Ginseng use in skincare: Origin, use cases, history and effective medicinal properties

Ginseng use in skincare: Origin, use cases, history and effective medicinal properties

Ginseng, known as the "root of life" in traditional medicine, holds a significant place in the world of health and wellness. Its history is as rich and diverse as the properties it offers for skin and overall health. This article will delve into the origins of ginseng, its remarkable properties, how it was used in ancient Chinese dynasties, and the regions in China where it thrives.

The Origins of Ginseng

Ginseng, scientifically referred to as Panax ginseng, is a perennial plant native to East Asia. It is commonly found in regions of China, Korea, and Siberia. The name "Panax" is derived from the Greek word "panacea," which means a remedy for all diseases, indicating the high regard ginseng has held throughout history.

Historical records suggest that the use of ginseng dates back over 2,000 years. The earliest references to ginseng can be traced to ancient Chinese texts, where it was documented for its medicinal properties. It was so highly valued that it was often reserved for the elite, including emperors and kings.

Types of Properties in Ginseng

Ginseng is celebrated for its diverse range of properties that benefit both skin and overall health:

  1. Adaptogenic Qualities: Ginseng is an adaptogen, which means it helps the body adapt to stressors and maintain balance. This property makes it effective in combating fatigue, enhancing mental clarity, and reducing stress.

  2. Anti-Aging and Antioxidant: Ginseng contains antioxidants that protect the skin from the damaging effects of free radicals, helping to reduce the signs of aging and promoting youthful skin.

  3. Anti-Inflammatory: It possesses anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe irritated skin and reduce redness and swelling.

  4. Boosts Circulation: Ginseng can improve blood circulation, which is vital for delivering nutrients and oxygen to skin cells, promoting a healthy and radiant complexion.

  5. Skin Hydration: It helps retain moisture in the skin, preventing dryness and promoting a smoother, suppler texture.

  6. Wound Healing: Ginseng extracts have been used historically to aid in the healing of wounds and reduce scarring.

Ancient Chinese Dynasties and Ginseng Use

Throughout Chinese history, ginseng played a significant role in both traditional medicine and daily life. The use of ginseng was multifaceted:

  1. Medicinal Use: Ginseng was considered a valuable elixir of health. It was commonly used to treat a wide range of ailments, from digestive issues to respiratory problems. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it was believed to restore vitality, enhance longevity, and strengthen the body's vital energy or "qi."

  2. Culinary Delight: Ginseng was also incorporated into cuisine, especially in soups and teas. Its unique flavor and potential health benefits made it a sought-after ingredient in the imperial court's culinary creations.

  3. Symbol of Prestige: In ancient China, ginseng was seen as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. It was often exchanged as a gift among nobles and scholars, signifying good wishes and blessings.

  4. Spiritual Significance: Beyond its practical uses, ginseng had spiritual significance. It was believed to possess magical properties and was sometimes used in rituals and ceremonies.

Ginseng (Panax ginseng) typically thrives in specific temperature and soil conditions, and these factors play a crucial role in its successful cultivation. Here are the typical temperature and soil requirements for ginseng cultivation:

  1. Temperature:

    • Cool Temperatures: Ginseng prefers cool to cold climates. It typically grows best in regions with distinct seasons, including cold winters and warm summers. Cold temperatures during dormancy are essential for the plant's growth and survival.

    • Winter Chilling: Ginseng plants require a period of winter chilling, with temperatures typically below freezing, to break dormancy and stimulate new growth in the spring.

    • Average Temperature Range: The average annual temperature range for ginseng cultivation is often around 50°F to 70°F (10°C to 24°C). However, it can tolerate temperature extremes on either side of this range.

  2. Soil:

    • Well-Drained Soil: Ginseng thrives in well-drained, loamy soil that allows excess moisture to drain away. It does not tolerate waterlogged or soggy conditions, as root rot can occur.

    • Organic Matter: Ginseng prefers soil rich in organic matter, such as leaf litter, compost, or well-rotted manure. Organic matter helps retain moisture and provides essential nutrients.

    • Acidic to Neutral pH: Ginseng typically prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil pH levels ranging from 5.0 to 6.0. Soil pH can be adjusted with the addition of lime to maintain the optimal range.

