Those who love tea or are familiar with alternative medicine1 should already know of this one miracle root known as Ginseng. There are plenty of uses and benefits, in which some are proven, have made this root become one of the most sought after by the world. Its long-period maturity time2 and in some cases, its rarity, makes this root also one of the most expensive to obtain. My visit to a local Chinese herbal shop backs this latter fact, and of course, I was allowed to take a snapshot of some of their ginseng stash and other traditional herbs. This Instagram shot below are the prices for a pound of American Ginseng. I’ll explain later a few of the differences of each species of ginseng existing in the world today.
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On my way home from work, I went back to that herb shop to check their ginseng teas and other herbal products. I asked a customer there (who speaks English) about the products they sell. The ginseng roots pictured here are all American Ginseng. They have different benefits and nutrients from the Korean Ginseng, and are considered the "second best" ginseng among all the existing ginseng roots. I read it wrong the last time. They sell them per pound and per age, as a fully-matured root is six years old. The older the ginseng, the better. #ginseng #americanginseng #tcm
And now, a quick explanation as to why I decided to have ginseng as our first Theme of the Month for Symmetry. It’s mainly because my doctor recommended me to sneak in a few select supplements that may be able to help me with my blood sugar maintenance. I also love tea, and one of the teas that were said to have helped regulate blood sugar is none other than ginseng.
Ginseng isn’t just a good supplement for diabetics. For centuries, people in Asia3 have been using this root for different types of ailments and remedies for centuries. The root can be chopped and be added to dishes or even brew tea. The root can also be extracted and can be in thick extract form or on soluble tea granules and it can be consumed by itself or through beverages like tea. The root doesn’t have just many benefits for the inside well-being, but it also has nutrients that can also improve the skin.
About the root
Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial plant belonging to the panax genus of the aralia family, and are usually grown in cooler climates. The root is commonly grown in East Asia (notably Korea, China, Siberia, Bhutan, and Vietnam), as well as North America (notably Wisconsin and some states of Southern U.S.), and for centuries, (East) Asians and Native American tribes have been using the root for medicine and other health remedies.4
There are a variety of species of ginseng around the world. Some perennial plants that fit the characteristics of the ginseng root may be mistaken as ginseng. It has been noted by scientists, herbalists, and experts that the true ginseng plants belong to the panax ((Greek for “all-healing”)) genus. Recorded in Traditional Chinese Medicine manuals, the two most recognized ginseng roots are Panax ginseng (Korean ginseng, red ginseng, sometimes called Asian ginseng) and Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng, white ginseng). There are other types of ginseng related, such as Panax japonicus (Japanese ginseng), Panax vietnamensis (Vietnamese ginseng), Panax pseudoginseng (Nepal ginseng or Himalayan ginseng), and Panax notoginseng (Tienchi ginseng or Sanchi ginseng). However, the most common ones (and are probably the most nutrient-potent) are Korean ginseng and American ginseng. There are those that are mistakenly identified as ginseng, such as Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and crown prince ginseng (Pseudostellaria heterophylla), which do not belong to the panax family and contains nutrients and benefits completely different from any of the panax roots.
Korean and American ginseng contain a common active ingredient, a type of saponin called ginsenoside, which helps regulate blood sugar control and provides other nutrients for the body, depending on its condition and variety of the root.5
Each of the ginseng varieties has different nutrients, benefits, and markup from each other. A few of them are listed below:6
- Lowers blood sugar. (both)
- Increases memory. (both)
- Increases energy and combats fatigue. (both, but Korean ginseng is a lot stronger)
- Prevents common cold and flu. (American ginseng)
- Cures male erectile dysfunction. (Korean ginseng)
- Improves digestion and loss of appetite. (American ginseng)
- Anti-aging aid. (both)
… and a whole lot more.
We consume ginseng in extract form, dietary supplement pills form, or in granules for instant tea beverage (hot or cold). In Asia, or based on the recipes of traditional Asian medicine, the root is also used as a condiment on some dishes, like soups and stews.
A few side effects
Like many herbs and remedies, too much of a good thing is never good. Ginseng may be a miracle all-cure root, but like medicines and everything else, there are side effects, especially if you have too much consumption or that you are using the root incorrectly. Here are a few:7
- Ginseng, unlike some tea leaves such as green tea, white tea, and black tea, does not contain any natural caffeine. However, the root has nutrients that also let a person stay alerted and combat fatigue. In short, ginseng itself can act like an alternate caffeine if consumed too much and can cause insomnia.
