099. Panax quinquefolium. Ginseng.
Synonyma. Ginseng. Pharm. Lond. & Edinb. Raii. Hist. p. 1338.
Aureliana canadensis. Lafiteau in Memoires concernant la precieuse plante de Ginseng. Paris, 1718. Et Hist. de L'Acad. 1718. p. 42. Catesbys Car. 3. p. 16. t. 16. Breyn. in Prod. rar. pl. 2. p. 35. Fig. ad. p. 52.
Araliastrum foliis ternis quinquepartitis Gingseng s. Ninsin officinarum. Ehret. tabul. a Trew, t. 6. fig. 1.
Gin-seng Chinensibus. Jartoux Phil. Trans. vol. xxviii. p. 237. Cons. Des lettres edisantes & curieuses, tom. x. p. 172.
Araliastrum, quinquefolii folio, majus Ninsin [The plant formerly known by this name is now understood to be the Sion Ninsi, of Linnaeus.] vocatum. Vall. Sex. 43.
Class Polygamia. Ord. Dioecia. Lin. Gen. Plant. 1166.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Hermaphrod. Umbella. Cal. 5-dentatus, superus. Cor. 5-petala. Stam. 5. Styli 2. Bacca disperma.
Masc. Umbella. Cal. integer. Cor. 5-petala. Stam. 5.
Spec. Char. P. foliis ternis quinatis.
The root is perennial, small, wrinkled, branched, of a pale yellowish colour, and sends off many short slender fibres: the stalk is erect, smooth, round, simple, tinged of a deep purple colour, and above a foot in height: the leaves arise with the flower stem from a thick joint at the extremity of the stalk; they are generally three, but sometimes more, of the digitated kind, each dividing into five simple leaves, which are of an irregular oval shape, serrated, veined, pointed, smooth, of a deep green colour above, and stand upon short footstalks proceeding from a common petiolus, which is long, round, and almost erect: the flowers are white, produced in a roundish terminal umbel, and are hermaphrodite or male on separate plants: the former, which we have figured, stand in close simple umbels: the involucrum consists of several small, tapering, pointed, permanent leaves; the proper calyx is tubular, and divided at the rim into five small teeth: the corolla consists of five petals, which are small, oval, equal, and reflexed: the filaments are five, short, and furnished with simple anthers: the germen is roundish, placed below the corolla, and supports two short erect styles, crowned by simple stigmata: the fruit is an umbilicated two-celled berry, each containing a single irregularly heart-shaped seed. The flowers appear in June.
Ginseng was formerly supposed to grow only in Chinese Tartary, affecting mountainous situations, shaded by close woods; but it has now been long known that this plant is also a native of North America, whence M. Sarrasin transmitted specimens of it to Paris in the year 1704; [Sarrasin was correspondent of the Royal Academy of Sciences, in the history of which his account was published in 1718. See p. 44.] and the Ginseng since discovered in Canada, Pensylvania, and Virginia by Lafiteau, [L. c.] Kalm, [Resa til N. America. t iii. p. 334.] Bartram, [Comm. Nor. 1741. p. 361.] and others, has been found to correspond exactly with the Tartarian species, and its roots are now regularly purchased by the Chinese, who consider them to be the same as those of eastern growth, which are known to undergo a certain preparation, whereby they assume an appearance somewhat different. For it is said that in China the roots are washed and soaked in a decoction of rice, or millet-seed, and afterwards exposed to the steam of the liquor, by which they acquire a greater firmness and clearness than in their natural state. [The Chinese value these roots in some measure according to their figure, esteeming those very highly which are regularly forked, or have a fancied resemblance to the human form.] The plant was first introduced into England in 1740 by that industrious naturalist Peter Collinson, [See Hort. Kew.] and our figure was drawn from a good specimen, growing in the Royal Botanic garden at Kew.
The dried root of Ginseng, as imported here, is scarcely the thickness of the little finger, about three or four inches long, frequently forked, transversely wrinkled, of a horny texture, and both internally and externally of a yellowish white colour. "To the taste it discovers a mucilaginous sweetness, approaching to that of liquorice, accompanied with some degree of bitterishness, and a slight aromatic warmth, with little or no smell. It is far sweeter and of a more grateful smell than the roots of fennel, to which it has by some been supposed similar; and differs likewise remarkably from those roots, in the nature and pharmaceutic properties of its active principles; the sweet matter of the Ginseng being preserved entire in the watery as well as the spirituous extract, whereas that of fennel roots is destroyed or dissipated in the inspissiation of the watery tincture. The slight aromatic impregnation of the Ginseng is likewise in good measure retained in the watery extract, and perfectly in the spirituous." [Lewis, M. M. p. 325.]
The Chinese ascribe extraordinary virtues to the root of Ginseng, and have long considered it as a sovereign remedy in almost all diseases to which they are liable, having no confidence in any medicine unless in combination with it. It is observed by Jartoux, that the most eminent Physicians in China have written volumes on the medicinal powers of this plant, asserting that it gives immediate relief in extreme fatigue, either of body or mind, that it dissolves pituitous humours, and renders respiration easy, strengthens the stomach, promotes appetite, stops vomitings, removes hysterical, hypochondriacal, and all nervous affections, and gives a vigorous tone of body, even in extreme old age. [L. c. See also Decker, (Exercit. pract. p. m. 670.)] These, and many other effects of this root, equally improbable and extravagant, are related by various authors, and Jartoux was so much biassed by this eastern prejudice in favour of Ginseng, that he seems to have given them full credit, and confirms them in some measure from his own experience. [He says, "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."—"I observed the state of my pulse, and then took half of a root raw: in an hour after I found my pulse much fuller and quicker; I had an appetite, and found myself much more vigorous, and could bear labour much better and easier than before. But I did not rely on this trial alone, imagining that this alteration might proceed from the rest we had that day: but four days after, finding myself so fatigued and weary that I could scarce fit on horseback, a Mandarin who was in company with us perceiving it, gave me one of these roots: I took half of it immediately, and an hour after I was not the least sensible of any weariness. I have often made use of it since, and always with the same success. I have observed also, that the green leaves, and especially the fibrous parts of them chewed, would produce nearly the same effect." Phil. Trans. vol. xxviii. p. 239.] But we know of no proofs of the efficacy of Ginseng in Europe, and from its sensibie qualities we judge it to possess very little power as a medicine. [Dr. Cullen says, "We are told that the Chinese consider Ginseng as a powerful aphrodisiac; but I have long neglected the authority of popular opinions, and this is one instance that has confirmed my judgment. I have known a gentleman, a little advanced in life, who chewed a quantity of this root every day for several years, but who acknowledged he never found his faculties in this way improved by it." M. M. vol. ii. p. 161.] It is recommended in decoction, viz. a dram of the root to be long boiled in a sufficient quantity of water for one dose.