iPhoneOgraphy – 26 Feb 2016 (Day 57/366)
The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn (simplified: 人参; traditional: 人参). Rénmeans “Person” and shēn means “plant root”; this refers to the root’s characteristic forked shape, which resembles the legs of a person. 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” was applied to this genus because Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine as a muscle relaxant.
Besides P. ginseng, many other plants 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 (P. quinquefolius), Japanese ginseng 東洋参 (P. 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 only to the Panax genus.
Ginseng is any one of the 11 species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, belonging to the genus Panax of the family Araliaceae.
Ginseng is found in North America and in eastern Asia (mostly northeast China, Korea, Bhutan, eastern Siberia), typically in cooler climates. Panax vietnamensis, discovered in Vietnam, is the southernmost ginseng known. This article focuses on the species of the series Panax, which are the species claimed to be adaptogens, principally Panax ginseng and P.quinquefolius. Ginseng is characterized by the presence of ginsenosides and gintonin.
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.
Over centuries, ginseng has been considered in China as an important component of Chinese traditional medicine, but there is no scientific confirmation of it having any benefit to human health.
Control over ginseng fields in China and Korea became an issue in the 16th century. By the 1900s, due to the demand for ginseng having outstripped the available wild supply, Korea began the commercial cultivation of ginseng which continues to this day. In 2010, nearly all of the world’s 80,000 tons of ginseng in international commerce was produced in four countries: China, South Korea, Canada, and the United States. Commercial ginseng is sold in over 35 countries with sales exceeded $2.1 billion, of which half came from South Korea. China has historically been the largest consumer for ginseng.