February 26, 2008

Kohl, Feingold concerned about our aphrodisiac

I must have led a sheltered life, because when I saw the news release today from Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl about their efforts to protect Wisconsin ginseng, my first reaction was: Whaaaaa? I grew up in New York, and everybody there knows ginseng comes from Chinatown.

Well, once again, I am wrong.

Feingold and Kohl report that 90 percent of the ginseng grown in the U.S. comes from Wisconsin. They further claim that Wisconsin ginseng "is widely heralded as the premier ginseng in the world," a claim I'll have to accept on their word, since I've never ginsenged.

The issue here is whether the Senate Agriculture Committee will keep a requirement in the Senate Farm Bill that raw ginseng root must be labeled to identify the country where it was harvested.

Kohl and Feingold say the high demand for ginseng has led smugglers from Canada and Asia to label their ginseng, "which often has traces of pesticides and other chemicals not approved in the U.S.," as Wisconsin-grown, misleading consumers and undercutting domestic ginseng growers. A country-of-harvest label would help consumers and producers by ensuring that consumers who pay a premium for Wisconsin-grown ginseng are getting what they pay for and that the higher prices find their way back to the pockets of hard-working American ginseng farmers, they say.

"This ginseng labeling provision is crucial for Wisconsin ginseng farmers and consumers who lose when foreign farmers free-load off of Wisconsin ginseng’s unparalleled reputation," Feingold said. “The final Farm Bill must maintain this simple provision to ensure that consumers looking for Wisconsin ginseng are getting the real thing and not a knock-off."

The ginseng provision in the Senate version of the Farm Bill was based on Kohl and Feingold's Ginseng Harvest Labeling Act of 2007.

But what is ginseng, anyway, and what's it used for? And what's the difference between Wisconsin-grown and China-grown ginseng? Ah, so! Once again, we turn to the Internets for answers. All the smutty sex talk you were hoping for is after the break.

HowStuffWorks.com reports:
Ginseng is another long-touted aphrodisiac. Recently, the Journal of Urology reported, "the Mean International Index of Erectile Function scores were significantly higher in patients treated with Korean red ginseng than in those who received placebo." In animal studies, ingesting ginseng doesn't appear to have an immediate effect on testosterone levels, but the ginseng may trigger other mechanisms that lead to increased performance and libido.
(They also debunk the value of Rhino horn.)

WebMD says:
An herb very commonly associated with love is ginseng. Some say ginseng is an aphrodisiac because it actually looks like the human body. (The word ginseng even means "man root.") Studies have reported sexual response in animals who have been given ginseng, but there is no evidence to date of ginseng having any effect on humans.
(But at least it's better than Yohimbe and Spanish Fly, both of which have nasty side-effects like paralysis and death.)

The Food and Drug Administration is also less than encouraging:
Many ancient peoples believed in the so-called "law of similarity," reasoning that an object resembling genitalia may possess sexual powers. Ginseng, rhinoceros horn, and oysters are three classical examples.

The word ginseng means "man root," and the plant's reputation as an aphrodisiac probably arises from its marked similarity to the human body. Ginseng has been looked on as an invigorating and rejuvenating agent for centuries in China, Tibet, Korea, Indochina, and India. The root may have a mild stimulant action, like coffee. There have been some experiments reporting a sexual response in animals treated with ginseng, but there is no evidence that ginseng has an effect on human sexuality.

So, exactly what is the purpose of ginseng? We turn to the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin -- which makes clear the difference between our ginseng and Asia's, while at the same time ignoring totally any purported sexual side-effects. (Didn't they get the memo?) It's all about temperature, donchaknow:
"There are two types of ginseng. Often both types are taken for a health balancing effect. Consumers take American ginseng for a cooling effect and Asian ginseng for a heating effect."
Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng): This ginseng is white root and generally used to cool the body. It is an adaptogen (a substance that helps the body adapt to stress) that cools and soothes. American ginseng is produced in Wisconsin.

Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng): This warms the body. This root is red and is typically grown in China and Korea. It is used to increase stimulation and warm the body.
There you have it. Just be sure to check the label. And be careful out there. (One of these days, when they're least expecting it, we'll ask Kohl and Feingold what they use ginseng for...)

1 comment:

  1. Pete,
    Great article. Many people don't realize how significant the Wisconsin ginseng market is. When we traveled to China to adopt our daughter, we were expected to bring small gifts for the people we met there. Thinking we were so smart, we drove down to Chinatown in Chicago so we could buy some high quality ginseng grown in Wisconsin for gifts. We spent quite a bit of money, wrapped each box carefully and carried it to the other side of the world only to discover it was available EVERYWHERE there!

    We brought the equivalent of a box of Hostess Twinkies.

    But for those who lament trade imbalance, Wisconsin ginseng is favorite in Asia. The tea has a number of health benefits, that my husband really likes, however, I think it tastes alot like dirt.