Wild Ginseng

Cayce’s insistence on “wild” ginseng
is consistent with ancient Chinese medicine.
The traditional Chinese position is
that slower growing wild plants, which
are harvested at an older age, absorb
more vital power from the natural environment.
Cultivated ginseng, which does
not have to compete with other woodland
plants for nutrients or water, grows
much faster and is harvested at an earlier
age before it has accumulated its full
vital potential.

This theory is supported by obvious
differences in appearance. Wild ginseng
root is dark tan in color, relatively small,
light in weight, and gnarled in appearance
with many concentric growth rings
that are forked (resembling the human
form). Wild ginseng root typically has a
long neck.

Cream-colored cultivated roots tend
to be large, smooth, and heavy with a
shape resembling a carrot. Furthermore,
the domesticated variety usually has a
short neck.

Intensely cultivated ginseng is vulnerable
to fungal diseases that are controlled
by vigorous use of fungicides. The possibility
of pesticide residues in cultivated
crops is a major concern for health-conscious

With the rarity of wild ginseng and
health concerns associated with the cultivated
crops, some ginseng farmers have
adopted a middle ground of planting ginseng
in a wild setting and allowing it to
develop naturally. Wild simulated ginseng
has the appearance (and presumably
the vital potency) of truly wild ginseng
at a reduced price.

Ginseng Supplements

In the United States, the dried root of
ginseng is typically consumed as an ingredient
in a dietary supplement. This
makes ginseng largely unregulated in
terms of potency and pesticide residues.
The presence of ginseng in a laboratory
sample is determined by levels of a
distinctive chemical called ginsenoside.
Researchers who analyzed twenty-five
ginseng products from a California health-food store found that the level of
ginsenodsides varies greatly in powders
and capsules (a fifteen-fold difference)
and even more in liquid extracts (thirty-six
fold difference). Most of the products
failed to list their ginsenoside levels
on the label. When listed, the measured
ginsenoside levels ranged from 11 percent
to 330 percent of the stated amount.

Another study that focused on pesticides
and heavy metals found significant
levels of hexachlorobenzene – a potential
human carcinogen – in one of five
products labeled as containing “Korean
Ginseng.” Two other pesticides,
quintozene and lindane, were also found
to be above acceptable levels. None of
the products were contaminated with
heavy metals.

Variability is not uncommon in the
unregulated American dietary supplement
industry. European herbal suppliers are
generally much more closely regulated.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if
you are considering using ginseng:

Buy from reputable suppliers of dietary supplements.
Insist on wild or wild simulated sources.
Most importantly, monitor your own response to the herb. Trust your intuition as to the potency of the product that you have purchased.
Hopefully, the ginseng that you obtain
will be dug by a benevolent
“wildcrafter” such as my grandfather.

A word of caution: Ginseng may interact
with certain medications such as
the blood-thinning drug Coumadin. Research
reported in the Annals of Internal
Medicine (July 2004) indicates that
ginseng may reduce that drug’s effectiveness.
As a general principle, it is always
a good idea to be alert to possible
herb/medicine interactions.

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