    • Shade and Forest Environment: In its natural habitat, ginseng often grows in the understory of deciduous forests. This environment provides dappled shade, which is crucial for its growth. Therefore, ginseng growers may use shade structures or plant it under the canopy of taller trees to mimic these conditions.

It's worth noting that ginseng cultivation is highly location-dependent. Different varieties of ginseng may have varying temperature and soil preferences, and local climate conditions can influence the success of cultivation. Growers often need to consider the specific requirements of their region and adapt their cultivation practices accordingly.

Additionally, ginseng is a slow-growing and sensitive plant, and successful cultivation often requires careful attention to detail, including proper shading, pest management, and disease prevention, in addition to meeting its temperature and soil requirements.

Growing Ginseng in China

Ginseng cultivation in China primarily occurs in the northeastern provinces, which provide the ideal climate and soil conditions for its growth. The following regions are known for their successful ginseng cultivation:

  1. Jilin Province: Located in northeastern China, Jilin is renowned for its high-quality ginseng. The cold climate and fertile soil of this region are perfect for cultivating this precious root.

  2. Heilongjiang Province: Similar to Jilin, Heilongjiang boasts an environment that is conducive to ginseng cultivation. The province's cool temperatures and rich soil contribute to the growth of ginseng with exceptional medicinal properties.

  3. Liaoning Province: Liaoning, another northeastern province, is also a prominent ginseng producer. The region's unique geological features make it suitable for growing ginseng of varying quality levels.

Chinese Dynasties using Ginseng

Chinese emperors and dynasties had a deep appreciation for ginseng (Panax ginseng) and utilized it in various ways due to its esteemed medicinal and symbolic value. Here are some specific examples of how ginseng was used by Chinese emperors and during different dynasties:

  1. Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD):

    • During the Tang Dynasty, ginseng was considered a precious and powerful medicinal herb. It was often reserved for the imperial family and nobility.
    • Emperor Li Shimin, also known as Emperor Taizong, was known to have a ginseng garden in the palace where ginseng was cultivated for the royal family's use.
    • Ginseng was frequently included in herbal remedies and tonics to promote longevity and overall health.
  2. Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD):

    • The Song Dynasty saw the development of a more sophisticated understanding of ginseng's properties and its use in traditional Chinese medicine.
    • Ginseng was frequently used by the imperial court to address health concerns and boost the emperor's vitality.
  3. Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD):

    • During the Ming Dynasty, ginseng became a highly sought-after commodity and was used as a tribute to the emperor.
    • Ginseng was presented as a gift to the Ming emperors, symbolizing good wishes, loyalty, and respect. It was a sign of allegiance and a means of currying favor with the ruling authority.
  4. Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 AD):

    • The Qing Dynasty continued the tradition of gifting ginseng to the emperor as a sign of loyalty and submission.
    • Ginseng was also used in various tonics and remedies for the emperors to maintain their health and vitality.
    • The Qing emperors placed a high value on ginseng, and they often kept extensive records of the ginseng tributes they received from different regions.

How Chinese Civilisation Discovered The Medicinal Properties Of Ginseng

The discovery of the medicinal properties of ginseng in Chinese society can be traced back over thousands of years and is deeply rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and folklore. The process of discovering ginseng's medicinal properties can be attributed to a combination of factors, including serendipity, empirical observations, and cultural beliefs. Here's a brief overview of how Chinese society discovered the medicinal properties of ginseng:

  1. Ancient Folklore and Tradition:

    • Ginseng's discovery as a medicinal herb in China is often shrouded in legends and folklore. Some legends suggest that ginseng's healing properties were first noticed when animals observed eating the root exhibited improved vitality and health.
    • Traditional Chinese culture has a long history of herbalism, and ginseng was likely discovered through generations of experimentation with various plants and herbs to treat ailments.
  2. Empirical Observations:

    • Over centuries, Chinese herbalists and traditional healers observed the effects of ginseng when consumed or applied as a remedy. These observations led to the accumulation of knowledge about its potential health benefits.
    • Ginseng's adaptogenic properties, which help the body cope with stress and maintain balance, were likely noticed through the improved well-being of individuals who consumed it regularly.
  3. Recorded Use in Ancient Texts:

