Ginseng, the most prized plant in the entire Chinese pharmacopeia, is held in such high esteem throughout history that wars have been fought over the forests in which it thrives. According to a 2,500 year old legend, Ginseng was first discovered when a loud voice beckoned a group of passing villagers from beneath a man-shaped plant they later named Jen-shen or “Man Root. In another account Ginseng is engendered by a bolt of lightening as it strikes a clear spring, fusing into life the essence of fire, water and earth.
Taxonomy defines several varieties of Ginseng but Panax Ginseng ia the type most commonly prescribed medicinally. The name reflects the root’s expected virtues. The word Panax, which means “cure-all” in Greek, shares a root, so to speak, with the word panacea.
Perhaps the most illustrious bit of Ginseng lore is deeply rooted in history. An ancient society of Ginseng hunters known as Va-pang-suis, all men of allegedly impeccable character, were once known to scour the mountains of Northern China. Their search, which was seen as a spiritual as well as commercial quest, involved precise ceremonial solicitations before beginning a dig as well as particular grateful prayers upon making a fortunate discovery.
But even if they kept the Gods in good spirits the Va-pang-suis were not out of the woods until, well, they were literally out of the woods. For something dreadful stalked them in the shadows that was more fearsome even than the dreaded Siberian tigers. A cunning band of Ginseng thieves known as the White Swans also tracked the Va-pang-suis footsteps.
Though murderous if crossed, these bloodthirsty bandits nonetheless followed their own rigorous code of ethics which stipulated that once a Ginseng hunter was relieved of his roots he must then be offered a little red flag to carry with him so that other White Swans in the area would leave him in peace. Assuming the Va-pang-suis were also men of impeccable intelligence, one imagines the White Swans must have needed to rebrand their flags on a pretty regular basis.