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Ginseng, Korean

Overview :

Korean ginseng has had a long and illustrious history as an herb for health, and has been used for thousands of years throughout the Orient as a medicine and tonic. Early Chinese medicine texts written in the first century A.D. mention ginseng, and ginseng has long been classified by Chinese medicine as a "superior" herb. This means it is said to promote longevity and vitality. Legends around the world have touted ginseng as an aphrodisiac and sexual tonic. Researchers have found a slight connection between sex drive and consuming ginseng, although a direct link and the mechanism of action are still researched and disputed.

Korean ginseng grows on moist, shaded mountainsides in China, Korea, and Russia. It is a perennial herb that reaches heights of two or more feet, and is distinguished by its dark green leaves and red clusters of berries. The root of the plant is the part valued for its medicinal properties. The root is long and slender and sometimes resembles the shape of the human body. Asian legends claim that this "man-root" has magical powers for those lucky enough to afford or find it, and the roots bearing the closest resemblance to the human body are still the most valuable ones. The word ren shen in Chinese means roughly "the essence of the earth in the shape of a man."

Korean ginseng has historically been one of the most expensive of herbs, as it has been highly in demand in China and the Far East for centuries. Wars have been fought in Asia over lands where it grew wild. Wild Korean ginseng is now nearly extinct from many regions. Single roots of wild plants have recently been auctioned in China and New York City for sums approaching $50,000. Most of the world's supply of Korean ginseng is cultivated by farmers in Korea and China.

Because of the number of herbs sold under the name of ginseng, there can be some confusion for the consumer. Korean ginseng is a member of the Araliaceae family of plants, which also includes closely related American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Both American and Siberian ginseng are considered by Chinese herbalists to be different herbs than Korean ginseng, and are said to have different effects and healing properties in the body. To add more confusion, there are eight herbs in Chinese medicine which are sometimes called ginseng, including black ginseng, purple ginseng, and prince's ginseng, some of which are not at all botanically related to Panax ginseng, so consumers should choose ginseng products with awareness.

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