Ginseng, the plant

Panax ginseng is probably the herb with the greatest health reputation. Large-scale cultivation, variable processing and massive consumption can compromise the quality of the products. It is therefore useful to gain more knowledge about the origin and quality of these Asian and other ginseng varieties.

Ginseng biotope

The Asian Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial plant originally from the mountain forests of northeastern China, Korea, Nepal and the far east of the Russian Federation (Eastern Siberia).
The Panax vietnamensis discovered in Vietnam is the southernmost ginseng species found. In China, the Changbai mountain range is said
to be the only area where wild ginseng (mountain ginseng) still occurs naturally. Hence, it (garden ginseng) is now extensively cultivated in China, Korea, Japan and Russia. Since it has been shown that wild Ginseng contains more active substances than cultivated, wild ginseng is still harvested and increasingly threatened. In Russia and China they are now protected and it is forbidden to harvest and trade them.
The plant can grow in the shade (deep forest) or partial shade (light forest) and requires moist-warm soil. The cultivated Ginseng is grown as understory in shady forests or in the shade of suspended mats in the open air.
The Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng) grows in Canada and the USA. Here too, the wild species are rare, which is why Ginseng programs have been started in the forests of Maine, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina to plant them in their natural habitat and thus reduce the pressure on the remaining wild ginseng.

Description of ginseng

The Asian ginseng is a slow growing hardy perennial to about 0.8 m by 0.7 m, while the American ginseng is smaller to about 0.3 m by 0.5 m. The bare stem bears a wreath of three to five palm-shaped, finely toothed dark green leaves at the end. From the fourth year onwards, yellow-green umbrella-shaped umbels with about 25 flowers grow from June to August, followed by small edible scarlet berries. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). The plant has a thick (8 to 12 cm), cylindrical brown-yellow to lm long taproot, often split at the end and with thin long shoots, the so-called root hairs. The wrinkles around the neck of the
root tell how old the plant is. This is important because the ginseng root is only ready for use when it has grown after four to seven years. The root extracts so many minerals, vitamins and nutrients from the soil during growth that ginseng can no longer be grown for the next 10 years.

Harvest and processing methods

The leaves, flowers, roots and berries can be used. According to recently started research, the berries appear to be promising for adult-onset diabetes and obesity. However, most Panax Ginseng products are made from the dried ripe root, collected in the fall. The commercially grown roots are only harvested when they reach a weight of 60-100 grams, which is around the seventh year of life. The wild plant only reaches this weight after more than 100 years.

Panax Ginseng two forms

The so-called “white ginseng” is grown for four to six years then peeled and dried in the sun. Drying in the sun bleaches the root to a yellow-white color. It is thought that drying breaks down certain enzymes present in the root and thus contains fewer therapeutic ingredients.
The “red ginseng” harvested after six years, is not peeled and is steam-cured, giving it a shiny reddish-brown color. Steaming would leave the biochemical composition unchanged. The roots are dried to 86% dry matter. This high dry matter content protects the roots against attack by bacteria and fungi, makes storage easier and transport cheaper. Traditionally, they are often marinated in a herbal drink and then used as a sexual stimulant and for the treatment of erectile dysfunction.
The world’s largest factory of red ginseng is the KGC Ginseng Factory in Buyeo, where the root is mainly processed into powder for tea, but also used in alcoholic drinks, capsules and soap.

Scroll to Top