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by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Fall Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(3) page(s): 11 and 12

This herb, many Chinese consider a panacea, is one they believe is a major cure-all. Not a new belief, they have said this for more than two thousand years. Written about and touted long before the Han Dynasty which began in 202 BCE, it is a Chinese treasure, and an expensive cure. Called the ‘king of all herbs,’ one can find it written about in the Shen Nong Materia Medica. Related to Siberian ginseng, it is touted to prolong life, invigorate the body, cure digestive ills, and relax nervous disorders. Also said to heal the heart, it is to maintain appropriate blood pressure levels, regulate the pulmonary system, and is even useful as an aphrodisiac.

Used and processed in China before any where else in the world, it has become more popular there and every where else year by year. There are two major species, both in the Araliaceae family. The primary difference between them lies in their growth and distribution. Panex ginseng is from Eastern Asia, most of it growing in China, Manchuria, and Korea, while Panax quinquefolium, once known as Aralia canadensis, in from southern Canada, Nova Scotia, and the United States. Both are said to reduce stress, boost the immune system, and help stave off infection. If taken daily, both are said to provide energy and boost a person's vitality.

Propagated by seed, about five years are needed from germination to maturity. In the first season or two, they vary in height and the number of leaves. When mature, they are usually eight to fifteen inches tall with three petioles. Each has five leaves and vermilion berries. Most often they flower in June or July and grow until the first frost. Their seeds tend to germinate eighteen months after they fall off the plant which usually has roots two to six inches long. Primarily, they grow in mixed hardwood forests, often on the shady side of a mountain, and faster if fertilized. However, doing that, some have a different aroma, taste, and texture from any that are unfertilized.

Ginseng has six common constituents, each said to stimulate a different part of the body. Roots excite any body part and they do not disturb sleep. These parts have many scars on their surfaces. They like shady well-drained soil, and often are found in and around trees. Documented in early Chinese manuscripts, this herbal has many folk traditions, one among them is the Chinese believe they restore and balance the body’s Yin and Yang.

Mix some with orange peel and honey, and they can cure insomnia if one powders these roots and uses three ounces of them mixed with one ounce of milk sugar known as lactose. Together this mixture, add sixty drops of wintergreen and stir this into a cup of boiling water. An herbal doctor told us to consume this mixture three times a day.

We once read that Marco Polo did introduce ginseng to the west; but many he touted it to have remained non-believers. That introduction was in the late 1300s when it was already popular in Korea, a country that was a province of China then and in other times.

Herbalists have touted it for generations, modern ones know that much of the research about it has findings that are not absolute. None the less, many Chinese say it has lots of promising uses including lowering blood sugar when taken before a meal. In 1975, Beth Goldstein of Yale University, did write about its historical traditions in Asia and North America. That well-quoted treatise can be found in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine.

Flavor and Fortune did write about Panex ginseng in 2010, before, and since, still many readers query this editor about this root that when cleaned and trimmed often looks like a man. They tell us it is found in some sodas, chewing gum, candy, alcoholic beverages, and in virtually every herbal emporium.

The Chinese variety is almost red when peeled while its American relative is more white. Both are named from the Greek word panakos, which means ‘all-cure.’ There are many folk in almost every country who snack on it as one would on a peeled carrot, others use it in tea with or without honey, and/or in soup, stir-fried with vegetables, in stuffing, and/or in bakery products.

Those who grow it tell us it will not grow well if transplanted in the same location a second year. They say its price is high because demand does far exceeds supply. They also say that American ginseng is most often grown in Wisconsin at Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprise in Wausau, and has been grown there since 1974. This state has a thousand acres under cultivation, almost all picked by hand in Spring and in Fall.

Many westerners say they take it daily because it increases their body’s ability to fight adverse influences, increases their body’s physical and mental activities, and that it does strengthen them. The Chinese say it provides energy, offers relief from stress, enhances their immune system, increases their endurance, and keeps them from getting other illnesses.

All believe ginseng is a tonic for all ages. Most believe it normalizes their bodily functions, allows utilization of other substances, has anti-toxic effects, and has aphrodisiac ones, too. They say it works if they are taking it as an extract, pill, powder, or as a liquid. They also report it is known to have anti-cancer effects and that it makes other anti-cancer medications more effective. These reasons may be why there is a large market for its roots, particularly those two to five years of age.

Many who grow it and those who do not, tell us they slice it, put some in a cup of boiling water every day. They reuse these slices several times steeping them for about ten minutes on each occasion. Sales are booming! Even in capsule form, some companies say they produce and sell more than one hundred million of them each and every year.

There are those who say this is much a-do about nothing, though most Chinese disagree. They are the world’s largest believers and the world’s largest users. They tout it often and for many reasons. Native American doctors, particularly those treating folks in the Seneca Nation, say it benefits those with rheumatism, reduces their pains, and helps all who are aging. The Chinese agree and have used it for dozens of centuries. They do no understand why Americans ignore this advise.

Earlier issues of this magazine have recipes for it as a broth, in a soup, and as a restoration tea. These can be located in this magazine’s index listings. Below is a popular one for use with chicken and an another one with quail. Both can be used with other poultry items and with pork, beef, or lamb.
Chicken with Ginseng
2 large fresh ginseng roots, peeled and sliced
20 goji berries
10 Chinese red dates, cut in half, their pits removed and discarded
10 Chinese black dates, cut in half, pits removed and discarded
½ large chicken, with bones and skin, cut into four large pieces
1. Mix the ginseng, half the goji berries, the cut red and black dates, and the pieces of chicken. Put them into a medium-size pot and simmer for two hours.
2. Then add the rest of the dates and goji berries and simmer for another half hour, skimming as needed. Next, remove the bones, cut the chicken pieces in half-inch size, and serve.
Eight Treasure Quail
5 to 10 quail, whole or cut each one in half
2 Tablespoons Jinan ham
20 canned lotus seeds, each cut in half
1/4 pound fresh pork leg, slivered
3 Tablespoons canned bamboo shoots, slivered
2 Tablespoons goji berries
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup strips of peeled ginseng, each with any thin roots attached
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 Tablespoon Shao Xing wine
1 Tablespoon peeled and minced shallots
1 Tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
10 whole cloves
2 Tablespoons minced fresh lobster
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup vegetable oil
1. Steam quail for ten minutes over boiling water, then toss with the tablespoon of cornstarch and shake off any excess.
2. Put quail in a bowl, add all other ingredients except the oil, and toss well coating everything with the cornstarch. Then shake and discard any excess cornstarch.
3. Add oil to a large pot, heat it and add the quail and all other ingredients, and deep fry until the quail is a light golden color. Then remove it from the oil, cut each quail into serving size pieces. Serve on a large pre-heated platter.

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