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(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)
Many are the tales the Chinese tell of the wonderful cures that ginseng has wrought. They will tell you that its roots are a remedy for every illness, that they are able to prolong life and even to restore it after death; and their legends recount how the wolf, tiger, snake, and panda protect this miraculous plant from harm, and how the roots save themselves from capture by moving from place to place underground. And so, although our own physicians regard it as of little value, Johnny Chinaman still buys it at any price.
The most valuable ginseng – sometimes worth £10 an ounce – comes from Korea and Manchuria, and an inferior quality is cultivated in Japan. Most of the wild ginseng has now disappeared, and a cultivated plant is taking its place.
But the wild variety always commands better prices, because of the Chinese superstition which prefers roots resembling a man or some grotesque being (ginseng means “form of man”) rather than the regular roots which cultivation tends to produce. As shown above, the most fantastic shapes of men, animals, and wild birds are often dug up.
Ginseng belongs to the genus Panax. Panax ginseng, a native of China, and Panax quinquefolium, of eastern North America, are the most noted species.