Ginseng Cha-Ching!

HARD TO BELIEVE, but the bitter, pep-boosting ginseng root—reputed to enhance everything from libido to longevity—has been at the center of trade wars and political dynasties for centuries. Native to Asia and North America, the herb is sought by Chinese herbalists, New Age entrepreneurs, and international smuggling rings, all trying to get their slice of the world's $65-billion-per-year alternative-medicine market. DAVID TAYLOR spent a year following the lowly root from Virginia backroads to Hong Kong alleyways for his forthcoming book Ginseng, the Divine Root (Algonquin, $24), due out in early summer. Here's a taste of what he dug up.


Photograph by Robert Fiocca

Highest price ever paid for a single root (sold in the late seventies, equal to roughly $190,000 today)

Number of alcoholic beverages—Tilt! and BE ("B to the E")—Anheuser Busch introduced in 2005 that contain ginseng

Amount, in milligrams, of the ginseng compound ginseng saponin reported to cause an erectile response in rabbit-penis tissue (British Journal of Urology, 1998)

Number of dogs trained solely to sniff out illegal ginseng at Seoul, South Korea's Incheon Airport

Percentage of American ginseng smuggled into mainland China through Hong Kong (to avoid tariffs)

Longest prison term, in months, given to a convicted ginseng poacher in the U.S. (nabbed in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1995)

Daily recommended dosage, in milligrams, for preventing colds, according to a 2005 Canadian Medical Association study

Miles traveled by a typical wild American ginseng root from forest to market (southern Appalachians to Hong Kong)

$44 million
Value of annual U.S. ginseng exports

Support Outside Online

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.

Contribute to Outside
From Outside Magazine, Apr 2006
Filed To: Nutrition
More Health