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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)


Introduction to Ginseng, part 2, therapeutic properties and uses

Since long time ago, both Chinese and American ginsengs have been widely used as medicine. They have often served in the treatment of many of the same bodily disorders.  In China, the history of using ginseng has been recorded for more than 4000 years. The look of ginseng looks quite like human body, that's why all sorts of myths about ginsengs that are over thousand years old can become fairies. On the other hand, there are also many legends and stories saying that ginseng was a gift given to men by the fairies. That's why portrayals of fairies have been used traditionally as decorations on packages and advertisements of ginsengs, especially for Korean products.

The uses of ginseng are wide. Chinese doctors treat different health issues ranging from dysentery, malaria, cancer and diabetes, as well as to improve circulation of blood; to reduce high blood pressure, and to remedy almost all blood and skin diseases, from pimples and boils to anemia.  Ginseng is known as "Herb of Eternal Life" and the "Elixir of Life" among people, and it's taken as a general tonic to enhance health and longevity.

The fundamental value of ginseng is its great ability to detoxify and normalize the entire system, or we can say to increase vital energy. It re-establishes the organ's functions, corrects disordered nutrition and metabolism, and purifies the blood and lymphatic systems. The effect of ginseng works slowly and gently, without much side effects.

After some research by Japanese, Chinese and Russian scientists since mid-1900s, some spectacular chemical properties were found in Ginseng. Many of ginseng's essentials are chemically unique and were given names derived from the genus name. "Panacene" is tranquilizer and pain reliever; "Panaxin" stimulates the brain, improves muscle tone and tunes up the cardiovascular system; "Panquilon" stimulates the endocrine secretions, such as pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands) which in turn regulate different body processes from digestion to aging. Also, ginseng contains a range of B vitamins, significant amounts of minerals and enzymes. "Germanium" is also an essential element which has been shown clinically effective in treating anemia by stimulating the formation of red blood cells in bone marrow, and is being investigated as a cure for cancer.

In Hong Kong, Korean and American ginseng are used quite differently. American Ginseng is more for general purposes, for both acute and chronic diseases, because it nourishes in general as a whole and has fewer side effects. Korean ginseng is usually used in cases of "yang deficiency". So old man with "yang" diminishing along with age during winter (a "yin" season") specifically find it beneficial. If "yang" is too much, like if it's taken by young people or in summer, "hot" symptoms such as headache, mouth ulcers and insomnia can happen.

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


Introduction to Ginseng, part 1

Other than Lingzhi, Ginseng rank the second or almost the first among Chinese herbs. In Chinese history, ginseng has been a legendary herbal medicine that can almost turn death back alive. Of course, those were all myths but you can tell how ginseng became one of the group of medical herbs that are highly respected. It's properties are great for regulating body function, like a big tune up of your body. After western medicine did a lot of research on ginseng, it was told that these properties are due to chemical constituents that are similar to hormones.  Now there are mostly three ginsengs on the market, two of which belong to the genus Panax. "Panax" comes from the Greek "pan" and "akos", meaning a cure-all medicinal herb. There are many species of this genus, the following three are commonly cultivated and marketed.

Chinese or Korean ginseng (Panax Ginseng)

高麗參,人參  (Mandarin: Gao Li Shen, Ren Shen; Cantonese:  Go Lai Sum, Yun Sum)

This is the most commonly used and marketed of the Panax species. It's now cultivated in northern China and Korea. The myths and stories of ginseng mostly referred to this species. It's best for senior people. There was a post I talked about Korean Ginseng Chicken soup.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium)

花旗參 (Mandarin: Hua Qi Shen; Cantonese:  Fa Kay Sum)

This grows wild on the forested mountain slopes in eastern North America, mostly in Wisconsin. It keeps you awake and reduce your "heat". The function is quite different from Korean ginseng.

Russian or Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

俄羅斯/西伯利亞參 (抽參)(Mandarin: Chou Shen; Cantonese:  Chau Sum)

Although it's in the same family as true ginseng,  this herb belongs to another genus. It's chemistry and therapeutic properties are similar to true ginseng.

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


Single-herb formula to treat Arteriosclerosis

Arteriosclerosis, commonly known as hardening of the arteries, is a condition in which the arteries lose elasticity because of calcium deposits within their lining or because of muscle and elastic fibers being replaced by fibrous tissue. Both types can be characterized by a thickening of the arteries walls and a narrowing of their channels, hence causes hypertension. The inefficient blood circulation through arteries can cause bigger concern when it affects the coronary artery that delivers blood to the heart.

Arteriosclerosis happens to mostly older people, but it can affect any age who doesn't care much about their health, with regard to diet and exercise. To improve circulation and keep the arteries elastic, traditional Chinese medicine suggests herbal therapy, walking, massage and certain gentle exercises like Tai Chi (a gentle martial art). And low cholesterol diet can help reducing its deposits narrowing the channels of the arteries. Red meat, dairy products, salt, refined sugar and alcohol should be avoided. Obesity and smoking also make arteriosclerosis worse.

There's a single-herb formula recommended by TCM to treat arteriosclerosis, and the herb is called "Shan Zha" in Mandarin (山楂), which is known as Hawthorne Berry or Hawthorn fruit.  It tastes sweet and sour and you can even find some very nice snacks made of Shan Zha in Chinese grocery stores. One of the famous snack is called Haw Flakes. There are also Shan Zha patent medicine as well.

Shan Zha tea (Hawthorn Berry Tea)

Ingredient: 15 grams of Shan Zha (Hawthorn fruit)

Description: Take Shan Zha tea several times a day is an effective way to reduce fatty lipids in the blood, lower cholesterol and softens the arteries. This formula should be used for a long period of time like 2 to 3 years. Shan Zha also improves digestion and circulation of blood, help hypertension and coronary heart disease.

Preparation: Use a tea cup, add 8 oz of boiling water to about 2 teaspoons of Shan Zha; cover the coup and wait for 10-15 minutes. Strain off the Shan Zha herb and drink the tea.

(sources: Chinese Herbal Medicine made easy by Thomas Richard Joiner, Streetwise Guide: Chinese Herbal Medicine by Wong Kang Ying and Martha Dahle)


Chinese herbal tea: Chrysanthemum tea

Chrysanthemum is a milder, sweeter relative of chamomile. Both are members of the sunflower plant  family. Chrysanthemum flowers have the ability to cleanse and cool the liver without interfering the function of the stomach. It's an herb for all people in all ages. And there are few popular styles of making the tea popular.

  • Simple preparation - infuse the flowers alone as you would tea, using about one tablespoon of flowers per cup of boiling water.  Drink either hot or cold, plain or sweetened.
  • Flowers can also be added to regular Chinese tea. A very common Cantonese called "Gook Po" is referred to Chrysanthemum flowers added to the tea "Po Lei". It's perfect balanced with Yin and Yang, which makes it a very healthy Chinese tea drinking style.
  • Chrysanthemum flowers can be boiled. If they're combined with equal amounts of honeysuckle flowers; add water with a tablespoon of flowers per cup; bring to the boil and then simmer until the tea is well flavored. Add some crystal rock sugar for even better taste.
  • If you are too lazy to make your own tea, there are actually a lot of different pre-made Chrysanthemum tea in cans or bottle or powder mix in packets in almost all Chinese supermarket or grocery store. Probably one of the easiest drinks you can find there.

(sources: Streetwise Guide: Chinese Herbal Medicine by Wong Kang Ying and Martha Dahle, photos from, and