American Ginseng for Heart Health

Promote heart health, tend to minor skin injuries and cook with American ginseng.


| June 2014



American ginseng

American ginseng is a tonic herb that lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, strengthens the nervous system and increases resistance to infection and stress.


Photo by Fotolia/Morphart

Inspired by the extensive herb grounds of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, herbalist Deni Bown has cataloged 150 essential herbs for modern living. Herbal (Pavilion Books Ltd., 2001) is an excellent source book for experts and novices alike. With Bown’s expertise and anecdotes, the story of each herb unfolds and is heavily illustrated with personal photographs and botanical name plates. In this excerpt, learn how American ginseng can be used to promote heart health, treat minor skin irritation and be incorporated into everyday foods.

Herb Profile: American Ginseng

Panax quinquefolius       

Portrait

A hardy perennial, about 38cm (15in) tall, with a cigar-shaped, often branched, aromatic rootstock, and leaves divided into five (occasionally three or seven) toothed, oblong, pointed leaflets, the largest reaching 15cm (6in) long. Tiny greenish-white flowers appear in a cluster above the whorl of leaves in early summer, followed by a bright red, raspberry-like fruit. American ginseng is native to eastern North American woodlands. Its equivalent in Asia in P. ginseng, which grows wild in north-eastern China and is extensively cultivated, notably in Korea.

History

The use of ginseng in China goes back some 5,000 years and by the twelfth century there were already shortages due to over-collection. The first descriptions of P. ginseng in the wild were published in 1714 by Father Jartoux, a Jesuit missionary. He observed that forested mountains on the Korean border were so like those in Canada that a similar species must surely grow there — an observation that prompted Father Lafitau, a Jesuit priest in Canada, to search for the plant, which he eventually found in 1716. (Millions of years ago, North America was connected to Asia, which explains why the two continents, though now distantly separated, still have some closely related species.) His discovery initiated the thriving export trade of American ginseng to China that continues to this day. In turn, American ginseng has become increasingly scarce in the wild, leading to legislation restricting its collection, and new initiatives to cultivate this valuable herb, both in North America and Europe.





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