Ginseng is a green plant that produces red bean-shaped berries. The plant is valued for its gray, knobby roots. The name "ginseng" comes from the Chinese phrase "ren shen," which means "man herb," because the irregular-shaped root often resembles a human body. In Latin, Ginseng is called "panax," which is derived from the Greek "panacea," meaning "all-healing."
Three types of ginseng are found in nature: American ginseng, Asian ginseng and Siberian ginseng. Of the three, American and Asian ginseng are related and have similar chemical makeup. Siberian ginseng is a distant relative of American and Asian varieties but is not considered a true ginseng. Eleuthero is an alternative name for Siberian ginseng.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, ginseng is believed to strengthen the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, improve mental performance and reduce stress. The university states that Asian ginseng may protect the body against certain cancers.
Ginseng is propagated by seed or root division. Propagation by seed is a long process, taking 18 months to germinate. Root division propagation is faster. Roots are dug up and cut with a sharp knife. Each piece of root can either be used medicinally or buried to develop into more ginseng roots.
Ginseng prefers shady, moist conditions in order to germinate and grow. The optimum ginseng garden bed is in a wooded area or under the shaded canopy of a tree. Ginseng prefers well-drained soil. In gardens that have clay soil, gardening sand should be mixed with the clay soil at a ratio of 1:1 in order to make the soil drain properly.
Home gardeners can grow ginseng for profit. Ginseng root is a valuable crop and can fetch several hundred dollars per harvested pound. In 2007, ginseng root hit a high price of $1,000 per pound.