Ginseng

(Panax schinseng, and Panax quinquefolium) The latter is a North American species, a substitute for the real thing when it became rare. It was actually exported to China from the early 19th century (Dalby). This American ginseng was used by native Americans as an ingredient in a love charm. Meskwaki women wanting a mate made up a potion from ginseng roots, mixed with gelatine and snake meat. The Pawnees combined it with wild columbine, cardinal flower and carrot-leaved parsley in their version of the love charm (Weiner).

In domestic medicine, Alabama mothers gave ginseng tea to babies who had colic (R B Browne), and it is, in fact, used in the southern states as a remedy for all kinds of stomach troubles (Thomas & Thomas).

The true ginseng, from northern China, is now rare because of the extensive use of the root in Chinese medicine. The forked root was treated like the human form (like mandrake, in fact; it would seem that the whole of the mandrake legend spread to China, and became attached to ginseng) (G E Smith) (see MANDRAKE). It was used as a universal panacea; indeed Panax, the name of the genus, has the same derivation as panacea, i.e., "heal-all" (W A R Thompson. 1976). The name All-heal is even recorded in English (Hal-liwell). Ginseng, the name, is Chinese Jin-chen, which means man-like (W A R Thompson. 1976), and it was because of this supposed resemblance that the doctrine of signatures worked, that is to say that the plant healed all parts of the body. The more closely the root resembled the human form, the more valuable it was considered, and well-formed roots were worth their weight in gold (Schery) - as an aphrodisiac (Simons). It was the Dutch who brought the root to Europe, in 1610, and its reputation as an aphrodisiac came with it. The court of Louis XIV in particular seemed to value this reputation (Hohn). Medicinally, it was recommended for conditions that were characterized by exhaustion and a lack of zest for life. But the Chinese also used it to aid longevity (R Hyatt). The root of Codonopsis pilosula or C tangshen are often used in Chinese medicine as a substitute for the more expensive ginseng (Hyam & Pankhurst; Perry & Metzger).

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