The use of medicinal herbs has a long history in the Orient. The father of of Chinese Husbandry, Shen Nung, lived over 5,400 years ago. Shen Nung taught people how to raise crops, rear domestic animals as how to identify therapeutic herbs. It was said that he tasted various herbs and determined their medical property and value. Shen Nung's advice was transmitted orally initially but over the centuries knowledge of the use of herbal medicine was compiled into an enormous number of books. One of the more famous texts on using herbs was written by Li Shih-chen, and published in 1596. This book, The Ben Cao Gang Mu (Materia Medica), took over 40 years to complete. It described over 1,800 herbs and medicinal substances in over 52 volumes. Li Shih-chen recorded 77 ginseng recipes and three-fourths of his prescriptions contain ginseng in combination with other plant medicines.
For most of history, ginseng was obtained in its natural environment, however, due to continuous usage the natural supply was more or less exhausted. It is very rare to find wild ginseng nowadays. When it is available wild ginseng can sell for over $14,000 per ounce! The ginseng found in herb and health food stores is now all commercially grown. Ginseng is a root crop. It likes cool, well-drained soil and shade. Commercial beds are covered to provide artificial shade. Ginseng that is cultivated on the slopes of a hardwood forest is harvested at the age of 12 or 13 years. This ginseng is often referred to as semi-wild. These roots can be bought whole but are rarely used in commercial products due to their expense.
In Chinese medicine, ginseng is considered the most important herb for strengthening the vital energy (Qi) of the body. Qi (pronounced "chee" as in cheese) is believed to be the source of life and therefore inspires all movement, transformation and perception. According to the "Divine Husbandman's Classic of the Pharmacopoeia (Shen-nong Ben-cao, 1st century), ginseng also builds the vitality of the inner organs. Ginseng's uses include providing aid for both digestion and recovery from prolonged illness, expulsion of food pathogens, and diarrhea control. Ginseng also supplements body fluids, stops sever thirst, relieves cold in the hands and feet, and quells symptoms of anxiety.
Ginseng's traditional and best-known use as a male aphrodisiac has been confirmed by research. In addition, ginseng can be used to treat male infertility. An Italian study of sixty men found that ginseng use increased testosterone levels. Tests have shown that ginseng slows the heart rate and reduces the heart's demand for oxygen. Athletes who use ginseng find increased levels of endurance. On the basis of tests done on 1,500 Russian athletes, it was reported that ginseng helps to increase stamina, endurance and concentration, and improves the reflexes. Ginseng has been used by Oriental soldiers to increase resistance to combat fatigue and shock.
How to use Ginseng
If you buy whole ginseng roots you can do two things:
1). Make a tea by boiling the root in four cups of water for about 30 minutes, or
2). Chew on a small piece.
If you're going to chew ginseng you'll have to cut the root into smaller pieces first. When you buy ginseng roots they are very hard and tough. To soften it, steam it for two to three minutes until it softens. Then take a heavy knife and cut it into 1/4" or 1/3" pieces. Let the root dry out again. When you want to use the ginseng, pop a piece in your mouth. Initially it is too hard to chew but after a while it will mix with your saliva and soften. Eventually it will dissolve in your mouth. Try using red Chinese or Korean ginseng. Because ginseng is considered to have warming properties it is best to use it in the fall or winter when it is cooler outside. The weather helps counteract the warming properties. If you want to use ginseng during the summer months you should use it less frequently or use American Ginseng. American Ginseng is said to have a cool nature to it and has a better balance with the summer heat.
For those of you into high energy sports, you'll find that ginseng will give you that extra push and enhance your endurance. You'll also find yourself recovering faster after an intense event. With any off these products or using ginseng roots take them about two hours before you work out or compete.
Michel Czehatowski, L.Ac. is a graduate of the University of Idaho (BS Anthropology) and the San Francisco College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. He has been licensed by the State of California Board of Medical Quality Assurance to practice acupuncture and herbal medicine since 1984. He has worked extensively in the field of Chinese herbal medicine and has a lifelong interest in the martial arts.
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Article posted Jan 19, 2012