Vietnamese ginseng (Panax vietnamensis)
Vietnamese ginseng (Panax vietnamensis) is a Panax gensus indeginous to Vietnam. Panax vietnamensis is known locally as sâm Ngọc Linh (Ngọc Linh ginseng). Vietnamese ginseng was first discovered in 1973 by a Vietnamese pharmacist named Đào Kim Long. He first called the gingseng as sâm đốt trúc (bamboo node ginseng) because its roots have some nodes like those of a bamboo tree. The name “Ngọc Linh” is an altered name of “Ngọc Lĩnh”, which is the mountain where Panax vietnamensis was found. Because Vietnam was at war at that time, he changed the name from “Ngọc Lĩnh” to “Ngọc Linh” so as to confuse poachers or enemies. Nowadays, that mountain range or mount is often referred as “Ngọc Linh” mountain range/mount, but its true original name is “Ngọc Lĩnh”.
Scientific names and subspecies
The previous scientific name was Panax articulatus, and was later changed to Panax vietnamesis in 1985.
Panax vietnamensis var. vietnamensis
Panax vietnamesis var. vietnamensis is now mainly cultivated in protected areas on “Ngọc Lĩnh” mountain range, spanning mostly in 2 Vietnamese provinces: Quảng Nam and Kon Tum.
Panax vietnamensis var. fuscidiscus
This subspecies is known locally as sâm Lai Châu which is grown in Lai Châu province. Previously Ch-y-nese traders often cheated local Vietnamese ethnic people in Lai Châu to harvest this gingseng under the name of yam or sweet potatoes, so that they could get cheap prices. It is reported that now the subspecies is grown in Ch-y-na, and imported back to Vietnam to be sold under counterfeited name as Ngọc Linh ginseng.
Panax vietnamensis var. langbianensis
In 2016, in the area of Lang Bian, Lâm Viên Plateau (Lâm Đồng province in southern Vietnam), this subspecies was discovered. However, because very little specimens were found, the subspecies is regarded as critically endangered. Through chemical analysis, Lang Bian ginseng does not contain majonoside-R2 saponin, which is the characteristic substance of Ngoc Linh ginseng. This type of ginseng has a low saponin content, only 4.78% per dry sample for a 10-year gingseng plant, wheares the content of this substance in Ngoc Linh ginseng is 52-56% per dry sample.
Before the discovery of Vietnamese scientists, Ngoc Linh ginseng was used by ethnic minorities in Central Vietnam, especially by the Xe Dang ethnic people. They call Panax vietnamensis as thuốc giấu, and use it to treat many diseases according to local traditional remedies.
Vietnamese ginseng is now particularly high-prized in Vietnam, even much higher than common Korean gingseng. According to research results in 1978 by the Ministry of Health of Vietnam, the rhizome of Ngoc Linh ginseng in Vietnam contains 50 saponin compounds, 24 of which cannot be found in other types of ginseng (Korean ginseng has about 25 saponin coompounds.)
In 2007, acccording to Dr. Nguyễn Bá Hoạt, an officer of the Institute of Medicinal Materials in Vietnam, from the roots of Panax vietnamensis (2007), they have isolated 52 saponins, of which 26 are commonly found in Korean ginseng, American ginseng, Japanese ginseng. And from the leaves and stems, 19 pammaran saponins have been isolated, including 8 saponins with new structures. Also in Ngoc Linh ginseng, 17 amino acids, 20 trace minerals and essential oil are idientifed.
Like common gingseng, Vietnamese ginseng is often used to cook tonic chicken soup. The simplest way is to slow-braise the chicken with sliced Vietnamese ginseng. Other medicinal herbs are often added, such as thục địa (cooked roots of Rehmannia glutinosa plant) and wolfberry. Similar to chicken soup, Vietnamese ginseng can be slow-braised with pork ribs.
Other common usage of Vietnamese ginseng is to make gingseng liquor. Whole Vietnamese ginseng roots are placed in a tall glass jar and get submerged in rice wine of 40-45 % ABV.
Similar to ethanol fermentation like in gingseng liquor, Vietnamese ginseng can also be submerged in honey. The gingseng roots are sliced in to small pieces and placed in the glass jar. The next step is to pour honey into the jar and seal it. The honey-preserved gingseng can be used as a tonic food and can be prepared in form of drinks.
Dried Vietnamese ginseng can also be used as a herbal tea.
A more modern way to use Vietnamese ginseng is to make gingseng milk or gingseng milkshake. This drink consists of fresh Ngọc Linh gingseng, fresh cow milk, pear, and honey. Gingseng roots and pears are juiced and mix with milk and honey, and then get boiled and reduced to a rather thick texture.