Former Reader in Pharmacognosy University of Bradford UK

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Wild ginsengs were originally gathered from many Asiatic and North American sources but continuous overharvesting has now considerably reduced the number of potential gathering areas. Despite this reduction, some wild material is still available commercially. There is, however, no real evidence to substantiate the widely-held folklore belief that the wild product is eminently superior to the carefully cultivated drug. Therefore worldwide supplies are now obtained largely from commercial plantations and considerable knowledge of the problems of cultivation is available.

Ginsengs are plants with very specific growth requirements. They cannot tolerate strong sunlight and much prefer shady positions in deep, predominantly hardwood rather than coniferous woodland where there is also protection from extremes of frost, snow, rain and high winds. Under normal conditions the plants extract natural nutrient materials from the soil in considerable quantities and indigenous growers claim that a decade or more is necessary for soil recovery prior to further ginseng growth. For this reason carefully controlled cultivation is necessary if commercial quantities of good quality ginseng are to be available.

Cultivation offers the advantages that there can be close control of growing conditions with rational replacement of essential nutrients, diseased plants can be detected and treated appropriately, pests such as slugs and snails and predators scavenging the fruits can be restricted, experienced workers can be trained to collect the right part of the plant at the correct time, storage conditions for the harvested crop can be regulated, quality control can be undertaken at source and research trials can be conducted. On the debit side, disadvantages of closely standing crops include the damaging effects of natural phenomena such as fire, flood, typhoons, tornadoes, etc., and the rapid spread of fungal and insect infestations.

Four species, Panax ginseng, P. notoginseng, P. quinquefolium and P. japonicum, have become the subject of extensive research trials and many reports are available especially from Chinese, Japanese and Korean sources. P. ginseng cultivation has been studied comprehensively in China and Korea and P. quinquefolium production has been investigated both in its native North America and in the Far East. Sanchi ginseng (P. notoginseng (Burk.) F.H.Chen=P. pseudoginseng Wall. var. notoginseng Hoo and Tseng)) is the subject of much current research in its native China. Chikusetsu or Japanese ginseng (P. japonicus C.A.Meyer=P. pseudoginseng Wall, subsp. japonicus Hara) is cultivated in Japan where the rhizome is employed as a substitute for Korean ginseng.

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