American Ginseng

American Ginseng http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Panax_quinquefolius.jpg

Panax quinquefolius                                                      

Common Name: American Ginseng.

Family: Araliaceae.

Synonyms: Aralia quinquefolia.

Habitats: Rich cool woods.

Range: Eastern: N. America – Maine to Georgia, west to Oklahoma and Minnesota.      

Physical Characteristics        

Panax quinquefolius is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in) at a slow rate. It is hardy to zone 3. It is in flower in June. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It requires moist soil.

Edible Uses                                                  

A tea is made from the leaves and the roots. The aromatic root is candied and used as a masticatory.

Medicinal Uses

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Medicinal Actions: Adaptogen;  Cardiotonic;  Demulcent;  Sedative;  Sialagogue;  Stimulant;  Stomachic.

This N. American species of ginseng is said to have similar properties to the Oriental ginseng, P. ginseng, though it is said to have a milder action and is more likely to be prescribed for younger patients. It is cultivated in some areas of America as a medicinal crop and is also often harvested from the wild.The root is said to be adaptogen, cardiotonic, demulcent, panacea, sedative, sialagogue, stimulant and stomachic.

It is used in the treatment of chronic cough, low-grade fever, spontaneous or night sweating and fatigue due to chronic consumptive disease. When taken over an extended period it is said to increase mental efficiency and physical performance whilst helping the body adapt to high or low temperatures and stress. Some caution is advised, though, because large doses are said to raise blood pressure. The root is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. The following notes are the list of uses for P. ginseng.

Ginseng has a history of herbal use going back over 5,000 years. It is one of the most highly regarded of herbal medicines in the Orient, where it has gained an almost magical reputation for being able to promote health, general body vigour and also to prolong life. The root is adaptogen, alterative, carminative, demulcent, emetic, expectorant, stimulant and tonic. It stimulates and relaxes the nervous system, encourages the secretion of hormones, improves stamina, lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels and increases resistance to disease. It is used internally in the treatment of debility associated with old age or illness, lack of appetite, insomnia, stress, shock and chronic illness.

American Ginseng drawing

Ginseng is not normally prescribed for pregnant women, or for patients under the age of 40, or those with depression, acute anxiety or acute inflammatory disease. It is normally only taken for a period of 3 weeks. Excess can cause headaches, restlessness, raised blood pressure and other side effects, especially if it is taken with caffeine, alcohol, turnips and bitter or spicy foods. The roots are harvested in the autumn, preferably from plants 6 – 7 years old, and can be used fresh or dried. A dose of 10ug/ml of ginseng saponins has been shown to be significantly radio-protective when it is administered prior to gamma-irradiation. The leaf is emetic and expectorant.

Cultivation                                                  

Requires a deep moist humus rich soil in a shady position in a woodland. Requires deep shade, growing well on north-facing slopes and in woodland. Often grown as a medicinal plant, though considered to be inferior to Korean ginseng, P. ginseng. It is exported from N. America, mainly to Hong Kong.

Propagation                                                

Seed – sow in a shady position in a cold frame preferably as soon as it is ripe, otherwise as soon as the seed is obtained. It can be very slow and erratic to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a shady position in the greenhouse or frame for at least their first winter. Make sure the pots are deep enough to accommodate the roots. Plant out into their permanent positions in late summer. Division in spring.