- Studies show that too much ginseng can also cause birth defects if consumed while being pregnant or breastfeeding. It’s best to be safe by not taking any ginseng consumption during pregnant or breast- feeding.
- Ginseng is not recommended for infants and, in some cases, children. Honey is never recommended for infants and small children at all times anyway.8 Because ginseng, especially in beverages, is (most of the time) served with honey, a combination of the two can be lethal.
- The liquid forms (extracts) of ginseng may contain sugar or alcohol. If you’re diabetic, consult your doctor if it’s okay to have a liquid/extracted form of ginseng as your dietary supplement. Avoid them if you are alcohol dependent or liver disease.
There are probably more side effects other than the ones listed above, but as always, before you take on any dietary supplement, always consult your doctor first.
Ginseng as an ingredient of beauty
The miracle root ginseng has been used in Asia and among Native Americans for thousands of years as the main ingredient for handmade remedies for different types of ailments. This also includes skin ailments, from anti-aging to anti-wrinkle properties. According to many sources around the net, there are still yet to have some scientific testing to see the root’s effectiveness towards said ailments, however, the reliability of the ginseng continues on through home remedies and natural and organic methods of health and well-being.
Korea is the largest cultivator of ginseng, and as such, Koreans throughout centuries have been using ginseng for their everyday well-being, from internal ailments to beauty maintenance. Ginseng comes in a variety of forms: the roots as a whole, sliced/cut roots, dietary supplement pills and capsules, liquid/potent extracts, instant tea granules, and in powdered form.9 When it comes to skincare and other beauty products, extracts and oils are extracted from the root and add it in their all-natural formulations.
Sulwhasoo ((established 1966-1967)) is (probably?) the oldest (and most likely the highest end) cosmetic brand in (South) Korea. The brand’s focus on using indigenous Korean natural ingredients, with ginseng as its key ingredient, is what made Sulwhasoo the most sought-after brand for anti-aging and youth-restoring skincare products today. Because of ginseng’s ridiculously expensive market prices, you can expect Sulwhasoo being the most expensive brand of skincare in Korea (if not the entire world). In a way, Sulwhasoo is Korea’s version of Japan’s oldest cosmetic brand, Shiseido.10
There are other Korean brands that began to follow Sulwhasoo’s suit, with brands such as The History of Whoo,11 illi, Erborian, and even everyday brands such as The Face Shop,12 Missha,13 and I’m from.14 Even though these brands provide ginseng-based skincare products at prices much lower than Sulwhasoo, because of the ginseng ingredient, these products are most likely not going to fall right under $20.
Why is ginseng so expensive?
I’ve asked this question to myself at the time I was starting to discover the benefits and powers of the miracle root, and this was probably around April or May. I found my answer when I visited my local ginseng and traditional Chinese herbs shop (see that Instagram shot embedded above) and asked one of the people there. Here’s what I learned from the regulars and some of the employees:
The ginseng root by itself takes about six years or over to mature. The more mature/old the root is, the better and more potent its nutrients from the ginsenoside saponins and other benefits. In Korea, the root also goes through a special steaming and extracting process, in which each root needs special care and attention. This, of course, becomes very labor intensive.
The most expensive species of ginseng that I have seen so far are the ones grown in national parks and forests. They are referred to as wild ginseng,15and they are a lot rarer to spot and harvest than regular ginseng. Here is proof during my last visit to the Chinese herb shop:
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Their most expensive ginseng in their store is the top tray is what they call Wild Ginseng. There are of the rarest kind that can be found wherever around the wild. There are only two kinds of wild ginseng: Asian (most likely Korean) and American. The shop owner said that this one is the American wild ginseng, and it has a lot more potent nutrients than the original American ginseng. As you can see, you'd have to pay with your arm and a leg and whatever funds you have to get a pound. Eek. #wildginseng
Imagine you would have to wait some six to eight years to even start harvesting and harnessing its natural powers. That would take a very long time, of course. Because ginseng crops grow several years until it’s ready to be harvested, the long wait and care for these roots are the reasons why ginseng is being sold at such huge, overwhelming prices. The best way to get your own ginseng root without selling your arm and leg is to purchase them from an Asian supermarket or a local herbal shop already sliced and packaged.
