Korean Ginseng Story


Ginseng has been used by the people on the Korean peninsula for thousands of years

  1. 33~38 BC, the Chinese character “sam” was written in the book Kubchijang by Sajok
  2. 107~124 AD, the names of ginseng-producing centers were mentioned in Sulmoon by Huh Jin
  3. 196~220 AD, Jang Jung-Kyung wrote 113 prescriptions in Wuihanron, among which 21 contained ginseng.
  4. 483~496 AD, ginseng was considered a noble medicine in Hong Kyung’s work of three volumes (Sinjebonchokyng) is Bonchokyungjib’s seven volumes (Myungeuibyulrok) and Yoo Hee’s work Sunmyung
  5. 549 AD, in the 27th year of his rein, King Sung traded ginseng with Cho of China.
  6. 627 A.D, the Kingdom of Shilla and the Dang dynasty in China exchanged ginseng.
  7. 739 A.D, King Moon of Balhae traded ginseng with Japan


1. Botanical Lineage

菅精有胚植物 (Embryophyta)
被子植物亞門 (Angiospermae)
變子藥植物網 (Dicotgledoneae)
古生花被亞網 (Archichlamydeae)
散形花目 (Umbvelliflorate)
五加科 (Araliaceae)
人蔘屬 (Panax)

The scientific name of Korean ginseng is “Panax Ginseng C.A. Meyer.” Its fruits are berries or a white cucumber-shaped fruit and its leaves are long and plural. It is a perennial shrub that grows in the shade.

2. The Scientific Classification of Ginseng

“Ginseng” has been used as the common name of “人” in Chinese characters (the Chinese pronunciation “ren hen” and the Korean pronunciation “in-sam”, both mean “man-root”). In 1833, the Korean ginseng plant was first named Panax Schineseng Nees by a German botanist, Nees van Esenbeck. Panax is derived from the Greek pan of pana, denoting “all” and ax of axos for “cure.” Panax thus means “cure all”. It was then renamed Panax Ginseng C. A. Meyer by the Russian Scientist Carl Anton Meyer in 1843.

3. Species of Panax

Ginseng is a perennial herb classified in the family Araliaceae and genus Panax. Some eleven related species are known, including:

      • Panax Ginseng C.A. Meyer
        Grows in the Far East Asian (33~48 degrees north latitude: Korea, parts of Russia), especially on the Korean peninsula.
      • Panax quinquefolium L.
        Grows in the US and Canada.
      • Panax notoginseng (Burk) F. H. Chen
        Grows in the southeast of the Un-nam district and the southwest of the Kwang-seo district in China.


    On the Korean peninsula, ginseng grows throughout the country between 33 and 43 degrees north latitude. It grows naturally in the Taebaek mountain range and in the deep mountains of the northern part of the peninsula, usually facing north or northeast 100~800m above sea level.

    In South Korea, the best region for cultivation is between 36~38 degrees north latitude but if the soil and location are suitable it can be cultivated anywhere. Korea is located in the center of the Northern Hemisphere and its soil, weather and environment are suited to ginseng growth.

    One of the botanical characteristics of ginseng is that it has very specific requirements for successful cultivation. It is difficult to adapt ginseng to new circumstances and cultivate it if the natural environment is not right. When cultivated, its shape, quality and efficacy will be substantially different from ginseng that grows naturally.

    In this respect, Korea has proven to be the best location for the cultivation of ginseng, and Korean ginseng is considered to be the best in the world.

