Used since antiquity as both a restorative and medicant, in China Ginseng is so highly prized wars have been fought over the forests in which it thrives. The plant’s origin is also the stuff of legends. According to one account, Ginseng was discovered when a mysterious voice beckoned to passing villagers from beneath a man-shaped plant called Jen-shen or “Man Root”. In another, the spirit of Ginseng springs to life when lightning strikes a clear mountain spring, suddenly fusing the essence of fire, water, and earth.
Though there are several varieties of Ginseng, all of which offer significant health benefits, Panax Ginseng is the variety most commonly prescribed as both a medicant and restorative. The word Panax, which means “cure-all” in Greek, is rooted in the same significance as the word panacea.
Chinese chronicles speak highly of an ancient society of foragers known as Va-pang-suis. These men, all reputedly of impeccable character, once scoured the mountains of Northern China in search of Ginseng. Their foraging, undertaken both as a spiritual and commercial quest, began with ceremonial solicitations to the spirit of the plant and culminated in recitations of gratitude to the mountains from which it sprang.
The chronicles tell us that as the Va-pang-suis hunted for their treasured roots, they too were being stalked by a notorious band of roving Ginseng thieves known as the White Swans. Though murderous if crossed, the White Swans followed their own meticulous code of ethical banditry.
Once they had robbed a Ginseng hunter of his prize, he was summarily presented with a little red flag and sent upon his way unharmed. The flag served to warn other White Swans who may be in the area that he had already been robbed once, and could now forage unharmed for the remainder of the season.