We’re continuing on with our theme of healthy eating and healthy living – this time about Ginseng. Without further ado, here’s Steven

In my last blog I wrote about the powerful health benefits of reishi mushroom. However to most people who are new to traditional Chinese medicine that’s not the herb they’re most familiar with. That would usually be ginseng and that’s what I want to write about.

First of all you need to know there are 2 main species. Asian: which includes both Chinese and Korean and North American: which are grown here in Canada as well as certain parts of the U.S. Both kinds are classified as adaptogens — agents that help the body adjust to negative stress levels. For example, if blood sugar levels drop too low, or blood pressure climbs too high, an adaptogen will aid the body’s return to normal function. There are differences between the two species though. North American ginseng is used when a yin (cooling or neutral) effect is desired for the body, whereas the Asian ginseng is said to have a yang (warming) effect on the body and is used for shorter time periods. North American ginseng is said to act as a restorative tonic for fatigue, while Asian ginseng works on the adrenals to pump up the body’s immune system. The leaf is used to regulate blood sugar levels but most of the ginseng tea, powder or liquid you buy are usually made from the root since that’s what prized by health enthusiasts.

Let’s talk more in depth about North American ginseng. For those who like to read about the history of things it was first discovered by Jesuit priests in Ontario near Lake Huron in the early 1700’s. By 1719 it was already been shipped to China thus beginning a long history of Asians appreciating the health benefits that it has to offer. Even to this day if you really want to impress a friend and hit one out of the park with a gift you can’t go wrong with a box of American ginseng which is much more prized in Asia than here. As a matter of fact an incredible 95% of al the ginseng grown in Ontario is exported to Pacific Rim countries. In Canada they sell for approximately $85 per half pound but if you ever come across some ‘wild’ stuff than be prepare to pay 5 to 10 times the price! As for growing ginseng it is certainly far from a cash crop where you’ll see your money back within a year. It takes several years to mature with most roots cultivated around the 5 to 7 year mark and it’s very picky about the kind of soil it thrives in. It’s also very susceptible to be stolen or eaten by rodents and a variety of diseases can get to the crop during the early years. If you’re adventurous and patient enough to give it a try the plot of soil you use needs to be well drained and has a pH between 4.5 and 5.5 and calcium levels should be about 4,000 pounds per acre.

Canadian Ginseng ginseng

Now as for Asian ginseng let me start off by saying that I have purposely excluded discussing about Siberian ginseng because they are extremely hard to find in Canada. Not sure if that’s because not enough is produce to be exported or because the Russians are stockpiling them but I have never seen a store that carries an abundant supply of them. That leaves us with 2: Chinese and Korean. Just like the auto industry the Koreans took the early lead. Depending on whether you believe everything you read Korean ginseng has a higher concentration of ginsenosides. In every day English ginsenosides is a chemical that has benefits ranging from helping to reduce fatigue to stimulating the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus to direct the production of hormones that stimulate cell growth. University studies conducted around the world has also lead to some very promising conclusion about ginseng’s ability to kill cancer cells as well as treating leukemia. Even those with type 2 diabetes often find that after 2 weeks of Asian ginseng their blood sugar will reduce considerably.

Korean Ginseng Chinese Ginseng

Chinese ginseng are generally less expensive, although at a starting price of about $300 a can it’s hardly cheap. When you buy Asian ginseng you will often see a number such as 10, 15 or 20 on the packaging which refers to the number of roots there are inside. The lower the number the bigger each root is since they should all weight the same. For those who want to enjoy the benefits of Asian ginseng and still be able to make their car payments or mortgage then I suggest looking into alternatives such as tea bags, capsules or paste. Tea bags, it’s pretty straight forward as to how to use it and it’s probably the least potent of the three. Then it’s a tossup between capsules and paste but keep in mind using a ginseng paste will definitely yield stronger taste. Best advice I can give you is to experiment to see what works best for you.

Hopes this gives you a good overview of what ginseng and good for and how you can benefit from it. Now go out, get some and experience wellness at a new level!

For any questions about ginseng, Chinese herbs, or recipes, please feel free to contact Steven directly. Photo credits Cheung’s Trading Company