Ginseng and the six other health herbs (see below) can be used in six major forms or ways, they can be eaten raw, they can be eaten after being slightly cooked, and they can also be taken in the form of a herbal tea, in herbal wine form, or used in the form of herbal powder, or the extracts of the herb can be used in a number of ways.
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Many Chinese herbal stores in North America sell the whole ginseng roots, and this ginseng is usually fresh. Buying the whole ginseng root is advantageous in one way, in that there is little room for mistake about the quality of the herbal product you receive, and the authenticity of the root is almost always guaranteed, even if the whole root may be more expensive than other types of ginseng based products. There is a great difference in the quality of the commercially available ginseng, some ginseng products are much more potent than others and ginseng comes in many grades. The price of the product gives a good indication of the quality of the ginseng used, especially when the commercial ginseng product is being brought from a reputable herbal dealer. Since the product is so scarce and expensive, and as many of the herbal store owners in the Western world do not have a good idea about high quality ginseng roots, the quality of roots in the West is suspect as some of the Chinese herbal dealers may often pass off an inexpensive root for a high quality root to the commercial western trader - care should be taken when buying any ginseng product for this reason.
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The greatest advantage of eating raw ginseng or lightly steamed ginseng is that all the most important chemical constituents in the herb can be obtained in this way. Roots that are steamed for a few minutes are easier to slice and chew, while the whole raw ginseng roots are a little difficult to cut and eat. The ideal way to eat these roots is to cut them in nickel thin slices that are very easy to handle and eat. During preparation of the ginger root, the entire whole root must be steamed and then cut up into slices, leaving some uncut will make it harder as the root will tend to dry again and will have to be steamed again - which is very inconvenient and makes the herb lose some of its potency. Dosage of the ginseng eaten in this manner - raw or steamed - differs from one person to another, one or two of these thin slices eaten every day is sufficient for the average person. The ideal way to store these slices of ginseng is to pour a little honey over the pre-sliced roots, keep these honey covered slices in an air tight container and refrigerate them for long term use. Many commercial herbal stores also sell pre-sliced ginseng roots and these can be very convenient. Pre-slice ginseng products come from some Korean companies. Compared to buying the whole root of the ginseng, gram for gram the sliced roots are less expensive and may be more convenient for the individual user.
Ginseng roots differ in mass and come in different weights, ranging from five grams to an ounce each - the bigger roots are more expensive.
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Compared to the sliced root, the powdered form of ginseng root is easier to digest - and this form is available in many herbal stores. The easiest way to consume the powdered ginseng is to take them in gelatin capsules; the majority of health food stores also stock these capsules along with the powdered ginseng. An herbal combination formula can also be prepared by mixing the ginseng root along with other beneficial powdered herbs - these can be taken together to relieve a variety of conditions in patients. Most health and herbal stores will have commercial ginseng powders and these are usually sold in pre-packaged form.
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Herbal tea made from ginseng is the ideal way to consume the herb, and the main advantage in making an herbal ginseng root tea is that many other beneficial herbs can be mixed in the tea. Ginseng root tea is normally fortified in China by adding about three to five jujube dates to the steaming tea - this is then given to the patient for drinking. Ginseng root tea can be transformed into a simple tonic herbal combination formula by adding other useful herbs like the licorice root, the astragalus, the Fo-Ti herb, the dong quai, herb or some schisandra berries - this fortified ginseng tea is much better for health then the ginseng tea taken alone. The expensive nature of ginseng makes it prohibitive to prepare a tea like regular tea using the herb alone. A covered double boiler is normally used to cook the ginseng herb. A ginseng cooker which is made out of a small porcelain container is used in place of the top portion of a double boiler by the Chinese to prepare the ginseng. About two cups of herbal ginseng tea can be prepared from the water held in this cooker. This Chinese ginseng cooker is designed in a way, in which the solution within the cooker is insulated from the outside air, the evaporation of the valuable ginseng in the cooker is prevented by an inner lid that covers the top, a second domed lid fits over that, the result is that an insulating air space exists between the first and the second lids which prevents spillage of the herbal brew. Most Chinese stores have these very inexpensive cookers on sale. Results similar to the cooker can be achieved by utilizing a lidded pint canning jar, some ginseng and water can be kept in the lidded jar and this can be placed in a large pot of boiling water for steaming. As boiling can cause the loss of some of the herbal constituents, using the cooker or the jar ensures not too much of the herbal constituents is lost and the main role played by the cooker or the lidded jar is to keep the ginseng tea from boiling over.
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The cooker or the jar can both be used in the preparation of the ginseng herbal tea, use water and six grams of the ginseng herb to make the tea, boil the ginseng for about two hours in the container, as the boils away, water can be added when necessary to make up for the loss of water in the steam. A crock pot set on low can be substituted for the pot on the stove, if you do not have the time or the inclination to continuously watch the water level in the container. When using the crock pot instead of the pot on the stove to boil the ginseng, the herb may need to be boiled about an hour longer.
Once the tea has been prepared, remove from the stove, strain and drink about half of it every day during the supplemental period. The boiled ginseng roots and the other herbs in the water must not be discarded immediately. When boiling ginseng, you must remember that only the beneficial extracts lying in the outer part of the root are steeped into the water during the first boiling of the herbal tea, this initial boiling of the tea does not extract the active constituents lying in the inner parts of the root. Cut the once boiled root in to small pieces so as to expose the core of the inner root and then subject these to boiling water to make a second boiling herbal tea. A third boiling of the ginseng can also be carried out by repeating the cooking process at least twice - until all the ginseng has been used up. A single root of the ginseng can provide you with at least six doses of the herbal tea in this way. Taking a one week break from supplementation will be useful, if the dosage of the ginseng tea over stimulates the body, and this break is advised especially when you are affected by any rare side effects of taking the ginseng, if affected by any side effects induced in the body by continuously taking the herb, take a break for one week and then repeat the daily doses at one fourth or one third of the cooker or jar content of herbal tea.
Drinking wine in which ginseng and other herbs have been soaked for a long time is very common in China; indeed drinking such wines is a common way to take doses of the ginseng and some of the other useful tonic herbs in China. While any wine or strong liquor can be used for soaking the ginseng and other herbs, the rice wine is traditionally used as liquor for this purpose - the herbal extracts leak into the wine and also flavor the wine. When ginseng is commonly used as a medicine in China and taken in doses of one ounce - it is used as a medicine in such small doses. Tonic herbs are complemented very well by wines as the wine "moves" the blood, the Chinese believe that such drinking wine improves and speeds up the circulation of blood.
Prepare the ginseng infused wine in this way: use about three ounces of the ginger root, and finely chop or thinly slice these into even sized pieces, use a rice liquor to soak these slices for five or six weeks at a stretch. The rice wine must ideally be shaken once or twice every day, and the wine with the ginseng in it must be stored in a cool and dark area for the duration of the soaking period. This preparation must be used as a medicine and cannot be considered as a regular alcoholic beverage, as over stimulation of the body will be the likely outcome of overindulging in the liquor. Similar wine preparations can be made using some of the other beneficial tonic herbs, including herbs such as the deer antler, the Eleuthero root, the Fo-Ti herb, the schizandra berries, and the rehmannia herb. To promote digestion and to fine tune the circulation in the body, some fennel seeds or a little bit of cardamom can be added along with the rehmannia herb. The ginseng wine can also be infused with these herbal tonics to make a combination herbal infused wine.