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Perhaps no other herb of the Chinese pharmacopoeia has received as much attention and fame as the one with the man shaped root known as "Ginseng" (in Chinese, "ren shen"). Its invigorating and rejuvenating properties have been attested to in the West as well as the East. Many more people have, in the last few years, begun including this herb in their nutritional regimen. Exactly what are the facts on this remarkable substance, is it panacea or placebo? Let's look a little closer.
Panax qinsenq & Panax quinquefolium are two species of the ginseng plant. The herb grows to a height of about 60 centimeters (around two feet) and belongs to the Araliaceae family. Gin (ren in Chinese) refers to man/human and the seng (shen) part refers to "containing much nourishment". The dried root, Radix ginseng is used medicinally for several conditions. The most common condition for which ginseng is prescribed is lack of vital energy (qi/ch'i).
The plant grows very slowly and requires a cool shady climate. It grows best in China, Korea, and Japan. Ginseng also grows wild in some parts of North America. Indeed, it has been said that the best type is the wild type with roots which are several years old.
At this point, it is appropriate to talk about the difference(s) among the "types" of ginseng.
The Asian form is the Panax qinsenq, the American variety is the quinquefolium type. Both have many similar properties, but the Chinese version is more useful for a winter tonic because of its warming nature and the American variety is useful for a summer tonic because it has a more yin or cooling nature
There is an entirely different plant called Eleutherococcus senticosus which, although a botanical cousin of ginseng is often sold as "Siberian Ginseng". It has some similar properties to ginseng. Korean ginseng is considered by many folks to be the "best". The most potent ginseng is considered by some to be that which is grown in South Korea, especially in the Kunsan and Kaesong provinces.
Manufactured ginseng often varies greatly in activity and quality and some of this may be attributed to poor quality control. In fact, some ginseng preparations have no ginseng activity at all!
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