Used as both a restorative and medicant, Ginseng is so deeply rooted in Chinese culture that wars have been fought over the forests in which it thrives. The plants origin is also the stuff of legends. According to one account, Ginseng was first discovered when a mysterious voice beckoned a group of passing villagers from beneath a man-shaped plant called Jen-shen or “Man Root”. Another relates how the spirit of Ginseng prang to life when lightning struck a clear mountain spring, fusing at once the essence of fire, water, and earth.
There are several varieties of Ginseng, all of which possess significant health benefits, but it is Panax Ginseng that is the most commonly prescribed.The word Panax, which means “cure-all” in Greek, is derived from the same root, so to speak, as its synonym panacea.
History tells us of an ancient society of foragers known as Va-pang-suis. These men, 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 they sprang.
Ironically, as they hunted for the treasured roots, the Va-pang-suis were themselves being hunted by a band of roving thieves known as the White Swans. Though murderous if crossed, the White Swans nonetheless followed a meticulous code of ethical banditry.
Once they had robbed a Va-pang-suis of his Ginseng, he was presented with a little red flag and sent on his way unharmed. The flag served as a warning to other White Swans in the area that he had already been bobbed and could now be allowed to forage the hills in peace.