“It’s cold weather now so most people can have some ginseng. Just don’t take it too often.”
By
Yasmin Noone

28 May 2019 - 4:11 PM  UPDATED 28 May 2019 - 4:11 PM

Buried in the Tasmanian bush, in a small town located an hour outside of Launceston, is an eco-certified farm attracting visitors who want to see and taste two foods - salmon and ginseng. 

41° South Tasmania is predominantly a commercial salmon farm but, due to its owners' personal fascination with ginseng, it also boasts a small-scale production of the slow-growing herb. 

“The problem with ginseng is that it takes two years for the seeds to geminate and four-to-six years for the plants to mature,” says Ziggy Pyka, the German-born co-owner of 41° South Tasmania. “So if you want to grow ginseng, it will take around eight years to produce one harvest.”

So why does he bother? Pyka, who was first introduced to ginseng by a friend over 20 years ago, says he produces the herb because it provides amazing health benefits. 

“People in Asia have used ginseng for its health benefits for thousands of years but most westerners don’t know what to do with it. They think it is just used in energy drinks."

“Ginseng is good for your overall health, longevity, vision and memory,” says the 62-year-old. The herb also offers a subtle energy boost. “But it does more than that: ginseng makes your head clear."

“People in Asia have used ginseng for its health benefits for thousands of years but most westerners don’t know what to do with it. They think it is just used in energy drinks.

“It is my opinion that energy drinks [containing ginseng] have only seen the ginseng plant from the outside. There’s not enough ginseng on the planet to fill all the bottles of energy drinks being sold. And if you had enough ginseng to fill all the bottles of energy drinks, you would pay too much per bottle.

Pyka says ginseng retails for around $100 AUD a kilo in Asia. "If you want to buy some from us, it might be thousands of dollars a kilo because it takes eight years of my life to grow [one plant].”

The Tassie farm produces ginseng on a half-acre plot, generating enough to include small amounts in two products available for sale – Tasmanian Leatherwood honey with ginseng and a ginseng spice mix. Pyka also sells a ginseng essence to the public

“Ginseng is good for your immune system. Since I started taking ginseng, other people have colds – I don’t.”

Research suggests that Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng) can have a positive impact on insulin resistance and hypertension. A study conducted in 2012 also shows that ginseng can increase your resistance to various illness or microbial attacks by regulating the immune system.

Pyka’s personal stash of ginseng comes from the huge jar on display at the farm’s shop, featuring a decade-old ginseng root preserved in vodka. Customers should note that this ginseng mix is not for sale. 

“I fill up a tincture bottle [of the ginseng and vodka mix]," he says. "I take it by dripping a few drops in my mouth every day. I take it for four weeks and then have a break. You can’t take ginseng all the time – you have it for a period and then you have to take a break from having it.”

A 'serious herb', served with a warning

41° South Tasmania grows both Korean and American ginseng. Pyka explains that there’s a big difference in the chemical composition of the two plants. They produce opposite effects on the body – Korean ginseng is warming while American ginseng is cooling. “They are Yin and Yang.”

It’s also important to note that there are other plants that are called ginseng (like Siberian ginseng) which are unrelated species.

“You have to be careful when you take ginseng that you know what kind you are taking and how much you are taking. This is especially important if you have a warming ginseng but you don’t have any problems with warming [your body].”

“It’s typically used for people who might be older whose blood flow is slow and feel cold all the time.”

Director of Traditional Chinese Medicine Australia, Dr Shuquan Liu, stresses that ginseng is a “serious herb” that should only be taken in moderation with expert direction.

Dr Liu says ginseng is usually consumed throughout Asia for medicinal purposes, not for its flavour. It is often combined with other herbs together to derive a better health function.

“I come from the same region where ginseng comes from – Manchuria – where it’s very cold for almost six months of the year,” says Dr Liu. “So in winter, you need ginseng to keep your blood flowing faster and to clean out the toxins from the blood.

“It’s typically used for people who might be older whose blood flow is slow and feel cold all the time.” It may not be suitable for all younger people or for consumption in mild weather.

“If you take it too often [or in hot weather], your body might get too hot. It could cause nose bleeding and other serious problems if you take it but don’t need to take it.”

Dr Liu explains that dried or concentrated ginseng is not suitable for women going through menopause, people on medications causing hot flushes, pregnant women, people with high blood pressure or those on blood thinning medication.

“If you take it too often [or in hot weather], your body might get too hot. It could cause nose bleeding and other serious problems if you take it but don’t need to take it.”

He says fresh ginseng is a lot less powerful than its dried or concentrated varieties. Although it’s not recommended for daily consumption, it is safer to consume on a more regular basis.

“In Korean culture, it’s very popular to use fresh ginseng to make ginseng and chicken soup (Samgyetang).

“You need to cook fresh ginseng a long time to extract the function from it, so that it [intensifies] the stock. You can then use the stock to make soups in in winter. It’s warming.

“It’s cold weather now so most people can have some ginseng. Just don’t take it too often.”

Korean ginseng chicken soup

Korean ginseng chicken (sam-gye-tang) soup uses a whole young chicken stuffed with ginseng, jujubes, chestnuts, garlic and sticky rice. Traditionally, this soup is revered during the hottest month of the year to combat the fierce heat.

Ginseng chicken (samgyetang)

Ginseng is a revered ingredient in Korean cuisine for its health-giving benefits. It features in Asian soup mixes and is accompanied by Chinese dates (jujubes) and licorice root in this warming dish.