Korean J Med Hist.  2003 Dec;12(2):144-166.

A Study on the true nature of 'Chinese Jinseng'

  • 1Department of Medical History, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Korea.


Studies Generally, it is believed that the ancient 'Chinese jinseng' did exist due to the fact that it is clearly recorded in the Chinese historical and medicine-related sources. Although it is hard to deny that such 'ginseng' did exist in ancient China, the re-examination of its true nature is also necessary. In other words, certain refutation can be made against the claim that ancient 'Chinese jinseng' was in fact 'Panax ginseng C. A. Mey', since the Chinese jinseng accounts do not tell that it is such. For example, when looking into its shape based on descriptions, the 'Chinese jinseng' has black seed hairy stem, and violet flower, 'Panax ginseng C. A. Mey', on the other hand, has opal seed, no-hair stem, and light-green flower. In terms of cultivation centre, most of mainland China is unsuitable for jinseng production with the exception of the Shangdang area of Shanxi province, which solely had the reputation of being the production centre of ancient 'Chinese jinseng'. However, when looking into the Chinese sources for jinseng-producing areas they show that Hepei and Liaoning province and Jiangnan (south of the Yangtze river) areas also have had some jinseng-related history. Regardless of such instance, these regions did not cultivate 'Panax ginseng C. A. Mey'. As shown above, ancient 'Chinese jinseng' was far from being identical, in respect to its shape or production areas, to 'Panax ginseng C. A. Mey'. Hence, this study came to the conclusion that there is indeed very high skepticism about whether the true nature of 'jinseng' in ancient China was in fact 'Panax ginseng C. A. Mey'. On the contrary, there is higher possibility that the ancient 'Chinese jinseng' is totally different plant from 'Panax ginseng C. A. Mey', which is actually Codonopsis pilosula. When examining the shape and production areas of Codonopsis pilosula, it is closely matched with many parts of ancient 'Chinese jinseng' texts. In short, it is presumed that the 'Chinese jinseng' did indeed exist in ancient China but it was Codonopsis pilosula instead of 'Panax ginseng C. A. Mey'.


Chinese Jinseng; Shangdang Area; Panax Ginseng; Imamura Tomo; The History of Ginseng
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