    The Natural Environment for Ginseng

    Creating artificial growing conditions similar to the natural environment of wild ginseng requires closely matching the following:

    1. Climate : Annual average temperature is 0.9 degrees ~ 13.9 degrees, 20~25 degrees in summer. If the temperature rises beyond 35 degrees physiological defects occur. Annual rainfall should be 700 ~ 2,000 mm, preferably 1,100 ~ 1,300 mm. Occasional snowfall is also required.
    2. Sunshine : ginseng is a semi-shade plant ; direct sunlight must be avoided and light dispersion of 1/8 ~ 1/13 is appropriate.
    3. Soil : Soil in which nitrogen is not excessive (under 100ppm), phosphoric acid (70 ~ 200ppm), and the substitutional base is proper (kali 0.2 ~ 0.5 me/100g, lime 2.0 ~ 4.5 me/100g, magnesium 1.0 ~ 3.0me/100g) is best. Proper soil pH is 5.0 ~ 6.0.
    4. Topographical position : Gently sloping land facing north or northeast is best. Even level ground is suitable if well drained.
    5. Humus-abundant soil (over 2% humus of broad-leaves) similar to ginseng’s natural environment is necessary. Soil conditions much at variance with natural conditions, especially where chemical fertilizers have been used prolifically, will not support good ginseng.
    1st year Seed Collection
    – Mid July- Late July to early August
    – Late October to early November (nursey beds)
    2nd year Germination (Shading)
    – Mid April
    – October
    3rd year Transplanting Seedlings to Permanent Beds (Shading)
    – Late March to early April
    – October
    4th year Mulch Removing
    Soil Loosening
    – March
    – May to September
    – Root Harvesting late Augudt to early October
    – October


    There is red ginseng and white ginseng, both of which preserve the original qualities of the plant.

    1. Red Ginseng

    Red ginseng is made by heating and drying fresh ginseng to preserve it:

    II fresh ginseng II fresh ginseng II sorting II middle-sized II preliminary drying II elininating small roots

    – discriminating

    – grading

    – drying in the sun

    – drying in warm wind

    II scondary drying II form – fixing II sorting II sorting II moistening II pressing

    – preliminary drying

    – adjusting of each part

    – grading

    – discriminating

    – 37.5-600g

    2. White Ginseng

    White ginseng retains the original form of the ginseng root. It is dried until the water content is below twelve percent. Fresh ginseng more than four years old is used.

    1) Sorts of White Ginseng

    White ginseng is sorted according to its shape and the manufacturing process.

    Regular Ginseng

    Ginseng dried in its original shape A “straight” ginseng manufactured by peeling fresh ginseng more than 5 years old and drying.
    Semi-curved ginseng the body is straight, but a part of the head is curved. Ginseng more than 4 years old is peeled and dried.
    Curved ginseng After peeling fresh ginseng over four years old, the head and body are curved, rolled up, and dried.
    Dried ginseng Ginseng less than 7mm in diameter and 5g in weight.The skin in untouched.
    Dried ginseng with skin It is made through a process similar to that of erect ginseng, but its skin still remains.

    Miniature-sized Ginseng

    White big tail root peeled and dried ginseng more than 6mm in diameter.
    White mid tail root peeled and dried ginseng, 2-5mm in diameter.
    Big tail root with skin Dried ginseng, not peeled, 2-5mm in diameter.
    Mid tail root with skin
    Fine root

    2) Manufacture of White Ginseng

    ① Erect Ginseng and Semi-curved Ginseng

    Raw fresh ginseng arrow1 elininating small roots arrow1 washing arrow1 peeing arrow1 sun drying arrow1 sortin
    — root binding — grading– discrimination
    arrow1 weighy adjustment arrow1 packing

    ② Curved Ginseng

    Raw fresh ginseng arrow1 elininating small roots arrow1 fine ginseng arrow1 peeing arrow1 Preliminary drying
    arrow1 moistening arrow1 secondary drying arrow1 sorting arrow1 weight fixing arrow1 packing
    — root binding — grading– discriminating

    3. Tae geuk sam

    Made by soaking fresh ginseng in hot water and then drying. The color is preserved like that of original ginseng.

    arrow1 Raw fresh ginseng arrow1 elininating small roots arrow1 (raw ginseng)washing arrow1 borling water soaking arrow1 drying arrow1 shape fixing
    — the second lateral root– remove — 75-90’C — below 60’C– 20~25minutes
    arrow1 sorting arrow1 packing
    — grading– discriminating


