When I was a young boy, my grandmother helped me to distinguish just what a hard life was. She told me about “the old days”, when she was a twelve year old girl. Now when my grandmother was twelve, it was the year 1930. The Great Depression had just begun, and it was “hard times” for almost everyone. Now magnify the difficulty of those times with who my grandmother was: a poor West Virginia mountain girl. When she was twelve she ran away from home to be on her own, and of course, times were harder still. She washed dishes in the kitchen of a restaurant to pay for her bed at night. Of course she still had food to buy, so she went out “sangin” during the day as it was called in West Virginia. Sangin’ was the slang way of saying that one was going out to pick ginseng in the mountains. It wasn’t easy work back then, when a person didn’t have a four wheeler to get up and down the mountain slopes and a basket to toss the ginseng in: so people there knew they would have to spend all day out in the mountain forests to find ginseng, or they and their family would be going hungry. Ginseng has been in the circulation of healing herbs for thousands of years in Asia. There is an old Chinese tale of the powers of “schinseng”, the Chinese word for ginseng. Schinseng in Chinese literally means “essence of the earth in the form of man” due to the shape of the root, which looks like the shape of a man. Ginseng in China was attributed different healing properties: “It is uncertain when the first pre-historic human experimented with Chinese ginseng (Panax panax), but the first written Chinese Herbal (encyclopedia of medicinal plants) appeared in the first century A.D. The Shen-nung pen-ts’ao-ching stated that ginseng or “schinseng” could boost longevity and increase one’s endurance. The text stated that it was good for “enlightening the mind, and increasing the wisdom. Continuous use leads one to longevity.” Chinese herbalists also believed that ginseng functioned as an aphrodisiac. No doubt this attribute led to an even higher demand for the product.” (WV.D.N.R. p 1)
American ginseng is of the same genus, but a different species, Panax quinquefolius. Still being Panax, American ginseng has almost all the same medicinal properties of Asian ginseng, which helped to create a market for it once it was discovered in America. American ginseng is a geophytic herbaceous perennial capable of living at least sixty years. Ginseng emerges in mid spring when the forest canopy has developed adequate leaf cover. Ginseng does not reproduce by rhizome as each genet produces a determinate aerial stem. American ginseng has a leaf pattern of one to four pinnately compound leaves composed of three to five leaflets. One interesting characteristic of American ginseng is its dormant tendencies: “Ginseng seeds exhibit deep simple morphophysiological dormancy (Baskin & Baskin, 1998) typically germinating 18-20 months after the berry develops. (Conservation Biology p. 721)
American ginseng is used today for many herbal remedies including fatigue, hypertension, and adaptogenic effects such as its ability to help ease physical stress. Ginseng contains many pharmacologically active constituents of ginsengs and gensenosides. The active constituents are mainly classified as protopanaxadiol and protopanaxatrial groups. Research has been increasingly conducted to test ginsengs possible cancer fighting abilities. With the prevalence of colorectal cancer as one of the leading causes of death by a cancer in the United States, most of the research concerning ginsengs cancer destroying power has been focused around the colon and prostate: “Regarding its anti-cancer effects, a case control study on over 1,000 subjects in Korea showed that Chinese or Korean ginseng intakers had a decreased risk for many different cancers compared with non-intakers (Yun and Choi, 1995, Yun and...
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Wang Chong-Zhi, and Yuan Chun-Su. Potential Role of Ginseng in the Treatment of Colorectal Cancer. Chicago: Tang Center, 2008.
McGraw, James B., et al. Berry Ripening and Harvest Season in Wild American Ginseng. Northeastern Naturalist, 2005.
Farrington, Susan J., et al. Interactive Effects of Harvest and Deer Herbivory on the Population Dynamics of American Ginseng. Conservation Biology, 2008.
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