A delicious root (brewed much like tea), popular in china for many hundred years, supposed to promote health, mental alertness and sexual prowess, it does have a mild stimulating effect. Recently became very popular in the United States, and is put into many health elixers and sports drinks, also available in pill form.

The most prized ginseng is grown in the United States on the East Coast, giving it the name hua qi xin, or "herb from the country with the flowery flag" (yep, that's what we think of your flag). That's a nickname, the real name is ren sheng, meaning "root of heaven".

Used more for prevention of illness than cure, ginseng is supposed to promote the senses, learning and memory, making it particularly popular with Asian parents who were concerned with their kids' academic performances. My mom used to feed me this stuff before major exams, with no effects whatsoever. By itself, ginseng smells nice, but when made into a soup it tastes absolutely horrid, with a very bitter aftertaste. Didn't discourage people from consuming it, especially old people, because they thought it made them live longer.

Scientific research shows ginseng chemically increases certain hormone levels and induces a very mild state of mental arousal. Sexual prowess is completely unproven, academic achievement drew a similar blank. My parents ignored this, and they still feed me the noxious brew every chance they get.

The recent Western fad has created a plethora of nasty "health drinks" all with ginseng labelled in huge letters. From taste, you can tell they contain very little ginseng, if any at all, and the makers are just exploiting the gullible health-freaks that are everywhere in America today. Narf.

Ginseng generally refers to the extract of the ginseng root. There are three main varieties -- Siberian Ginseng, Chinese-Panax Ginseng, and American Ginseng. It is reputed to have tonic effects and increases energy levels. Ginseng must be taken for 2 weeks before any effects will be apparent. It has anti-coagulant (dilates blood vessels) properties and neuroprotective effects, but the Asian variety (which is harder to find) can temporarily raise blood pressure like caffeine or ephedra as it raises your energy level. Ginseng can be taken in pill form, extracts, or teas and is often available in commercial beverages.

Gin"seng (?), n. [Chinese.] Bot.

A plant of the genus Aralia, the root of which is highly valued as a medicine among the Chinese. The Chinese plant (Aralia Schinseng) has become so rare that the American (A. quinquefolia) has largely taken its place, and its root is now an article of export from America to China. The root, when dry, is of a yellowish white color, with a sweetness in the taste somewhat resembling that of licorice, combined with a slight aromatic bitterness.


© Webster 1913.

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