    1. Saponin Composition in Ginseng

    Early in 1854, Garriques of the U.S.A isolated a saponin fraction from American ginseng, Panax quinquefolium L., and named it “panaquion.” In 1957, about a century later, the Russian scientist Dr, I.I.Breakhman published a monograph entitled Panax ginseng (Zhen-Shen). In the monograph, he suggests that saponon was an active component. He also presented an adaptogen theory which described how the active component of Korean ginseng nonspecifically improves physical debility. The active component was called “adaptogen.” Soon thereafter, isolating and characterizing saponin and fractions, ginsenosides from Korean ginseng were achived by the Japanese scientists Drs. S. Shibata and O. Tanaka. Their work served as a stepping stone in the advancement of ginseng research.

    Saponin Composition

    1) The types of ginseng saponins

    Ginseng saponins, ginsenosides, are composed of a sugar (glycon) portion and a non-sugar (aglycon) portion. Aglycon, the backbone of ginsenosides, is classified into three types : protopanaxadiol, protopanaxatriol, and oleanoic acid. Protopanaxadiol and protopanaxatriol and retracyclic terpenes of the dammarane series: oleanoic acid is not.

    Until now, a total of 29 types have been found in Korean Ginseng. In 1964, Shimata named the composition of Saponins as hinsemoside meaning Sugar material contained in ginseng. According to the order of movement seperating from TLC, ginsenoside-Ro and Also, there is another characteristic that ginsenoside. Rb₁, Rb₂, -Rc and -Rd contain lots of the malony1 radical compound. Generally, it has 29 kinds of Saponins that are even in comparison so that it is distinguished from other plants belonging to different species of the same genus.

    2) Characteristics of Korean ginseng in accordance with Saponin composition

    ① Korean ginseng… total 29 types (Ro, Ra₁, Ra₂, Ra₃, Rb₁, Rb₂, Rb

    ② American ginseng…total 13 types (Ro, Rb

    ③ Sanchi ginseng…total 14 types (Ro, Rb

    ④ Chikuseteu ginseng… 3 types (Ro etc.)

    P.D P.T % Ro Ra Rb1 Rb2 Rc Rd Re Rf Rg1 Rg2 Total
    Korean white ginseng 1.87 1.22 1.53 0.09 0.06 0.75 0.3 0.61 0.21 0.52 0.04 0.59 0.07 3.24
    Korean red ginseng 1.97 1.27 1.68 0.08 0.05 0.84 0.31 0.56 0.26 0.41 0.07 0.52 0.09 3.26
    Japanese red ginseng 1.88 0.62 3.03 0.06 0.71 0.5 0.44 0.23 0.24 0.11 0.24 0.03 2.56
    Chinese red ginseng 1.49 0.76 1.96 0.68 0.35 0.32 0.14 0.33 0.07 0.35 0.01 2.25
    American wild ginseng 2.46 1.83 1.34 2.09 0.24 0.13 0.97 0.86 4.29
    American ginseng 3.81 2.4 1.59 3.25 0.31 0.25 1.4 1 6.21
    Sanchi ginseng 2.64 4.49 0.58 2.12 0.52 1.22 3.27 7.31

    *%= Panaxadiol (P.D) / Panaxalriol (P.T)

    3) Ginsenoside Content of IL HWA Ginseng Products

    content of ginseng extract (%) Ro Ra Rb1 Rb2 Rc Rd Re Rf Rg1 Rg2 Total
    IL HWA ginseng Ginsenoside 100 0.27 0.18 2.16 1.52 1.62 0.79 1.32 0.12 0.89 0.21 9.09
    IL HWA ginseng tea A 10 0.03 0.02 0.22 0.16 0.17 0.08 0.14 0.01 0.08 0.02 0.93
    IL HWA ginseng tea B 18 0.05 0.03 0.39 0.27 0.3 0.15 0.24 0.02 0.13 0.04 1.62
    IL HWA Powdered ginseng capsule, ii 0.1 0.06 0.83 0.39 0.59 0.28 0.53 0.06 0.56 0.09 3.49

