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Introduction to Ginseng, part 3, processing, tips on purchase and use


Ginseng root is sold in many different forms, from whole roots to processed medicines, candies and even cosmetics. American Ginseng is usually sold thin slices or short dried roots. Some are processed into tea packets and just consumed directly like normal herb tea. I always have some American ginseng tea packets in my cabinets in case I feel tired.

Processing of Korean or Chinese ginseng is more complicated, and depends on the origin (wild or cultivated), age, method and where the production takes place. The first step is usually the same: fresh roots are carefully dug and gently brushed to remove soil without any damages on the precious rootlets.

White ginseng  refers to roots that are less than six years old. Since the quality is not the best, they are bleached with sulfur gas and sun-dried. Normally they rarely get exported from Korea.

Red ginseng must be at least four years old, but usually is more than six. There are various methods of processing, such as steam heating for several hours and a final drying over low heat or in the sun. The best whole roots are bound with fine white string in order to keep all the rootlets intact. These finest ginseng roots are very expensive.


For both American and Korean ginseng, the untouched, whole root or root pieces are the best for purchase. Keep the root skin intact is very important for the quality because ginseng's most valuable elements lie in the dark, exterior skin. The larger and the more the Korean roots look like a human form, the more expensive they are. However, the far cheaper rootlets may be actually chemically more valuable because the surface area is larger in ratio to volume, although some say that these rootlets are "colder" than the main stem in terms of properties.


When taking ginseng, avoid taking Vitamin C (including fresh fruits), avoid eating cooked radish, and never drink tea at the same time. These three things will reduce the efficiency of the ginseng. Also, it's not recommended to take Korean ginseng every day as it's going to produce "heat" in the body and makes it "overheat". American ginseng is better as daily tonic over a longer period. I posted recipe for Korean ginseng chicken soup a while ago.

(sources:  Streetwise Guide: Chinese Herbal Medicine by Wong Kang Ying and Martha Dahle)