Think of Wisconsin cash crops and a variety of products — cultivated and manufactured — come to mind. But ginseng?
Well, Wisconsin — specifically north-central Marathon County — produces 95 percent of the ginseng cultivated in the United States. More than 200 ginseng farms in the Dairy State grow the prized medicinal root.
Productivity on those farms has increased thanks to the high-quality variety for which the state has become known. Tong Ren Tang Health Pharmaceutical, a 364-year-old pharmacy and one of China’s largest medicine producers, recently licensed Wisconsin’s brand for distribution in its home country. Ginseng sales in China alone could yield as much as $200 million to state producers over the next decade. That’s a lot of dietary supplement capsules and energy drinks.
The name ginseng derives from the Chinese term renshen, which when broken down means “person plant root.” One of 11 species of the genus Panax, the slow-growing perennial at maturity has fleshy roots that fork, resembling the legs of a human being.
Ginsenosides, the active component in Panax quinguefolius, or Wisconsin “white ginseng,” is a Chinese folk remedy that has been used as a stimulant, an aphrodisiac, a cure for sexual dysfunction in men and a treatment for Type II diabetes.
The medical literature, however, says the research on these uses is largely inconclusive. The most recent U.S. studies claim ginseng can reduce fatigue in cancer patients, provide an improved quality of life for breast cancer survivors and reduce blood sugar in diabetes sufferers.
But regardless of the clinical evidence or lack thereof, ginseng has secured its role in the panoply of dietary supplements consumed by health-conscious consumers.
Ginseng can come in a dried, powdered form packed in easy-to-swallow capsules. People brew ginseng tea or consume it as part of energy drinks. Powdered ginseng can also be added to almost any liquid. There are even recipes for a strawberry-banana-ginseng smoothies.
The root also can be used in soups such as samgyetang, or Korean chicken and ginseng soup:
1 young chicken (2-3 pounds)
1 tsp. sesame oil
4 red dates (Chinese or Korean jujubes)
1/2 inch of fresh ginger
6 cloves fresh garlic
Salt and Pepper
10 cups water
1/2 cup sweet rice
8 ginkgo nuts, shelled
2 fresh ginseng roots
1/2 small white or yellow onion
8 cloves fresh garlic, diced
8 red dates, sliced
2 scallions or green/spring onion
To prepare the stuffing, put rice in a bowl and rinse until water runs clear. Cover with water and soak for 30 minutes, then drain. Clean poultry thoroughly and
lightly rub salt both the inside and outside the bird. Let stand for 15 minutes.
Wash ginseng root then trim the rootlets (save the discards for the soup.) Cut into bite-size pieces. Slice onion, then cut slices in half. Wash and thinly slice the ginger.
Combine stuffing ingredients and insert into the bird’s cavity, then secure the flap with a skewer.
Separate egg yolks from whites and place in separate small bowls. Lightly whip yolks. Spread yolks in frying pan and cook until lightly browned, flip and repeat with the other side. Remove from pan and cut into narrow strips. Repeat the process with the egg whites.
Place poultry in a heavy pot and cover with water. Bring to a full boil over high heat, skimming oil and foam as needed. Reduce heat to medium, add ginger slices, cover and cook for 1 hour.
Remove and discard ginger, then add garlic, jujubes and ginseng rootlets. Cook for an additional 30 minutes, adding water as needed to maintain half the original volume. Add sesame oil 5 minutes before end of cooking.
Finely chop the scallions or green onions. Garnish each serving with egg strips and green onions.
Serve hot, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Despite seeming counter-intuitive, recipes also exist for ginseng “wine.” You will need the following:
2 liter glass bottle
1 fresh ginseng root
2 liters of vodka or your spirit of preference
Combine the spirit and ginseng root in the bottle, close and seal the bottle and let cure for three months. There’s no report what the steeping does to ginseng’s curative power, but after a sip or three you probably won’t care.