The History of Ginseng

Source: Will Hsu, UW Marathon County “Good Ideas” Conference, January of 2016

If you have been following us for awhile, you already know that our Ginseng business started in 1974 by Paul Hsu.

However, ginseng itself has been around for thousands of years and has its a really deep history in Chinese Culture.

The History

The first recorded description of ginseng and its usage appears in a classical Chinese Traditional Medicine text: “Shennong Bencao Jing”, nearly 2,400 years ago.Ginseng1

    • This text is considered to be bible of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
    • It depicts a lot of the herbs, products, and plants that were used in early China, particularly in the Han Dynasty.
    • It’s important because the Han Dynasty is located primarily around Northern China.
    • You’d only find Ginseng in some parts of North Korea, and the most northern parts of China.

As Chinese Dynasty’s continued to migrate south, they became more distant from some of those earlier texts that really prescribed the use of ginseng and other products.Han Dynasty.gif

It was used here and there, but given the distance and the rarity of the plant, it was really reserved for royalty.

Ginseng is prescribed in detail in the late Han Dynasty medicinal text “Shanghan Lun” Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders by preeminent Chinese physician Zhang Zhongjing around 200 AD. Nearly 20% of the remedies prescribed in this text contained references or usage of Asian ginseng.


Chinese physician Zhang Zhongjing around 200 AD

Because Asian Ginseng is heating/stimulating, they used it as a fever relieving remedy.

  • The idea was to to take Ginseng to help the body sweat out toxins.
  • The concept was to treat “hot” with more hot.
  • Traditional Remedies followed similar concepts.
    • Hot Tea
    • Sweat Lodges
    • Chicken Noodle Soup

Because of the northern climate in China, Asian Ginseng was also used in winter. It does help promote circulation and blood flow.

  • Because of the promotion of blood flow, there is also a belief that ginseng aids in virility.
    • This is what people from the West have assumed ginseng was used for in Eastern culture.
      • However, it was originally used as a cold remedy.
  • It is referred to as one of the “King Herbs” of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

For nearly 1500 years, ginseng was contained to China and used exclusively for imperial royalty.

    • Examples: Senior officials, people in court, and those close to the Emperor.

The Ming Dynasty started allowing Westerners in to study, research, and share knowledge.

    • This is when westerners first started hearing about Asian Ginseng

Ginseng first appears in Western records by the end of the Ming Dynasty by the Italians

    • Probably because of influences like Marco Polo, as they are trading with the Chinese.
      • The Italians were some of the first discoverers by land and by sea to exchange and trade information with other cultures.

In the 1700’s, Father Jartoux, a French Jesuit missionary who traveled to China to Study Traditional Chinese Medicine and wrote extensively about Asian Ginseng.

    • Illustrations in the “Memoir of the Royal Academy in Paris (1709)”
    • Translated into English in “The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1711)”


Through the early 18th century all records and documented usage of ginseng was of the Asian ginseng species.

  • Ginseng was used by the Iroquois and other Native American tribes at the time of it’s discovery in the “New World”.
  • Jesuit missionary Father Lafitau is credited in 1718 with the discovery of American Ginseng in Quebec after reading Father Jartoux’s earlier writings on Asian Ginseng.
    • He believed that conditions in North America were suitable and similar in climate which Asian Ginseng was found.

      Father Lafitau

    • He worked with Iroquois and Mohawk herbalists or healers to search for and eventually identified the plant and took botanical plates (drawings).

Trading of ginseng commenced between French-Canada and China along fur trading routes.

Ginseng was soon discovered thereafter in the British Colonies of the modern-day United States.

Wild Ginseng and Fur continued to be intertwined commercially in North America for nearly 200 years, until the late 1990’s

  • Anyone who was trading in furs typically traded in ginseng.
    • Think of the Fromm Farm in our area!
  • When you were out trapping animal pelts in the fall, you are also out in the woods hunting wild ginseng.

As ginseng markets fluctuated over the years, some farmers were able to generate enough income based off of their ginseng crop alone. This led to the cultivation of ginseng.

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.