My personal ginseng remedies
My doctor recommended me to take a dietary supplement in between along with my normal diabetes medications. There are plenty of natural remedies for diabetes maintenance, such as cinnamon and green coffee bean extracts. I have tried both cinnamon16 and green coffee bean extracts17 I decided to follow my doctor’s advice of trying out ginseng, not because it’s a “secret” herb that all Asians of different locations must know, but because it was believed throughout centuries that the potent ginsenosides really can effectively help regulate blood sugar. Therefore, I started getting myself involved with the miracle root.
The (somewhat) Famous Honey Ginseng Tea
Personally, I don’t like pills of any kind, unless if they’re diabetes-related. For example, those diet pills and any type of supplements similar to it? I tend to stay away from them. I searched around my local Asian store to see if they would have some form of “pure ginseng” without emptying my bank account to purchase one. One of the employees of the store recommended that as a starter, that I should just aim for the more famous form of ginseng: ginseng tea. In particular, Korean (red) ginseng or American (white) ginseng (or Wild American ginseng).
I searched on Amazon, thinking that they may be selling ginseng products for cheap than the ones sold in stores. I’ve read several reviews to see if there are any information not included in the product description. I purchased an instant tea granule form of ginseng tea by Cheon Sam Won Korean Ginseng.
According to the instructions written on the box and on the sachets, it is recommended to add honey as the ginseng by itself may not have any taste or that it may come out bitter.18 That was when I realized some commercial beverages who sell Honey Ginseng Tea and any tea containing ginseng that’s doused in honey. For instance, the famous AriZona Green Tea contains honey and ginseng in their formulation.19 The Republic of Tea has their own version of the Honey Ginseng Green Tea.
Keep in mind though that ginseng tea by itself is not green. If you are using Korean Ginseng, the tea will come out with a reddish color. If you are using American ginseng, a subtle white-orange, like the white tea, for example, will come out.
- Open a sachet of instant ginseng tea granules.
- Douse the granules with a drizzle of honey.
- Pour hot or cold water (depending on the weather or your mood). Mix thoroughly.
- Tada! Honey Ginseng Tea time! Hot or cold, it tastes delicious!
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Refreshing! It's getting cold here so I decided to heat up some water and have my first mug of red ginseng tea. It's granules, not teabags, therefore, they're very soluble with the water. By itself, there is no taste/flavor. That's why honey is recommended for taste. Now.I have honey red ginseng tea that tastes like honey. ❤ #redginsengkorea #honey
Like every remedy, you can never have too much good stuff. I only have my (homemade/DIY) honey ginseng tea once a day, 4-5 times a week, right in between lunch and dinner. Never drink any honey ginseng tea before bedtime. Bad idea.
The (somewhat) Famous Ginseng Coffee
Much to some people’s surprise, there is such thing as ginseng coffee. They’re very common, especially in Southeast Asia and (probably) in China as well. Here is an example of an instant ginseng coffee beverage in sachets from Malaysia:
But, like everything else, it’s always good to do some homemade DIY-style of anything. I read the ingredients with this particular one pictured and it contained creamer and sugar in it. As a diabetic, any of those added in something instant is usually not a very good thing, so I decided to experiment with the DIY ginseng coffee.
- Coffee (hot or cold)
- American ginseng tea granules (yes, use the American ginseng on this one, as its fatigue combat effects are less effective than that of Korean ginseng)
Pour coffee into your glass or mug. Then, add one sachet of American ginseng tea granules, honey, and milk. Mix well. Enjoy.
The folks at the local Chinese herbal shop I visited recommended to me the usage of American ginseng if I were going to make my own ginseng coffee. Using Korean Ginseng makes the coffee a lot stronger to the point that it would give you a lot more jitter than your usual regular cup of joe.
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Here it is! Hot ginseng coffee. The @suddencoffee taste is still dominant, but the sweetness of honey is hinted within the taste. The milk adds a hint of "softness" to the drink that wouldn't make it too strong. The American Ginseng tea, like the Korean Red Ginseng Tea, has no taste by itself, unless you add honey in them. I decided to use hot water for this, but after I tasted it, O should've used cold water to make it iced coffee instead. Now, to everyone, unless you feel that caffeine has no effect on you at night, don't ever drink coffee at the late hours lol. #homemade #ginsengcoffee
Just like with the honey ginseng tea, I drink my homemade ginseng coffee once in the mornings on work days. (5 days a week) I don’t add any ginseng in my morning coffee during the weekends.
