ginseng jĭn´sĕng [key], common name for the Araliaceae, a family of tropical herbs, shrubs, and trees that are often prickly and sometimes grow as climbing forms. The true ginseng ( Panax ginseng ), long prized by the Chinese for its medicinal qualities, was in such demand that a North American ginseng, P. quinquefolius, was imported in large quantities as a substitute. Both species have been all but exterminated in the wild by commercial exploitation. The herbal medicine ginseng is prepared from the plants' dried roots; it is used as a mild sedative and to increase stamina.

The widely varied family includes also the dwarf ginseng ( P. trifolium ) of North America; the English ivy ( Hedera helix ), a popular ornamental evergreen vine; the Hercules'-club, devil's-club, or devil's-walking-stick (names applied to several related species) of North America and E Asia, used locally for medicinal purposes; and the rice-paper plant ( Tetrapanax papyriferus ) of China, the pith of which is used to make Chinese rice paper. Native American species of this family include the wild sarsaparilla ( Aralia nudicaulis ) and the American, or wild, spikenard ( A. racemosa ). The names sarsaparilla and spikenard are applied also to plants of other families.

Ginseng is classified in the division Magnoliophyta , class Magnoliopsida, order Apiales, family Araliaceae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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