"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"

World renowned medicinal plant expert,  Stephen Fulder PhD. in his excellent book,  “The Ginseng Book,  Nature’s Ancient Healer” mentions how ginseng is spoken of in the Vedas, which are ancient books of scripture from India, approximately 5,000 years old.  He tells us that the Vedas have many ‘health hymns” and they speak about Ginseng in this way. 

The root which is dug from the earth and strengthens the nerves.  The strength of the horse, the mule, the goat, the ram, moreover the strength of the bull it bestows on him.  This herb will make thee so full of lusty strength that thou shalt, when excited, exhale heat as a thing of fire.”
[1]  Ginseng is spoken of as a brother of Soma, another highly revered life giving plant, both were believed to have magical powers. 

In Korea gatherers would purify themselves for a week, remaining clean and chaste before they went to search for the revered plant.  The leaves of Ginseng were said to give off a glow in the moonlight.  The gatherers would shoot an arrow into the place where they saw the glow and retrieve the arrow next day along with the plant.    The va-pang suis, were the shang diggers, the ginseng hunters.  Some were employed by the Emperor, and others risked their lives for the honor and wealth it brought to them.  This was a very hazardous profession.  Bandits called “The White Swans’ would wait to attack the prospectors and steal their treasures, or torture them to find out where the ginseng was.  The bandits had a strange code of ethics whereby they would give the victim a red flag to carry so that they would not be attacked again.  It seemed they felt it only fair not to be stolen from twice in one day.    The va-pang suis, were also in danger from panthers and tigers who hunted the root.    The ginseng hunters would go into the forest armed only with a stick and the belief that no evil could come to them if they were pure of heart.  These hunters would pray to the spirit of the panther and tiger and most of all to the spirit of the mountain.  The fact that they found the root was testimony to them that they were indeed of pure heart and they would set up an altar, say prayers and give thanks for the root.  This purity also protected them from the legendary spirit inside the root, which could appear and disappear at will, leading those who were evil further into the forest to be lost forever.  

Ginseng has grown wild for generations in certain parts of the world.  It was originally the name of several medicinal plants but is now often associated with the genus Panax.  Panax is native to the Asian continent and it is believed to have been originally used as a source of food when it was first discovered over 5,000 years ago in the mountains of Manchuria, China.

Soon it became revered for its health and life giving properties.   “Its human shape became a powerful symbol of divine harmony on earth.” [2]    In 221 B.C. 3,000 foot soldiers were sent by the emperor Shongtjie to find wild ginseng. Any who returned empty handed were beheaded. Ginseng grew wild for generations in some areas of the world.  After the scouring of the mountains and forests, the plant is nearly extinct and wild ginseng is extremely expensive.

“Panax is derived from the Greek word Panakos meaning ‘All Healing’ also known as “Wonder of the World” and the “Root of Heaven”
[3]  It was the name given to the herb by the botanist and explorer, Carl Anton Mayer.  The word ginseng is derived from ‘jen shen’ and according to Stephen Fulder PhD, it means a Crystallization of the essence of the earth (shen) in the form of a man (jen)” [4] or more simply ‘man root’.  The Chinese term of rénshen also means the same.  This refers to the root's characteristic forked shape, which resemble a body with the legs of a man.   Other names are magical herb, divine root, blood like, five fingers, red berry and root of life.  It is referred to as the kingly herb.   Panax ginseng is native to Asia and Panax Quinquefolius is the American ginseng.  Quinquefolius refers to the leaves which have five lobes and are said to resemble a hand. 

The earliest mention of it comes from a book of the Chien Han Era (33-48 B.C.).     “Later about 500 A.D. a book called the "Sheng Nung Pen Ts'ao Ching" (the book of herbs by Sheng Nung) makes mention of it.[5] Li Yenwen, the father of Li Shizhen (author of Bencao Gangmu published in 1596 A.D.) includes this passage in his ginseng treatise.

Used fresh, ginseng displays a cool nature. When it is used after preparation [steamed, red ginseng], its nature is warm. The slight sweet taste strengthens the yang; the somewhat bitter taste strengthens the yin. Nature [xing] controls the genesis of things: their origin is in heaven; tastes control the completion of things; their origin is in the earth. Nature and taste, genesis and completion are realizations of yin and yang. The cool nature of fresh ginseng expresses the yang influence of spring, namely, of genesis and development. This is the yang of heaven. It has the nature of rising. Sweet is a taste that has been formed through transformation of moisture and earth. These are the yang influences of earth. They have the nature of floating. The somewhat bitter taste has been formed through reciprocal interaction of fire and earth. These are the yin influences of earth. They have the nature of descending in the body.

The first European reference was in 1643 in the writings, “Relations della Grande Monarchia Cina”  which was published in Rome.  In 1709 the root was again written of in “The Memoir of the Royal Academy in Paris”, by a Jesuit named Father Jartoux who had returned to Europe from an assignment in China.  In 1711 the memoir was translated into English in “The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.”  Five years later, another Jesuit, Father Joseph Francois Lafitau, who had been sent to a mission in Canada, read Jartous writings.  Realizing that Canada was on the same latitude as the area in China where ginseng grew he began to wonder if the plant grew in his own vicinity.  After considerable seeking for the plant Father Lafitau came across wild ginseng near Montreal, growing by a house he was building.  He had earlier employed a Native American woman to look for the plant without success.  He took his findings to her and she verified it as the plant of this species which the Indians used. 