    • Ginseng's use in traditional Chinese medicine is documented in some of the earliest known medical texts, such as the "Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing" (Shennong's Classic of Herbal Medicine), which dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE).
    • These ancient texts describe ginseng as a valuable herb for promoting vitality, improving digestion, and enhancing overall health. Its inclusion in these texts indicates its recognized importance in early Chinese medicine.
  4. Emperor Shen Nong's Contribution:

    • The legendary Emperor Shen Nong, often referred to as the "Divine Farmer," is said to have played a significant role in discovering and cataloging the medicinal properties of various herbs, including ginseng.
    • According to legend, Emperor Shen Nong tasted hundreds of herbs to discern their effects on the human body. Ginseng is said to have been among the herbs he tested, leading to its inclusion in early herbal compendiums.
  5. Cultural Significance and Symbolism:

    • Ginseng's cultural significance as a symbol of health, longevity, and vitality further promoted its use in Chinese society. It became a treasured and highly sought-after herb.
    • The belief in ginseng's ability to promote longevity and well-being contributed to its widespread use and cultivation.

How Ginseng as a natural plant has been so effective at treating ailments & infused into Chinese medicine

Chinese Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a long history of incorporating ginseng into various herbal formulas and remedies to enhance its therapeutic effects. Ginseng is often blended with other herbs and substances in TCM formulations to create balanced, holistic treatments. Here's how Chinese TCM has blended ginseng with other ingredients:

  1. Tonifying Herbal Formulas: Ginseng is considered a powerful tonifying herb in TCM, meaning it helps to strengthen and nourish the body. It is often blended with other tonifying herbs like Astragalus (Huang Qi) and Codonopsis (Dang Shen) to enhance its effects. These combinations are used to boost energy, improve vitality, and support overall health.

  2. Balancing Yin and Yang: TCM emphasizes the balance of yin and yang energies within the body. Ginseng is versatile and can be used to either tonify yang energy (e.g., Red Ginseng) or tonify yin energy (e.g., White Ginseng) depending on the specific needs of the individual. Herbalists carefully select other herbs in the formula to complement ginseng's action and restore balance.

  3. Strengthening the Spleen and Digestion: In some TCM formulas, ginseng is combined with herbs like Atractylodes (Bai Zhu) and Licorice (Gan Cao) to strengthen the spleen and improve digestion. This combination is often used to address digestive issues, fatigue, and poor appetite.

  4. Qi and Blood Tonic: Ginseng is recognized for its ability to tonify both qi (vital energy) and blood. When blended with herbs like Chinese Yam (Shan Yao) and Chinese Wolfberry (Gou Qi Zi), it can help enhance energy levels and nourish the blood. These formulas are used for conditions like anemia and fatigue.

  5. Immune Support: Ginseng is known for its immune-boosting properties. It is often combined with immune-enhancing herbs such as Astragalus (Huang Qi) and Schisandra (Wu Wei Zi) to support the body's defense mechanisms and increase resistance to illness.

  6. Stress and Adaptation: Ginseng's adaptogenic properties make it a valuable component of herbal formulas designed to help the body adapt to stress and improve resilience. It can be blended with herbs like Rhodiola (Hong Jing Tian) and Reishi Mushroom (Ling Zhi) to address stress-related symptoms.

  7. Anti-Aging and Skin Health: Ginseng is also used in TCM for its potential benefits to the skin. It is sometimes combined with herbs like Pearl Powder (Zhen Zhu Fen) and Schisandra (Wu Wei Zi) to create formulas that promote youthful and radiant skin.

  8. Customized Formulations: TCM practitioners often customize herbal formulas based on an individual's unique constitution, symptoms, and health goals. Ginseng may be blended with other herbs and substances tailored to the specific needs of the patient.


Ginseng's journey through history is a testament to its enduring significance in both traditional medicine and cultural practices. Its remarkable properties for skin and overall health continue to be harnessed today through various skincare products and supplements. Whether consumed as a supplement, used in skincare routines, or enjoyed as part of a culinary delight, ginseng remains a cherished and valuable component of modern life, echoing its legacy from ancient Chinese dynasties to the present day.

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