Everyone has heard of the herb Ginseng. It is now flavoring our soft drinks and is in every grocery store. Ginseng marketing overshadows an arguably more important herb with similar qualities; Dang Shen. To understand this situation you have to know something about the functions of these herbs.
Both Ren Shen/Ginseng and Dang Shen/Codonopsis are used to tonify energy in the body, specifically energy related to deep "source of life" type energies in the body. Ginseng is considered the most powerful in this regard. It was traditionally used when you needed the best. Ginseng roots need to grow for 6-8 years at minimum before they are harvested. It is difficult to grow, requiring very specific growing conditions. As a result Ginseng is expensive and highly sought after. The stronger old roots found growing wild can command huge prices in the market. Because of this, traditionally ginseng was reserved for those who needed it most. Usually this meant the elderly.
When an elderly person is sick, quite often they do not have the strength or digestive ability to actually utilize the medicine that they are given. The answer was to add ginseng to the herbal medicine. This gave the elderly or otherwise weak patient the strength to actually use the herbs to help the patient heal. For most patients this function was not as critical. As a result, traditionally most herbalists routinely used Dang Shen as a substitute in their nourishing formulas. Dang Shen was much cheaper and easier to get. Dang shen is milder than Ren shen/Ginseng, but for most patients there was no need to use the more expensive ginseng, when Dang shen was sufficient.
In our modern day, we have the money to demand the best. The best and the strongest tonifying herb is ginseng. As a result there is increased demand and cultivation of ginseng making it more readily available. Sadly simple supply and demand economics have resulted in many people forgetting about the historically more frequently used dang shen. This is unfortunate because in many ways the milder Dang shen is more appropriate than ginseng in many of the herbal products marketed to young people.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066