With the discovery of ginseng , a thriving ginseng trade had begun, which was second only to Canada’s fur trade.  John Jacob Astor, was a business man in the fur trade.  He sold a boatload of ginseng to China.   Daniel Boone was also reported to have dug for the plant and sold many tons.  It was speculated that Davy Crockett did the same.   The China Empress was the first American ship to deliver ginseng to China, in 1784.  By 1800, the United States was doing more trade with Canton that with the whole of China in 1925.  “Ton upon ton of wild ginseng was dug and exported.” [7]

Soon after the discovery of ginseng in Canada, French-Canadian traders and native North Americans collected roots to export to China.  In the 1700’s Chinese merchants refused to do business after receiving poorly harvested shipment of dried roots.  This put an end for a while to the thriving export of ginseng.  Trade switched to the British colonies.  American ginseng was also discovered in central New York and Vermont and  Massachusetts and in western New England in  the mid 1700’s.    In Amsterdam and London, middlemen waited to make large profits as they dealt in the ginseng which arrived by boat.    As the trade of ginseng expanded, with huge monetary rewards, the destruction of the forests led to over harvesting and scarcity of the plant, with a resulting price increase.  This is when cultivation in shaded areas began.  Now the plant is threatened and is controlled by the International CITES Treaty”. [8] The plant is only harvested wild in a few states, and then it is at a certain season which is mandated, requiring a license.  The ginseng berries are immediately planted to re-grow more ginseng.

North Americans Indians used ginseng in many of their herbal formulas.  They considered it to be one of their most sacred herbs.  They were using American ginseng for medicinal purposes well before its commercial development in the 18th century.  It was used as a headache cure, to cure croup, soothe eyes, and as a poultice for wounds as well as many other medicinal uses.  On being showing a drawing of the ginseng plant by the Jesuit priest, Lafitau, the native Indians took him to a similar plant which they called “Garantequen”   

The Creek Indians called ginseng “White medicine” they used it for fevers, boiling it with ginger and then mixing it with alcohol before administering it to the patient.  This would cause the patient to sweat.  They also used it in many other preparations, including stoppage of bleeding from wounds.   It was also used in magic to ward off evil.  It was believed that evil spirits caused illness.  When a Creek Indian passed through a graveyard he would chew ginseng and spit it out in four directions to protect himself from evil.  Ginseng was also used to keep a person alive when they had been shot.  Ginseng was especially used by the Cherokees for headaches.  Ginseng and wild tobacco was considered to save someone’s life if they had apoplexy.

The Cherokees believed that the number four was a number of special magical significance and so they would pass by the first three plants before digging up the fourth.   Before they did this they would build an altar and give thanks and they would leave an offering in return, similar to the ritual which the  va-pang suis would perform in the Orient. 

In the Chippewa culture It was believed that ginseng had the power to revive the dying, along with a ceremony where the person’s soul was asked to stay.   A traditional song would be sung to those who were deathly ill.  It was called “the White Swan”.  They would then blow through a reed into a decoction of ginseng.  The dying person would drink this decoction. 
Ginseng was highly favored by the Mide medicine men being used on occasion to ‘bring people back to life’.  It was also considered excellent for stomach ailments.  The Pawnee Indians used it with other herbs as a love potion. “The Seminole Indians also used  it as a Love Medicine, rubbing it on their body and clothes to bring back a divorced wife”. [9]     The Sioux benefited from its trade rather than its medicinal uses.  They never used the herb itself much but they gathered and prepared it, and Sioux ginseng fetched unusually large prices. 


Modern science with randomized and double blind tests finds it difficult to prove hard scientific evidence for the important uses of ginseng.  It is prized as an adaptogen but this property is also extremely difficult to prove scientifically.  Comparative, randomized, double blind government studies simply indicate it to be ‘a promising dietary supplement’.

I cannot help but think that we are so eager to prove scientific facts and to make new drugs and more money that the standard which the medical profession is supposed to live by “First do no harm.” is becoming lost in a craving for new and better drugs.  We lose sight of God’s pharmacy and the effective yet safer means of healing, which, when coupled with a healthy lifestyle can have a powerful healing effect upon us.  The Hippocratic Oath states:  I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.   I will give no deadly medicine to anyone... Into whatever house I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption...” [10] Yet what have these new drugs truly accomplished?  The reward often comes in the form of fame, money and prestige for large corporations.  There can be respite from illness, drugs are without a doubt very powerful, but the respite is often temporary and none of them are without the price of side effects, which are often serious, and at times life threatening.  This week, April 17th 2006, C.N.N. reported details of a healthy man who took part in a pharmaceutical study to test a drug for leukemia.  As a result of these tests, he is now critically ill waiting to see which parts of his fingers and toes he will lose.  He suffered multiple organ failure and he was unconscious for three weeks.  Tests on animals were supposed to have shown very few side effects, the company later admitted this was untrue.   If only this was an isolated incident with otherwise great success in the medical profession.  But this is only one of thousands of iatrogenic diseases, illness and heartache brought about by the misuse of the medical profession and their often blatant disregard for the Hippocratic oath.   I saw a large highway advertisement this week which read, “All Doctors Are Healers.  Not All Healers Are Doctors.”    The Journal of the American Medical Association  July 26th 2000, itself carries the real truth of these statements.  It states that medical mistakes, infections, and pharmaceutical drugs are the third leading cause of death.  In one year, two hundred and eighty four thousand died under the supervision of the medical profession - from iatrogenic diseases - doctor induced diseases, not the illness they came in from.  One hundred and six thousand of that number died taking the properly prescribed therapeutic dose of pharmacy medication.  That did not include interactions, overdoses, or mis-prescribed drugs.  We lost approximately 4,000 people at the World Trade Center, on September 11th 2001, but we lose over a 1,000 a day by following today’s medical system. Despite the lack of modern medicine’s approval ginseng continues to be widely used and valued.
by Dianasue Holland
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