Ginseng on the outside
As of this moment, I am using two skincare products that have ginseng as an ingredient:
Beauty of Joseon Dynasty Cream
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Loved the Skin Ceramic Donkey Milk All-in-One Yogurt Gel Cream. It took me some 2-3 months to finish this. Finally finished its last dollop tonight. Tomorrow morning, time for the Beauty of Joseon Dynasty Cream. I've read a lot of rave reviews for this so I bought it at the end of March. Can't wait! #beautyofjoseoncream
I’ve read from various beauty vlogs, beauty blogs, and reviews from customers that this little jar of gooey but goody facial moisturizing cream is the creme de la creme of all the (Korean) moisturizing creams. The formulation of this cream is derived from ingredients commonly used in many centuries of hanbang,20 dated all the way back in the Joseon Dynasty (late 1300s – late 1800s), used by women of the nobility for their youthful benefits. You can take a good guess that Korean ginseng is a key ingredient in this formulation. Today, it is one of Korea’s most loved moisturizing creams, and the praises continue on with non-Korean women (and men).
I purchased my jar of the cream back in April through Memebox21 for about $19.99. The actual retail price is close to $30, but this is a really huge bargain. Today, you can purchase it for about the same price (or even a bit lower) as I did on Amazon.
Just like with any other unfamiliar beauty products, it’s always good to do research and check out the ingredients used before purchasing. CosDNA and Skincarisma have detailed analysis on each of the ingredients listed on the package. You can also check out the details of the cream from Memebox. Ginseng is listed here as panax ginseng root extract.
Because this cream is an all-in-one cream, this is perfect for me to use as a substitute to my sheet mask-essence-serum-moisturizer steps of my elaborate skincare routine in work day mornings. I use the quick three-step cleanse-tone-moisturize during those mornings, rather than the hyped up “10-step Asian skincare routine.”22 Sometimes I would use this as a makeup base on the weekdays or on my off days. You can use this twice a day (day and night), depending on how you customize your skincare routine.
I’m from Ginseng Serum
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I declare June as Ginseng month! I have been sharing a bit about this miracle root since the beginning of the month with ginseng tea, the local Chinese herb store that sells plenty of ginseng products, getting into my new ginseng health regimen, making homemade ginseng coffee, and finally, my order of the I'm from Ginseng Serum from @wishtrend had just arrived today. Can't wait to try it out tonight! #wishtrend #imfrom #ginsengserum #kbeauty
I purchased this new serum from Wishtrend, as they are the only online beauty store that carries it thus far.23 I have been interested in ginseng as a beauty ingredient for some time now, however, after some thorough research that the majority of the brands that have ginseng as their main ingredient have been very steep and expensive, just as the ginseng root by itself. When I discovered that I’m from released their own pair of ginseng beauty products (the serum and their wash-off facial mask, which I plan to buy in the near future) and checked out their prices, I knew I just had to have at least one of them. The prices are still a little pricey, but they still fit the budget.24
I switch around serums a lot when I do my usual skincare routine and I use them at night. Along with a small jar of Drops of Youth and Oils of Life serums from The Body Shop, I do a lot of alternating depending on the weather. For instance, I would use Drops of Youth during the warmer days and the summer season, while I use Oils of Life during the cooler days and the winter season.25 I’m able to sneak in the ginseng serum in between and I have been using this serum for a little over three weeks now, almost daily. I’ll write a detailed review of this at a later time.
Beauty samples that contain Ginseng
I’m pretty much a regular customer at my local branch of The Face Shop for about some five months now. When you purchase their products from the store, you always get a good amount of samples, as well as a free sheet mask or two. Lately, I have been getting samples from three of their newer lines: Dr. Belmeur (their newest line for 2017), The Therapy (European formulated anti-aging line recommended for women ages 30+ and over), and Yehwadam (anti-aging line containing ingredients from hanbang, recommended for women ages 20-30, as well as anyone over). The Yehwadam line has three key ingredients native to Korea: ginseng, goji berry, and safflower.
Based on the samples that I get from the shop, I’ve been loving them. The full items though, however, are really expensive. Not as expensive as Sulwhasoo or anything, but the price range is about from $40-$100 for their products.
And then, weeks ago, I purchased a sample kit from Sulwhasoo’s competitor, The History of Whoo, from Jolse. THoW has a lot of sample gift sets, but I picked the Jinyulhyang set, mostly because it was the only set that Jolse has available. All the other sample sets are sold out around the time I ordered it.
