FWD 2 HerbalGram: The Five Shens: Ginseng Substitutes in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Issue: 54 Page: 41

The Five Shens: Ginseng Substitutes in Traditional Chinese Medicine

HerbalGram. 200254:41 American Botanical Council

The problem of unknowingly receiving substitute herbs is alleviated today by reliance on cultivated ginseng and cultivated codonopsis. Furthermore, several herbs named shen, to indicate that they were used in place of or like ginseng, have become separate entries in materia medica and are now intentionally distinguished.

• mingdangshen, known also as changium or bright codonopsis (Changium smyrnioides H. Wolff, Apiaceae);

• taizishen, called pseudostellaria or prince ginseng (Pseudostellaria heterophylla (Miq.) Pax, Caryophyllaceae);

beishashen, known as glehnia, beach silvertop or northern sand ginseng (Glehnia littoralis F. Schmidt ex Miq., Apiaceae; see Adenophora in Table 1).

Even in ancient times, Tao Hongjing (456–536 c.e.), a famous herbalist who revised and expanded the Shennong Bencao Jing, described five types of ginseng:

renshen, (man-shaped ginseng; P. ginseng);

danshen, commonly known as cinnabar-colored ginseng or Chinese salvia (Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, Lamiaceae);

• kushen, called bitter ginseng or Japanese sophora (Sophora japonica L., Fabaceae);

• xuanshen, known also as black ginseng or scophularia (Scrophularia ningpoensis

• nanshashen, also called adenophora, ladybells or sand ginseng (Adenophora triphylla (Thunb. ex Murray) A.DC., Campanulaceae).

In 1596, Li Shizhen presented a modified version of this list with quan shen or bistort, purple ginseng (Polygonum bistorta L., Polygonaceae) replacing nanshashen in this system of five ginsengs.