Ginseng

Ginseng, a slow-growing plant native to China, Korea and eastern Siberia, is used throughout the world to treat a wide variety of ailments including diabetes and depression.
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Ginseng
© WWF Russia / Vladimir Medvedev
 

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  • common name

    ginseng; five fingers; tartar root; red berry; man's health

  • scientific name

    Panax spp.

  • habitat

    Northern China, Korea, and eastern Siberia; typically in cooler climates

  • status

    CITES appendix II

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The miracle plant needing a miracle

The 2 main species of ginseng used for medicinal purposes are Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). With growing demand for traditional Chinese medicine and alternative therapies, the species now faces an uncertain future.

Priority region

Ginseng grows in the Amur Heilong region, which is a WWF global priority region.
Despite debate within the medical community over the true medicinal properties of ginseng, demand continues to grow.
Ginseng has gained an almost magical reputation for being able to promote health, general body vigour, prolong life and treat many ailments including depression, diabetes, fatigue, inflammation, nausea, pulmonary problems, dyspepsia, vomiting, nervousness, stress, and ulcers.

Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese remedies for thousands of years and is similarly revered by North American Indians. Traditional harvesting of the plant provides an important source of income for many people. These people ensure they harvest only mature specimens and take care to plant any seeds remaining on the plant prior to harvest.

What are the main threats to Ginseng?


There is now insufficient Asian ginseng to meet demand, and wild North American ginseng is exported to supply Asian markets. Ginseng is relatively slow growing, taking about 6 years to reach maturity. Current levels of demand have led to the unsustainable harvesting of ginseng, including poaching in some areas and illegal harvesting outside the designated harvest period.

Although ginseng is cultivated in the US, wild ginseng is believed to be more effective and therefore commands higher prices. Despite strict controls in the US and CITES protection, illegal harvesting of ginseng plants continues and the wild populations in both Asia and North America face severe pressure.

An additional threat to the survival of ginseng is loss of habitat, as the forests in which the plant lives are cleared for logging or development.

Priority species

Ginseng is a WWF priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

What is WWF doing?

WWF and TRAFFIC work with traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and consumers to increase awareness of the plight of endangered ginseng and to promote alternative treatments that use sustainably harvested ingredients.

WWF also works to conserve the vital forests and habitats in which ginseng lives through the setting up of protected areas. It works with local authorities to reduce and prevent illegal harvesting of ginseng.

Specific projects to promote sustainability include:

Seized ginseng at border between Russia and China. / ©: Pavel Fomenko / WWF-Russia
Seized ginseng at border between Russia and China.
© Pavel Fomenko / WWF-Russia

How you can help

  • Use your power as a consumer! When purchasing herbal remedies containing ginseng, ask for evidence that the herbs were collected sustainably or from cultivated specimens.
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  • Spread the word! Click on the button to share this information with others via email or your favourite social networking service.

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Did you know?

    • The generic name Panax is derived from the Greek, panakos meaning panacea, in reference to its supposed miraculous healing properties.
    • The English word ginseng is derived from the Chinese ren shen meaning man root, due to the forked roots which resemble the legs of a man.
    • Ginseng is the 3rd most popular herb sold in US health stores.

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