Saturday, July 5, 2008


The more information I try to find about ginseng the more confused I am with all the different names given to this herb. There are American ginseng, Korean ginseng, Chinese ginseng and Siberian ginseng. To make matters worse, some of the information is written in the Chinese language and as I do not read Chinese text, whatever is written makes no sense at all to me.

Therefore, I think it is best that I share with you what my mother and the herbalist at my local medical hall taught me. I call all the various types of ginseng the ‘sams’ i.e. yan sam, kolei sam, tong sam and pau sam.

‘Yan sam’ in Cantonese

Description: sweet, cool and slightly bitter; affects the heart, lungs and kidneys

Due to its’ shape of a human, it is believed to be the cure for all ailments. Taken in low doses, it acts as a mild sedative but in large doses, it is a stimulant. Its’ properties are to promote a good appetite and is helpful for rheumatism, headaches, colds, coughs, bronchitis, constipation and cystitis. Its anti-inflammatory properties may be useful in reducing fevers and lung problems.

The body is the part called ‘yan sam’ and is the most expensive. It may be used to treat infertility in women, as it stimulates the pituitary gland, which in turn stimulates growth of the uterine lining. The herb may be useful in relieving the symptoms of menopause but, the amount should be prescribed by a Chinese medical practitioner or ‘sinseh’.

• It is not recommended for people with hypoglycemia, high blood pressure, heart disorders, asthma or insomnia.
• Pregnant or nursing mothers should not take this product as it may interfere with oestrogen production.
• Women should not take this in the first week after starting any new brand of oral contraceptives.
• Do not give to young children especially during an infection or if the child’s growth is slow and does not eat well.

‘Pau sam’ in Cantonese

The legs and arms are called ‘pau sam’ and is normally used to increase internal energy. This is suitable for children, especially when they are teething or starting to walk as it can give them a boost in energy.

Ginseng roots

The roots have no nutritional value but cooling properties therefore is useful for reducing internal body heat. It can either be infused with boiling water and drank on its own or cooked as soup. I cook this soup once a month for the whole family and more frequently during very hot weather. The soup is suitable for children above 2 years old.

‘Kolei sam’ in Cantonese

It is commonly taken to enhance physical performance, prolong life and increase sexual potency. Chinese herbalists prescribed it to normalize blood pressure, improve blood circulation and prevent heart disease. It can be used during confinement but only if the mother is not breast-feeding.
With regard to cognitive ability, it is believed to significantly improve abstract thinking. Several studies have found that treatment with Ginseng improved the ability to complete detailed tasks, perform mental arithmetic and improve memory, attention, concentration and a general ability to cope. Furthermore, it is said to improve reaction to visual and auditory stimuli, as well as visual and motor co-ordination.

‘Tong sam’

This is used primarily to increase energy in the lungs, especially combined with red dates and kei chi. It can be combined with other herbs as a nourishing and energizing soup as in the famous Song Kee Soup. You can now buy the pre-packed ingredients in most super markets.

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