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Perhaps the most popular herb used in Chinese tonic herbalism is ginseng. Ginseng is a classic tonic herb discovered in China more than 4,000 years ago. Unlike many other crops, this plant has never been domesticated. It is now used by both men and women to build energy (or better known as Qi in Chinese medicine). Ginseng is also used by both sexes to enhance endurance, increase disease resistance, and strengthen mental performance. The plant contains chemicals known as ginsenosides (e.g., Huang, 1999), which are said to have the ability to nourish and regulate the nervous and endocrine (hormonal) systems.

Ginseng is a deciduous herb with an aromatic, fleshy taproot and a long stem topped by leaves. Asian or Oriental ginseng (Panax ginseng) is cultivated mainly in China, Korea, and Japan; this type is now virtually extinct in the wild. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) grows commonly in hardwood forests from Quebec in the north to Minnesota and Wisconsin in the west, and south to Georgia and Oklahoma; nowadays this species is also cultivated on Asian lands. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosis) can be found in certain Russian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese forests; this species is distantly related to the Panax ginseng but is not truly ‘ginseng’.

To some people, ginseng also has a reputation for arousing sexual desire. Some others claim, though, that its long-term use may cause headaches, increased blood pressure, insomnia, asthma, and anxiety; these are health or medical conditions that may eventually lead to fatigue.