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As herbs achieve widespread awareness for their effectiveness, their market demand grows rapidly, opening some areas in the market for shortcuts to production, and counterfeiting. One such example is ginseng due worldwide popularity and its lengthy growth cycle.

Ginseng is a very familiar herb in natural medicine. In fact, its effectiveness has made it one of the most sought-after herbs in the world. Ginseng is used by both men and women alike for improved brain function, energy levels, and libido. It is well known for providing lasting energy without being a stimulant and has the added benefit of improving sleep. Most currently, studies reveal promising benefits of ginseng for high blood glucose, improving memory and test performance, and reducing anxiety and depression.

Ginseng also happens to take about seven years to become the potent herb relied upon for its benefits. It is slow to grow and as a root, it is prey to unseen insects under the soil. Some farmers faced with losing the crop (and all the time put in for it) will spray the ginseng each year to prevent insects from killing the plants. That can lead to nearly seven years of pesticides in each root. If imported into the United States, ginseng may be subjected to an irradiation process that further degrades the herb but also breaks up the pesticide molecules so that when tested, tests can show that it doesn’t have any, even though it is saturated with pesticides.  Additionally, since demand continues while ginseng slumbers away in the earth, crops may be harvested early to make a sale – before the ginsenosides (the medicinal part of the plant) have developed in the root, putting semi-potent extracts on the market. Ginseng crops can be stolen and overharvested to the point of endangerment.

Ginseng’s popularity and slow growth in potency tend to make it very expensive. In some instances, counterfeiters step in to sell “ginseng” products that are cut with other herbs or fillers.

A not uncommon practice is “double selling,” in which the active components, ginsenosides, are extracted from the plant and sold, and the leftover fibrous mash is sold as well. Technically, this leftover mash is pure ginseng but it has no medicinal value. Traditionally, ginseng must undergo a steaming process that turns it red and makes ginsenosides more absorbable, but most cheaply packaged ginseng will be extracted with solvents that leave chemical residues behind.

 

So how do you choose a potent, healthy ginseng when the trade is beleaguered with so many problems?

 

  • Look for US-grown, organic ginseng. It may seem surprising as ginseng is so cherished in Asian regions, but the US is actually a substantial provider of ginseng to the world. It both grows wild and is cultivated in the Eastern United States.
  • Buy from trusted sources. Many companies like Solaray and Nature’s Way invest in million-dollar machines that test individual molecules to find traces of irradiated pesticides in their raw materials before encapsulation. Additionally, many companies either do genetic testing on herbs in-house or require proof before purchase.
  • Buy from health food stores. Private-label or store-brand products can take a lot of heat in news articles for being lower quality, but many of those assessments are made on branded vitamins in big-box stores. Independent health food stores, like Elliott’s Natural Foods, purchase store-branded items from companies like Vitamer and Vitality Works, who invest in analysis machines, do legally required potency and purity testing, and practice strict quality control.
  • Look for HRG80. HRG80 is manufactured in Belgium. In 2011, a company responded to the significant problems within the industry by creating a massive hydroponic environment to grow thousands of ginsengs from one single origin plant. This environment is pest and pesticide-free and is able to simulate harsh growth seasons more rapidly, stimulating the plant to produce more ginsenosides in half the time of the seven-year growth period. This ginseng is grown sustainably, traditionally steamed for potency, and tested for heavy metals before being processed and packaged. As it is packaged when it arrives, it is not irradiated, and thus we have a more rapidly produced, more potent, less expensive product.

Even as market demand grows rapidly for better and for worse, manufacturers adapt to challenges in the industry to solve problems as they arrive, to improve plant wellness and the wellness of consumers.

 

 

“This article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. The information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”