Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant

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University Press of Kentucky, Mar 10, 2006 - Health & Fitness - 224 pages
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American Ginseng has a strange and perilous history. It has one of the longest germination periods of any known species, and only two environments in the world have offered the ideal growing conditions for wild ginseng. The first was the forests of northern China, which disappeared over a millennium ago, and the sole remaining habitat is the Appalachian Mountain region of eastern North America, an area now threatened by logging and mining. Chinese legend says that ginseng is the child of lightning. The two elemental forces of water and fire fight in an eternal struggle, pouring down rain and snow and blasting the earth with lightning. If that lightning happens to strike a spring of water, the water disappears and in its place grows a ginseng plant—the fusion of yin and yang, water and fire, darkness and light, and the life force that moves the universe. American ginseng has become perhaps the most treasured of all herbal medicines, promising good health and longevity to those who consume it. Fortunes have been made and lost on the plant, which was America’s first export to China—before our nation even existed. The strange, twisted, man-shaped root today commands as much as two thousand dollars a pound in the hot, noisy ginseng markets of Hong Kong, and a wealthy collector might pay as much as $10,000 for a single, perfect specimen. Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America’s Most Valuable Plant unfolds ginseng’s past and its future through the stories of seven people whose lives have become inextricably bound to it: a huckster, a field researcher, a farmer, a ginseng “missionary,” a criminal investigator, a broker, and a cancer researcher. Each of these individuals brings a different perspective to the elusive root—and each is consumed by a different dream. Kristin Johannsen threads her way though remote woodlands in the Appalachians to observe the fragile plants slowly putting out leaves as part of a three-year growing cycle, during which time the ginseng is vulnerable to both poachers and growing suburban sprawl. She contrasts this with the huge commercial growing fields of Marathon County, Wisconsin, where among potato fields and paper mills, ninety percent of the country’s ginseng is produced. Johannsen explores the brisk black market trade in the panacean root and the efforts to save the wild species and its native habitat, and she ends her story in the laboratory, where researchers are investigating ginseng’s anti-cancer properties. An absorbing journey into the many worlds of this mysterious and potent plant, Ginseng Dreams tells the extraordinary story of America’s little-known natural treasure and the spell it casts on those who seek it.

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User Review  - jaygheiser - LibraryThing

Very readable, enjoyable and interesting text. Everything you need to know about Ginseng. Read full review

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Page 17 - ... appetite, that it disperses fumes or vapors, that it fortifies the breast, and is a remedy for short or weak breathing, that it strengthens the vital spirits and increases lymph in the blood, in short, that it is good against dizziness of the head and dimness of sight, and that it prolongs life in old age. Nobody can imagine that the Chinese and Tartars would set so high a value upon this root if it did not constantly produce a good effect. Those that are in health often make use of it to render...
Page 17 - These poor people suffer a great deal in this expedition. They carry with them neither tents nor beds, everyone being sufficiently loaded with his provision, which is only millet parched in an oven, upon which he must subsist all the time of his journey. So that they are constrained to sleep under trees, having only their branches and barks, if they can find them, for their covering.

About the author (2006)

Kristin Johannsen, a travel and environmental writer for nearly twenty years, is the coauthor of Ecotourism in Appalachia: Marketing the Mountains. Her articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications.

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