A Brief History of Korean Red Ginseng

For those who are interested, we have extracted key points from the following source to give you a brief history of Korean Red Ginseng.

Korean Red Ginseng History Background (Parts abstracted from US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. J Ginseng Res. 2015 Oct; 39(4): 384–391. Published online 2015 May 11. doi:  10.1016/j.jgr.2015.04.009 PMCID: PMC4593794. Characterization of Korean Red Ginseng (Panax ginseng Meyer): History.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4593794/#sec2title

Historically, the name “Red Ginseng” (Hongsam in Korean) has been reported in the Annals of King Jeongjo (1776–1800), which is a part of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. According to the records older than that literature, the process of steaming ginseng was introduced in GoRyeoDoGyeong (a record of personal experience in Korea, written in 1123) by Seo-Gung (1091–1153, Song Dynasty). According to GoRyeoDoGyeong, red ginseng (originally recorded as steamed ginseng) was prepared by steaming and drying fresh ginseng root. However, because the fragmentary records lack certain details, researchers could not identify the exact preparation method for red ginseng, i.e., undefined steaming time, numbers of repetition, and consecutive drying process.

About 100 years later (late 1200s), more detailed records about red ginseng were written in the SohoDang miscellany by Taekyoung Kim (1850–1927). According to the record, ginseng roots were grown for more than 6 years, their dirt shaken off, washed, and then steamed in a big steamer. The steamed ginseng roots were laid on bamboo racks in a drying warehouse and dried by heat from a fire or by sunlight and the wind.

Red ginseng is a product made by the primary processing of fresh ginseng. The preparation method of red ginseng applied in the modern age was written in detail in Samjung-Yolam (A Bulletin of Ginseng Policy, 1908, Ministry of Strategy and Finance, The Greater Korean Empire). According to this record, the steaming of ginseng was carried out as follows;

“The fresh ginseng roots harvested were carefully washed with clear water and thereafter, classified based on their respective sizes. The washed fresh ginseng roots were then put in a large bamboo basket and moved directly to the steaming place. The baskets were put into a clayware steamer which was sealed. The time of steaming was about 50–90 min depending on the size of the ginseng”. The drying of steamed ginseng was carried out as follows: “The steamed ginseng roots were sufficiently dried in the drying room, and then thereafter, placed under the sunlight for 4–5 days. The ginseng produced by these approximately 9 times repeated processes is a transparent material that represents the color of the cherry blossoms. This was called red ginseng.”

The growing years of fresh ginseng was ≥ 6 years as speculated by the SohoDang miscellany (Fig. 1A), which was written in the same period with Samjung-Yolam (Fig. 1B).

Harvesting season for fresh ginseng was estimated to be between October to November by considering the daylight conditions and the harvesting times of common medicinal plants. According to the record, fresh ginseng was screened by size and then steamed. These facts are similar to the current screening by size and shape as has been done in the past, the fresh ginseng with a large size and good shape was considered to be a good product presumably. Ginseng was produced under the leadership of the government very strictly, and could not be manufactured and sold privately. The so-called red ginseng monopoly system (1908–1996) was enforced by the Japanese colonial government and the overall red ginseng industry was managed under the supervision of government. Therefore, the traditional preparation method of red ginseng was standardized and applied to the manufacturing system at that time. From that, the ginseng production technology that is currently followed has been developed from the methods applied in the past.

Fig. 1

SohoDang miscellany. (A) Detailed records about red ginseng were written by Taekyoung Kim (1850–1927) and Samjung-Yolam. (B) A bulletin of ginseng policy, 1908, Ministry of Strategy and Finance, The Greater Korean Empire.

Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng Meyer, Araliaceae) is traditionally used as an important herbal medicine in Far East Asia. The root of ginseng is traditionally used as an adaptogen as it is stated to have the capacity to normalize body functions and strengthen systems that are compromised by stress. Adaptogens are reported to have a protective effect on health against a wide variety of environmental assaults and emotional conditions. In addition, the main biological activities of Korean Red Ginseng are known to include immune enhancement effects, the recovery of vital energy as well as the alleviation of fatigue, blood flow improvement, antioxidant effects, and the positive effects on memory enhancement and menopausal disorder. Fresh ginseng is easily degraded at room temperature. Therefore, fresh ginseng is processed into red ginseng through the process of steaming and drying or processed into white ginseng by a simple drying process. According to general knowledge, red ginseng has significantly higher biological effects and fewer side effects compared with fresh and white ginseng.

Red ginseng (Ginseng Radix Rubra) and white ginseng (Ginseng Radix Alba) are individually regulated in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese Pharmacopoeias. These regulations imply that there is a difference in characteristics between red and white ginseng because these have the same origins of the plant but have different processing. The studies of the differences between red and white ginseng have been carried out since the early 1980s. These reports described the changes of the ginseng's chemical profile due to the different processing methods. Thereafter classified according to the different processing methods of red ginseng, the components and pharmacological activities of red ginseng products have subsequently been reported in scientific research papers. Herein we will define the traditional preparation method of red ginseng and describe the characteristic chemical profiles of red ginseng and other preparations from it which were prepared by the traditional methods.





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