What is ginseng used for?

Ginseng is not used in the United States to any considerable extent. A negligible quantity is used by Chinese in America and a trifling amount by makers of medicine and drugs, but the consumption of the root is confined almost entirely to China and virtually the entire American supply is exported to that country. Opinion differs respecting the medicinal value of ginseng, but the general belief of medical science is that it possesses little, if any, real therapeutic virtue. It is used to a. limited extent as a demulcent, but it is not officially recognized by the American Pharmacopoeia even for that purpose. Whether its medicinal value is real or fancied, ginseng root is in great demand among the Chinese, who regard it highly as a medicinal stimulant and sort of [459] panacea. They use it for nearly every conceivable domestic and medicinal purpose, especially when other curative agents have failed. In China branched ginseng roots resembling the human form command particularly high prices because of their supposed occult virtues. If a boy is weak in the legs many Chinese think the best way to cure him is to give him a concoction made of ginseng root that resembles a boy running or otherwise using his legs. If an arm is affected, then a root that shows a well developed arm is used. Perhaps the real demand for ginseng is based on an ancient superstition that the root has the power of restoring virility to the impotent. Ginseng is believed to be derived from two Chinese words signifying literally “likeness of man.” The Asiatic plant, Phanax schinseng, is an aromatic perennial with five-lobed leaves and greenish flowers. The American plant, Phanax qmnquefolium, is a different but somewhat similar species of the same genus. Some ginseng was used medicinally in the American colonies long before the Revolution. William Byrd of Westover wrote in his secret diary under date of December 23,1710, that “Our daughter began to take drops of ginseng.” Under date of June 30, 1711, Byrd wrote: “My wife slept very well and was much better this morning. The Doctor ordered her nothing but a bitter, drink made of camomile flowers and ginseng root, which she was to drink morning and evening.” Ginseng played an important part in opening trade between the United States and China. The first New England ship to sail for China, the sloop “Harriet,” carried a cargo of ginseng and the captain traded it to an English captain for tea off the Cape of Good Hope. The “Empress of China/’ which sailed in 1784 and which is reputed to be the first American ship to reach China, also carried large quantities of ginseng. Soon after the Revolution Americans even on the western frontier were scouring the forests for this common woods plant for export to China. George Washington, on a visit to the Ohio country in 1784, noted in his diary: “In passing over the Mountains, I met numbers of Persons and Pack horses going in with Ginseng.” Daniel Boone gathered sang, as it was called locally, in Kentucky and western Virginia, and in 1788 he took fifteen tons of ginseng up the Ohio for transshipment to Philadelphia. His boat capsized and the dried toots got wet, with the result that they brought a low price. The next year Boone recorded in his ledger that he had “15 caggs of ginsang” on hand. Before the Second World War, China got about twenty per cent of her ginseng from Korea, Manchuria and Japan and the rest from America. The United States normally exports about $1,000,000 worth of dried ginseng root to China every year. Chinese buyers have rather rigid standards for ginseng and will not accept just any kind of roots. The wild root is considered more desirable by the Chinese than the cultivated and consequently it brings higher prices. American ginseng is a slow-growing plant and under cultivation requires several years to produce roots of marketable size.