Long famed in Oriental cultures for its ability to restore and rejuvenate, ginseng’s renown swiftly went worldwide in the mid-1700s.
Ginseng root, which thousands of people eat on a daily basis to relieves their weariness, is said to have also relieved people’s weariness hundreds of years ago. Of course, due to its rarity, only the richest or those of the nobility would have had access to this root. Almost all medicines prescribed to high-ranking Chinese aristocrats included ginseng. Such ginseng must have been piqued the curiosity of the few Westerners who entered East Asia in the 17th century. Around that time, ginseng was introduced to the West as a mysterious herb of the East.
In 1680, a clinical casebook containing treatments using a strain of ginseng was published in the United Kingdom. It was written by a Yorkshire Dr. Simpson who described a patient who was thin, short of breath, and coughing. The patient also had a fever and a lack of sleep or appetite. Experimenting with ginseng root warmed in fresh milk, he reported in conclusion a…
“wonderful success… Mr. M—, who was much emaciated and reduced into a perfect skeleton, a meet bag of bones . . I was resolved to try what the Tincture of this Root would do . . And I found his Flesh to come again like that a Child and his lost Appetite restored, and his natural Ruddy Complexion revived in his Cheeks, to the Amazement of his desponding Relations, called Lazarus the Second.”
In the “A History of the Materia Medica” of 1751 (which was an encyclopedia of medicines), ginseng was mentioned in these glowing terms:
“European doctors esteem it a good Medicine in Convulsions, Vertigoes (dizziness), and all nervous Complaints, and recommend it as one of the best Restoratives known.”
Ginseng played a role in American history as well. After the Boston Tea Party, the colonies were not at a loss as to what they could trade in China for tea, porcelain, and other spices. Ships filled to the brim with wild American ginseng would bring in great profits in then Canton and Amoy. Entire towns sprung into collecting the now precious root causing a mini gold rush in the Appalachians.
In more recent history, R. Sokolov wrote in the April 25, 1976 issue of The New York Times:
“Health‐food stores from coast to coast are selling it in ever greater volume. Fancy East Side Manhattan pharmacies are featuring it. And a dramatically growing number of Americans are talking about its amazing powers. R is considered to be a tonic and a way to better all‐round health.”
And of course, provided a cocktail recipe:
Combine 2 oz, vodka, I oz. lemon juice, 1 tsp. triple sec. 1/2 tsp, ginseng extract. tbsp. sugar with several ice cubes in a cocktail shaker.
Shake vigorously for 15 seconds; strain into a glass.Mr. Lee’s Ginseng Cocktail
As the world braces for a new era of global pandemics, ginseng is again on people’s radars.
SARS, MERS, and coronavirus. It is said that ginseng sales soar whenever a respiratory virus is prevalent. Company bosses in South Korea and Hong Kong are known for distributing ginseng-derived products to employees. What’s not surprising is that ginseng is finding its way into chocolates, teas, dressings, and energy drinks sold in North American shops
Of course, ginseng is seen as part of the preventative arsenal instead of a cure-all. Studies in recent years have had trouble proving its efficacy empirically, but have not found negative side effects.*