What's the deal with ginseng?

Many people are familiar with ginseng as a dietary supplement and an ingredient in many natural energy drinks. The root of the ginseng plant has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years.

 
 The ginseng route resembles a person.

The ginseng route resembles a person.

One autumn, thousands of years ago, two brothers were hunting on the mountain Chang Bai Shan. A sudden snow storm trapped them on the mountain. Unable to return home, they dug in the soil and discovered a large root, which became their only sustenance for the next five months as they waited for the snow to melt. The following spring, the brothers brought this root with them when they returned home. They were welcomed by villagers who had long thought them dead. The people named the special root “Ren Shen,” or “man root,” both because it looks like a person and because it helped sustain human life. Since then, it has been used in TCM to reinforce qi, the life force.
 
 American ginseng

American ginseng

Ginseng is found growing in the wild in both Asia and North America. Chinese ginseng (Ren Shen) and American ginseng (Xi Yang Shen) look similar but have slightly different properties and are used for different therapeutic purposes in TCM. While both serve to tonify qi, Chinese ginseng has warming properties while American ginseng helps to cool the body. Which form of ginseng is appropriate for a patient will depend on his presenting Chinese pattern or diagnosis.