I haven’t seen other stores (other than Amazon) that sells this brand, thus I ended up with Jolse.26
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My "June is Ginseng Month" theme continues! My order of The History of Whoo Jinyulhyang sample gift set has arrived from @cosmetic_jolse. The History of Whoo is considered the second most prestigious (in short, high end expensive) brand of Korean skincare right under Sulwhasoo. This brand also derives their ingredients and formulations from Hanbang (traditional Korean medicine), which means, Korea's signature herb, the red ginseng, is also included. The Jinyulhyang line was said to derive its formula from the Korean royal court's formula presented to a 40-year old queen. Because I am 40 now, this means this line should make me feel like a queen. 😏🌸🎎 #thehistoryofwhoo #Jinyulhyang #jolse #koreanbeauty
I still have yet to use this entire line. It was said that the Jinyulhyang line is also ideal for women 40+ years old, and since I’ve already reached that age, I decided to order a set. I haven’t started with it yet, but I will very soon. Once I do, I’ll definitely write a thorough review.
I’ve searched high and low for more information about the brand in English, but I’ve found very little. However, CosDNA already has an analysis of the ingredients.27 As I thought, ginseng (listed as panax ginseng root extract) is included. It was said that THoW is a second-to-the-highest end brand (to Sulwhasoo) or that it is an equal competitor to the ages old brand. I haven’t tried any Sulwhasoo products myself,28 but when the time comes, I will definitely let you all know on a future update.
As I mentioned before, too much of the good stuff is not good at all. My doctor also advised me to go through my ginseng remedy routines in moderation, just as how I would eat high-sugar, high-carbs food in moderation or less for blood sugar regulation. For skincare, it’s considered possibly safe to use daily, but knowing me, I like to test and try and use different products and discover what’s best for my natural markup. I’ve only started drinking ginseng tea and ginseng coffee for 2-3 weeks, and I don’t really plan on drinking ginseng-related beverages, let alone consuming anything ginseng by itself, on a forever daily basis. Maybe I may take a break here and there and then start over again when the time comes.
It’s not always a requirement to do this type of intake maintenance. It’s already natural for me to do this because I can never get myself to stick to just one product, one remedy, or even one technique. It’s fun to try out and discover things that work, but the world is vast and so are natural remedies, both for the body and for skincare.
Thank you for reading this not-so-perfect first Theme of the Month entry. The next Theme of the Month entry will be sometime in late July or early August. I know this entry may be too vague, but I hope that I’ve given you some insight on this miracle root, as well as giving you a head start in doing your own personal research on ginseng on your own.
Let me know by posting your comments below of your thoughts, or if you have any suggestions on how I can make my related entries better. Much appreciated always!
Till next time!
There are sidenotes...
- like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda Medicine, to name a few… [↩]
- 6 years [↩]
- to be more specific, East Asia, such as China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, etc. [↩]
- Ginseng (Wikipedia) [↩]
- Ginsenoside (Wikipedia) [↩]
- Supplement Guide: Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, American Ginseng (WebMD) [↩]
- WebMD – Korean Ginseng Precautions [↩]
- Babycenter – When can my baby eat honey? [↩]
- Cheon Sam Won Korean Ginseng – company website. I’m currently drinking my once-a-day Korean honey ginseng tea from this brand. [↩]
- established 1872 [↩]
- Their website may not have an English version/translation, but their products are now available on Amazon and various online shops. Check out my Exits section for the links. [↩]
- Their Yehwahdam and Myeonghan Miindo skincare lines… [↩]
- Their Misa line. [↩]
- Their ginseng serum and ginseng mask pair. [↩]
- Owlcation – Where in the United States does wild ginseng root grow? [↩]
- not really through dietary supplement pills, but to actually add some (Saigon) cinnamon on my beverages, namely coffee. [↩]
- through pills, but they’re pretty pricey. [↩]
- Wild American ginseng is very bitter, to the point that honey is required to consume it. [↩]
- not recommended beverage. There’s a lot of sugar and other ingredients unrelated to green tea or ginseng that it dilutes the natural nutrients that both green tea and ginseng should be providing. [↩]
- traditional Korean medicine [↩]
- when it used to be an online beauty shop [↩]
- I’ll write about this subject in another entry at a later time. [↩]
- The serum is also available on sale at Amazon, but if you look at the seller notes, this item is also being sold by the folks at Wishtrend. [↩]
- less than $40 [↩]
- I’ve purchased both of these serums from late of last year. [↩]
- mainly because their prices are cheaper than the ones sold in Amazon. [↩]
- at least for the cream [↩]
- even their sample gift sets are really expensive! [↩]