The name ginseng may conjure up many ideas varying from person to person. While most of us have seen the name on energy drinks next to other “energy” supplements such as guarana and B vitamins, few people may realize exactly how much controversy surrounds the plant. Ginseng is thought to give its users a temporary boost or alertness. This effect is questionable, but some things about ginseng can be verified: it often sells for over $300 a pound, and Asian markets have an almost endless demand for it.
Unfortunately, wild American ginseng, the most profitable variety, has been extensively over-harvested, and cultivated American ginseng is not nearly as treasured by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. Buyers can easily tell the difference between wild and cultivated ginseng, as the wild roots are gnarled and forked, often shaped like a man. The cultivated roots are smooth and fat, almost like carrots.
“The Chinese believe that the slower growing wild roots, which are harvested at an older age, absorb more curative power from the forest floor (Persons, 1994). Scientific laboratory tests are not used to determine the value of ginseng roots in China.”
–Virginia Cooperative Extension