The root of Aralia quinquefolia, Decaisne and Planchon (Panax quinquefolium, Linné; Ginseng quinquefolia, Wood).
COMMON NAME: Ginseng.
ILLUSTRATION: Johnson, Med. Bot. of N. A., Fig. 132.
Botanical Source.—Ginseng has a perennial, fusiform, whitish, thick, and fleshy root, transversely wrinkled, and terminating in fibers; its upper portion slender and marked with the scars of the former shoots. The stem is round, smooth, green, often with a tinge of red, about 1 foot high, regularly divided at top into 3 petioles, with a flower-stalk in their center. The petiole is round, smooth, and swelling at the base. Leaves 3, ternate, quinate, or septentate. Leaflets pedicellate, obovate, sharply serrate, acuminate, smooth on both sides, with scattered bristles on the veins above. Flowers small, greenish, in a simple umbel, supported by a round, slender peduncle, which rises from the top of the stem, in the center of the petioles. The involucre is composed of a multitude of short, subulate bracts, interspersed among the flower-stalks, which are so short as to give the appearance of a head rather than an umbel. Calyx with 5 small, acute teeth. Petals 6, oval, reflexed, and deciduous. Stamens 5, with oblong anthers. Styles 2, reflexed and persistent. Ovary large, inferior, ovate-cordate, and compressed. The berries are kidney-shaped, retuse at both ends, compressed, of a bright-scarlet color, crowned with a calyx and styles, and contain 2 and sometimes 3 semicircular seeds. The outermost florets ripen first, and their berries often obtain their full size before the central ones are expanded; the central florets are frequently abortive (L.—W.).
History and Description.—Ginseng is a native of most of the middle and northern states, and extends on the mountains far south, growing in rich soil and in shaded situations, and flowering in July. C. S. Rafinesque (Med. Flora of the U. S., Vol. II, 1830, p. 53) states that the Jesuits, knowing the plant from their sojourns in Tartary, found it afterward, toward 1718, in Canada, and instituted the trade in this root with China. The root is somewhat fusiform, 2 or 3 inches in length, and about 1/2 an inch in diameter, and sends off a few delicate fibers. When dried, it consists of a soft, yellowish-white, corrugated bark, inclosing a central, woody substance. It has a faint smell, and its taste is sweetish, somewhat bitter, mucilaginous, and feebly aromatic. Water or alcohol takes up its properties. Large quantities of it are now gathered and sent to China, where it commands an enormous price, as the Chinese ascribe wonderful medicinal virtues to it. The American drug is cheapest (about $1.86 per pound), next ranks Corea ginseng ($16.50 per pound), and highest in price is the genuine Chinese ginseng. The latter is seldom found in the stores, and the finest qualities command the price of from $60 to $100 for a weight of about 580 grains. In Corea, the cultivation and trade in ginseng is a government monopoly (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, p. 597; 1897, p. 551, and 1898, p. 251). Ginseng is also grown in Japan, but is considered inferior to Corea ginseng. The genuine Chinese ginseng is the root of Aralia Ginseng, A. Meyer (Panax Ginseng, Nees), an east Asia plant. Altogether, 5 commercial grades of ginseng are distinguished in China. It is often adulterated by mixing it with the root of some species of Convolvulus and other roots. (On the cultivation of ginseng in America, see Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1891, p. 411.) Ginseng is becoming very scarce and, unless a method of cultivation becomes practical, bids fair to be exterminated. The price now is from $4.00 to $7.50 per pound and advancing.
Chemical Composition.—Rafinesque (loc. cit.) states that the roots have a pleasant, camphorated smell, and that they owe their active properties to a peculiar substance similar to camphor, which he calls panacine—white, pungent, soluble in alcohol and water, more fixed than camphor. The roots also contain a volatile oil, sugar, mucilage, resin, etc. S. S. Garrigues (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1854, p. 511) obtained from an aqueous infusion a sweetish-bitter, amorphous yellow principle, which he calls panaquilon. It is soluble in ether and alcohol, insoluble in water. Concentrated sulphuric acid dissolves it with purple-red color. If the solution is poured into water, a white precipitate (panacon) results (see Davydow, Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1890, p. 338).
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—A mild tonic and stimulant. Useful in loss of appetite, slight nervous debility, and weak stomach. Continued for some length of time, for its temporary administration gives but little benefit, it is a very important remedy in nervous dyspepsia, and in mental exhaustion from overwork. It gives fairly good results in nervous prostration, and in cerebral anemia. By some, it is considered useful in asthma, gravel, convulsions, paralysis, to invigorate the virile powers, etc. It gives fairly good results in atonic laryngitis, bronchitis, and some relief in phthisis, being a secondary remedy for these complaints. Dose, of the powder, from 10 to 60 grains; of the infusion, from 2 to 4 fluid ounces; specific panax, 5 to 60 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Nervous dyspepsia; mental and other forms of nervous exhaustion from overwork.