    2. Saccharoids

    Ginseng (fresh roots / dried roots / extract) contains about 60 to 70% of various types of carbohydrates, Rhamnose, Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose, Maltose, etc. (not to mention saponins)

    Sugar content of ginseng products

    Sample sugar contents (mg/g)
    Rhamnose Fructose Glucose Sucrose Maltose Lactose Total
    Fresh ginseng 6.23 9.49 69.72 21.75 107.19
    White ginseng 4.62 8.3 120 5.85 138.77
    Ginseng extract 2.8 16.3 14.2 84.17 22.1 139.57
    Ginseng tea trace 2.25 502.12 7.78 9.12 0.04 783.23
    White ginseng powder capsule 1.39 13.25 11.21 29.28 30.15 85.18
    White ginseng powder 1.56 12.63 10.16 32.28 34.28 90.79

    Organic acids

    Ginseng contains nonvolatile organic acids such as Citric acid, Malic acid, Succinic acid, Ketoglutamic acid, Pyruvic acid, and G acid. As well as volatile acids such as Acetic acid, Propionic acid, iso-Butyric acid, n-Butylic iso-valeric acid, n-valeric acid n-Caproic acid, iso-Heptyric acid, n-Heptyric acid, and others.

    3. Liposoluble nutrients.

    Ginseng has about 2% of liposoluble ingredients. The Crude lipid and purified lipid content are as follows:

    Lipid Crude Lipid Purified Lipid
    Free Lipid 1.23 1.11
    Bound Lipid 0.63 0.52

    Lipid acids in ginseng consist of myristic acid, palmitic acid, palmitoeic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid, lleic acid, arachidonic acid, linolenic acid, behonic acid, erucic lignoceric acid, and nervonic acid.

    4. Nitrogenous compounds

    Nitrogenous compounds (15%) are composed of proteins, Amino acids, peptidenucleic acid, alkaloid, etc., and have amino acids such as aspartic acid, threonin, serine, glutamic acid, glycine, alanine, valine, cystine, methionine, isoleucine, leucine, tyrosine, lysine, histidine, arginine, proline, and trace amounts of some others.

    5. Vitamin Compounds and Minerals

    Vitamin compounds contained in Korean ginseng are Niacin, Ascorbic acid, Pantothenic acid, Biotine, Folic acid, Riboflavin, etc. and Minerals are P, K, Ca, Mg, Al, Fe, Cu, Zn, Mo, Mn, etc.

    6. Other

    There are also organic compounds such as Salicylic acid, Vanillic acid, P-Hydroxycinnamic acid, and so on.


    There are three classes of oriental (Chinese) medicine: mild, moderate, and curative.

    Mild medicine, or “noble” medicine, is a tonic that invigorates the body. Long-term intake produces no harmful or habit-forming ill effects.

    Moderate medicine exerts both tonic and prophylactic effects.

    Thus it can be either toxic or non-toxic depending on the individual’s physical condition.

    Curative medicine must be carefully administered only by licensed medical doctors since long-term use may be harmful. In a simplified version of Shen Nung’s Pharmacopoeia edited by HungChing Tao of China around A. D. 500, Korean Panax Ginseng is classified as mild or noble.

    Seven Effects of Korean Ginseng

    1. Reduces fatigue, increases stamina, and strengthens the general physical condition.

    2. Exerts a hematopoietic action (formation of red blood cells), protecting against anemia, hypotension, and heart ailments.

    3. Improves mental conditions, preventing neurosis and nervous breakdowns.

    4. Increases the secretion of body fluids and quenches thirst, prevents diabetes.

    5. Strengthens the gastrointestinal system, preventing gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and constipation.

    6. Normalizes pulmonary functions, preventing coughing, tuberculosis, and asthma.

    7. Detoxifies poisons, preventing skin irritation, inflammation, and skin diseases.

    If we examine it from the pharmacological point of view of Chinese medicine, we discover that materials whose curative nature is warm (yang) cure cold (yin) diseases. The fact that ginseng is classified as yang means that it can cure diseases. Fevers are divided into real and consumptive.

