Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant

Overview

American Ginseng has a strange and perilous history. It has one of the longest germination periods of any known species, and only two environments in the world have offered the ideal growing conditions for wild ginseng. The first was the forests of northern China, which disappeared over a millennium ago, and the sole remaining habitat is the Appalachian Mountain region of eastern North America, an area now threatened by logging and mining. Chinese legend says that ginseng is the child of lightning. The two ...

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Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant

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Overview

American Ginseng has a strange and perilous history. It has one of the longest germination periods of any known species, and only two environments in the world have offered the ideal growing conditions for wild ginseng. The first was the forests of northern China, which disappeared over a millennium ago, and the sole remaining habitat is the Appalachian Mountain region of eastern North America, an area now threatened by logging and mining. Chinese legend says that ginseng is the child of lightning. The two elemental forces of water and fire fight in an eternal struggle, pouring down rain and snow and blasting the earth with lightning. If that lightning happens to strike a spring of water, the water disappears and in its place grows a ginseng plant -- the fusion of yin and yang, water and fire, darkness and light, and the life force that moves the universe. American ginseng has become perhaps the most treasured of all herbal medicines, promising good health and longevity to those who consume it. Fortunes have been made and lost on the plant, which was America's first export to China -- before our nation even existed. The strange, twisted, man-shaped root today commands as much as two thousand dollars a pound in the hot, noisy ginseng markets of Hong Kong, and a wealthy collector might pay as much as $10,000 for a single, perfect specimen. Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant unfolds ginseng's past and its future through the stories of seven people whose lives have become inextricably bound to it: a huckster, a field researcher, a farmer, a ginseng "missionary," a criminal investigator, a broker, and a cancer researcher. Each of these individuals brings a different perspective to the elusive root -- and each is consumed by a different dream. Kristin Johannsen threads her way though remote woodlands in the Appalachians to observe the fragile plants slowly putting out leaves as part of a three-year growing cycle, during which time the ginseng is vulnerable to both poachers and growing suburban sprawl. She contrasts this with the huge commercial growing fields of Marathon County, Wisconsin, where among potato fields and paper mills, ninety percent of the country's ginseng is produced. Johannsen explores the brisk black market trade in the panacean root and the efforts to save the wild species and its native habitat, and she ends her story in the laboratory, where researchers are investigating ginseng's anti-cancer properties. An absorbing journey into the many worlds of this mysterious and potent plant, Ginseng Dreams tells the extraordinary story of America's little-known natural treasure and the spell it casts on those who seek it.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A Book Sense Notable Pick Johannsen's book brews up an intriguing tale. By the end, the twisty root has corkscrewed its way into your heart and mind. Five stars." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Johannsen paintsa clear picture of the mythic nature of ginseng: its medicinal properties, commercial vagaries, and finicky growth requirements leading to gold rush-style boom or bust cycles. While other writers have focused on how toproduce and use ginseng, Johannsen instead writes with a journalist's eye, poking into the offbeat nooks and crannies of this mysterious plant." -- Library Journal

"For many, ginseng holds the promise of perfect health and miracle cures. Johannsen shows that, for just as many, ginseng holds an even more American dream" -- Publishers Weekly

"This is a narrative that sings of the earth and the people's relationship to that land. It is the story of a humble root that bears the promise of health and wealth and happiness." -- Ron Pen, University of Kentucky

"Kristin Johannsen has written a beautiful book that answers every question I ever had about ginseng, and some I hadn't even thought of yet. However, Johannsen has done more than create a font of knowledge about ginseng. Instead she has provided us with a wonderful study of a culture, preserving a way of life that may slip away far too soon. This is a tender, informative, wise, and lovely book." -- Silas House

"Kristin Johannsen reveals the fascinating, and often hidden, world of American ginseng through the stories of the people who inhabit it. She describes, with equal grace and felicity, the centuries-old culture of 'sang diggin' that pervades the hills and hollows of Appalachia; the dramatic contrast between Hong Kong's towering glass skyscrapers and the modest traditional medicine shops that thrive in their shadows; the enticing but uncertain enterprise of ginseng farming; and the compelling new western research evidencing ginseng's efficacy (long accepted in China) as both aphrodisiac and cancer treatment." -- W. Scott Persons, author of American Ginseng: Green Gold

"The descriptions of the woodland habitat of the plant itself and the pleasures of hunting ginseng in the leaf mold of a damp autumnal forest did make me want to go for a tramp in the woods." -- Washington Post Book World

"Together, Ginseng Dreams presents a tale that provides the reader with an illuminating, compassionate, and often entertaining view of Appalachian ginseng harvesting." -- Douglas Deur, Agricultural History

"Ginseng Dreams is a delightful book for anyone who enjoys light reading about such a fascinating plant/medicine/folklore icon. [It] is well researched and appeals to both professional and lay persons who are interested in both herbs and the unlikely merging of cultures from Appalachia to Asia." -- Robert Beyfuss, Herbalgram

Publishers Weekly
Though the ginseng root is a mainstay of Chinese medicine, it's as American as apple pie: in fact, for over 300 years, Americans have exported ginseng to China. Today an acre of ginseng can bring a farmer $100,000. Travel and environmental writer Johannsen (Ecotourism in Appalachia: Marketing the Mountains) takes readers into America's ginseng fields and forests. Ginseng is one of the most devilish plants to cultivate, taking up to a decade to be ready for market and growing in only the most specific conditions. Despite the root's persistent popularity, the difficulty of farming ginseng, the constant threat of poachers and the dwindling number of wild ginseng plants has rendered its future uncertain. Instead of focusing on the medicinal powers of ginseng to those who can afford it, Johannsen paints a picture of the poor in Appalachia who still rely on wild ginseng to provide some cash in lean times. Unfortunately, she lapses into long descriptions of ginseng farming that would bore all but the most devoted horticulturalist. For many, ginseng holds the promise of perfect health and miracle cures. Johannsen shows that, for just as many, ginseng holds an even more American dream-that of instant riches. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
While ginseng is an essential part of Chinese traditional medicine, it may come as a surprise to readers of this tome that China imports most of its ginseng and that the United States is a major exporter. Grown mainly in Appalachia, ginseng is our nation's most valuable wild plant, the best of which are sold for thousands of dollars per pound. Johannsen, an environmental and travel writer, examines American ginseng, past and present, devoting each chapter to a different theme or perspective surrounding this cure-all plant. She first details early American attempts at harvesting and cultivation, from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. Subsequent chapters recount interviews with modern cultivators, park rangers, antipoaching agents, researchers, trade group representatives, state board officials, and backcountry ginseng enthusiasts. Johannsen paints a clear picture of the mythic nature of ginseng: its medicinal properties, commercial vagaries, and finicky growth requirements leading to gold rush-style boom or bust cycles. While other writers have focused on how to produce and use ginseng, Johannsen instead writes with a journalist's eye, poking into the offbeat nooks and crannies of this mysterious plant. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Andy Wickens, King Cty. Lib. Syst., Seattle Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813123844
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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