Jeff’s thoughts on ginseng…

Years ago when I lived in Wisconsin, I frequented a well-known Madison co-op which was conveniently located on my walk home each day. It was a throwback, hippie sort of place complete with dusty old wood floors, a store cat and a collection of questionable vegetables, which were supposed to be organic and somehow better for you.


They also had, behind the counter, a gallon jar full of powdered ginseng caps, which they sold for 50¢ a cap. Whenever I stopped in I would buy a couple and pop them on my way home. I never noticed any positive effect but to be fair I had no idea of exactly what I was supposed to feel.


One day I asked the clerk about the ginseng and he said that I wasn’t necessarily supposed to feel anything, that the effects of ginseng were long-term and not particularly noticeable. I took his word for it and continued to buy a couple of caps now and then, thinking that at the very least it might counteract some of the abuses I was inflicting on my young, carefree body. Some years later, while living in Hong Kong, I rediscovered ginseng and began to learn more about it and just what positive effects it could have.


When I lived in Hong Kong, anyone could walk from their house to the shop of an herbalist no matter where they lived but they might have to travel several miles to find a drug store. All the herb shops strongly exuded the very same exact smell. I can smell it right now just thinking about it. They tended to be open onto the street so I could, to this day, find one blindfolded.


If I went into one of these shops and showed an interest in ginseng, I would be shown an amazing array of various sizes and grades of the dried roots. I could also buy various ginseng extracts and thick, resinous concentrates or preserved roots in glass jars, some being quite huge, quite man-like in appearance and costing US$1,000 or more. I have never seen an herb so minutely doted upon and presented in so many forms and grades.


Good ginseng is expensive. Unfortunately, while it is possible to pay a lot for not-so-good ginseng, it is difficult, if not impossible, to buy good ginseng cheaply. Especially in Asia, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’ve got. They know what it’s worth.


One day my friend Roger shared with me some Korean ginseng, which came in a little black bottle. It came with a teeny plastic spoon and was a very thick, black goo. I added it to a cup of hot water. I had to swish the spoon around a long time to remove all the black goo from the teeny spoon. Almost from the first sip, I was instilled with an energy, a clarity, a sense of well being that was unusual and exhilarating. I knew in a flash that the smarmy little co-op had lied to me, that the cheap, powdered, whatever they had in those capsules wouldn’t have been any better if I had gobbled the whole gallon, that ginseng could provide an immediate and very positive effect.


But again, to be fair, studies show – and ginseng is one of the most studied herbs – that there is a long-term effect attributable to it. Indeed, it’s positive effects on pulmonary function provide a vehicle to cause improvements in all the body’s systems.


I learned that not all little black bottles of Korean ginseng extract are created equal. Not even those from the same company. Not even those that looked to my eye to be exactly the same and especially not any I have since found in America. I found some once in Korea and it was relatively cheap. I bought all I could on that trip but generally I bought it from a little Korean shop, a little hole-in-the-wall shop in back of the Wing On store in Central Hong Kong run by an elderly but friendly and quite talkative Korean woman. The price was not always the same. I learned to arrive just at opening on Monday morning for the best price. I bought lots. I loved the stuff. I am sure that woman missed me when I left.


After leaving Hong Kong, and returning to America, I discovered American Ginseng, panax quinquefolium. I learned that while similar to the Chinese or Korean Ginseng, panax ginseng, the American species was less heating in effect and more suitable to my already hot western male physique. I even find myself needing and using it more in the winter than in the hot and humid St. Louis summer. I use it specifically for enhancing pulmonary function. I feel benefit from this on both a short term and long term basis. I also feel it has benefit for my immune system and is therefore helpful in allergy control. Finally, I also find it useful for increasing my energy levels, although I feel this effect is more pronounced the less often I use it. Maybe I just get used to feeling better.


Today I mostly use a liquid extract of ginseng. I know the herb that is used to make it, know the process used to make it and I have seen the results tested. Mostly I now know what to expect in terms of what I should actually feel when I use good quality ginseng. I also occasionally enjoy a cup of ginseng tea using about half a teaspoon of the powdered root in a cup of hot water. The powder never totally dissolves in the water so one must stir it now and then and drink all the powder too. I find ginseng to have a pleasant taste.


I also have enjoyed chewing on little pieces of the red ginseng root. It is red owing to steaming or boiling as a preserving process rather than merely drying. The other day I popped into my mouth a teeny chunk of the root we use to make our extract. It softened up as I chewed it and soon disappeared. It had a fantastic taste. For the rest of the day I had great and unusual energy and only later remembered popping that little teeny-weeny piece of ginseng. The next day I did it again and noticed the same effect. I am watching for that batch of liquid extract and eagerly await its appearance in 2 months or so.


Recent studies are beginning to prove what the Chinese already accept as truth about the efficacy of ginseng. An early study has suggested that ginseng, in combination with ginkgo may be of value in helping treat ADHD. It has been shown to be helpful in the treating of alcohol addiction, perhaps by speeding up the metabolism of alcohol or by inhibiting its absorption in the stomach. Studies also exist suggesting ginseng has a positive effect in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes (type 2), sexual performance, fertility, menopausal symptoms and stress.


Whole root Ginseng products Cheryl’s Herbs offers include Chinese, Korean and American Ginseng (whole or powdered dried roots) liquid extracts, capsules and as ingredients in several products.

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