    Real fever raises the body temperature and includes pyrexia, rigor, etc. Consumptive fever has such symptoms as thirst, lack of energy and exhaustion.

    Korean ginseng is classified as a mild medicine among all medicines to aid virility. The fact that ginseng, among mild medicines, is yang means that it cures diseases. Korean ginseng contains a greater diversity of medicinal qualities than other ginsengs, and is known for stress prevention. The nonsaponin ingredients of Korean ginseng are remarkably higher than those of Chinese ginseng.


    Korean ginseng has been considered as a medicine, and its effectiveness has been recognized throughout history.

    1. Effects on the Circulatory System.

      • The action of telangiectasia, improvement of the blood by reducing peripheral resistance, and connecting with the metabolism of the marrow.
      • Prevention of cerebral thrombosis by controlling irregular coagulation of blood.
      • Coexistence of such components as Rg, Rb and Rc helps keep blood pressure normal.

    2. Effects on the Metabolism

      • Promotion of fatty matter, protein and nucleic acid, and of the regeneration of new liver cells.
      • Effects on all kinds of zymogen related to alcohol metabolism. Prevention of diabetes by diminishing high blood sugar, and the promotion of insulin production.
      • Prevention of skin dehydration by stimulating the circulation of blood and regulating the moisture balance in the skin.

    3. Effects on the Immune System

      • Ginseng suppresses the multiplication of cancerous cells and in some cases has been shown to change them into cells performing normal functions.
      • Delay of the development of AIDS from HIV infection.
      • As an anti-carcinogenic, immunity agent or inhibitor of the effects of environmental pollution.

    4. Action on the Central Nervous System

      • The panaxtriol of ginseng saponins relieves lethargy and the panaxadiol pacifies hyperactive nerves.
      • Normalization of the autonomic nerve system by increasing catecholamine in the brain.
      • Promotion of one’s learning ability, memory, and its effects of anti-stress, anti-fatigue.
      • Control of erratic mental phenomenon generated by chronic dosages of cocaine.

    5. Effects on the Digestive System

      • Stimulation of the stomache’s activity by promoting blood circulation in the gastric mucous membrane.
      • Functional improvement of the stomach and bowels and dispelling of all kinds of mental stress.

    6. Defensive Effect against Radiation

      • Protection and recovery from radiation sickness.

    7. Effect as a Male Reproductive Tonic

    8. Prevention of Symptoms of Senility

    9. Effect on Women’s Diseases

      • beneficial to be taken together with a pain-killer for menstrual pain.
      • Warming of the whole body by promoting blood circulation of the peripheral nervous system and the dispelling body heat.
      • Effective in reversing the decline of energy in men, and of frigidity in women.


    1. Korea Ginseng & Tobacco Research Institute : Korean Ginseng, 1994.
    2. Korea Ginseng & tobacco Research Institute : An introduction to Korean Ginseng, 1983.
    3. Korea Ginseng Research Institute : Korean Ginseng, 1978.
    4. Choi,J.H. : The mystery of Korean Ginseng, 1984.
    5. Florence C. Lee : Facts about Ginseng the Elixir of Life, 1992.
    6. The Society for Korean Ginseng : Korean Journal of Ginseng Science, 1976~1996.
    7. Korean Ginseng & Tobacco Research Institute: Proceedings of the 6th International Ginseng Symposium, 1993.
    8. The Society for Korean Ginseng : Proc. Int. Symp. on Korean Ginseng, 1990.
    9. The Society for Korean Ginseng : Proc. Korean-Japan Panax Ginseng Symp., 1987.
    10. Korea Ginseng & Tobacco Research Institute : Proc. 4th Int. Ginseng Symp., 1984.
    11. Korea Ginseng Research Institute : Proc. 3rd Int. Ginseng Symp., 1980. 12. Korea Ginseng Research Institute : Proc. 2nd Int. Ginseng Symp., 1978. 13. The Central Research Institute : Proc. Int. Ginseng Symp., 1974.