Ginseng History goes back 5,000 years in China. Asian Ginseng is a native of Eastern China known as (Panax Ginseng) and American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius) is a native of North America. For more information about ginseng click on the Ginseng History link.
Initial ginseng leaf and ginseng berry research has been completed and confirms that ginsenoside levels are high in both the leaf and berry. Further research is now needed to identify the most efficient extraction method and best and highest use for the ginsenoside product.
Korean & American Ginseng
Korean ginseng is a native of Eastern China (Panax ginseng), and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a native of North America. The root of both species is highly prized for its medicinal properties. Traditionally, the crop was harvested from the wild. Its high value has led to excessive exploitation resulting in the virtual extinction of the plant in its native habitat both in Asia and North America. As a result, ginseng is now grown as a horticultural crop. Ginseng’s high price on the world markets, despite increased production, has created worldwide interest in this crop.
Medicinal use of ginseng in China can be traced back 4000 years. North American Indians were also using American ginseng for medicinal purposes well before it was commercially developed in the 18th century. Both species have distinct medicinal uses in Chinese medicine. The name Panax means cure all or all healing. The active ingredients in ginseng that give the plant its medicinal properties are the saponins, commonly called ginsenosides or panaxosides. Many ginsenosides have been isolated and identified. Most are found in the root, however, quantities vary considerably from plant to plant. The major use of ginseng is in Asia. While ginseng has not yet been recognised by Western pharmacology it is being used widely in herbal, health food and cosmetic applications.
Ginseng is an herbaceous perennial plant. The native habitat of the two ginseng species is the open, broad-leaved woodlands in hilly areas between latitudes 36° and 48° N. Korean ginseng has a natural range from northern China to Siberia including the Korean Peninsula while American ginseng occurs in an area around the great lakes from Quebec and Manitoba south to northern Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas. Most commercial production occurs in areas that experience a continental-type climate with cold winters and dry summers. This climate ensures that the plant experiences sufficient winter chilling to allow uniform emergence in the spring while the dry summers help prevent the spread of disease. The preferred soil type is free draining with no hard pan. Sandy loams to clay loams are preferred. Organic matter and fertilisers are often added to the soil before planting at rates that vary considerably from grower to grower. In its native environment ginseng grows under high levels of shade provided by the forest canopy. The plant quickly loses vigour and dies if the shade is removed. Shade can be provided by wooden lath, shade cloth or by growing the crop commercially under a forest canopy.
There are two ways of growing ginseng – field grown and forest grown. Field grown ginseng is an intensive method of production that may involve green crops and multiple cultivations of the soil in the year before growing begins (Korea), or chemical sterilisation of the soil (North America). Raised beds are formed and either seed is sown into these by machine, or 1 year old roots are transplanted into beds by hand (Korea). Crops are generally covered by mulch and shade structures are erected to reduce light levels. Plant densities are high and crops are frequently sprayed to control fungal diseases. Plants are usually harvested after 3 to 4 years in North America and China and 5-6 years in Korea. Root is comparatively low value. Forest grown ginseng uses the shade of a forest rather than artificial shade. There are two variants of this type of production. The first is called woods grown ginseng in North America and involves the cultivation of beds and production methods similar to those in field grown ginseng. The second is called wild-simulated ginseng and involves minimal soil disturbance, low plant densities and long growing times (8-10 years). Wild simulated ginseng is usually indistinguishable from true wild ginseng and fetches prices 10-20 times the prices for field grown root.