Ginseng roots are not related to the tea plant, but have an equally long history in association with traditional herbal medicine. Across Asia, but especially in Korea and China, ginseng root has historically been a panacea for almost any ill. While some modern scientific research supports myriad benefits can be derived from taking ginseng, high prices and a naturally bitter flavor makes it a popular target for imitations and false claims.
What is Ginseng?
Ginseng is a plant genus with species native to both Asia and the Americas. Though it is most famously celebrated for medicinal use in Korea, Chinese herbal medicine traditions also use ginseng to treat a variety of ailments. Essentially, the theories of herbal medicine hold that consuming ginseng can help balance a person’s yin and yang energies, resolving many health issues in the process.
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Red ginseng, produced with more complex processing steps, is usually from Korea, while high quality white ginseng is often farmed in the US. It can take up to six years before the root is considered mature enough to harvest, and older roots are considered significantly more potent and valuable. The slow growth rate and high demand make ginseng a valuable commodity, often sold in powdered form to make small doses easy to manage. Another way to consume ginseng is to brew the dried root directly in hot water to make an herbal tisane.
One feature of all ginseng is a strong, distinctly bitter flavor. Traditional preparations often brew ginseng roots with other flowers, herbs or tea leaves in order to mitigate the bitterness while reaping the desired health benefits.
Types of Ginseng Tea
As the popularity of Chinese herbal medicines has grown worldwide, the cost of ginseng has risen with greater demand. This, along with a lack of regulations managing the way ginseng is sold, has led to many imitations in the form of powders, supplements, and teas. Today, buying “ginseng tea”, especially at a low price point, is unlikely to contain a significant dose of true ginseng root. There are three kinds of infusions commonly named Ginseng Tea.
1. Steeped Ginseng Root
Traditional preparation of Korean ginseng tea infuses the root directly in boiling water and sweetens the bitter brew with honey. This method uses no true tea, though it may also include other flowers or herbs for flavor variation or additional benefits.
2. Flavored Ginseng Tea
Modern ginseng teas that are produced on a large scale typically use a powdered form of ginseng to coat the leaves. These teas typically use lightly oxidized, rolled oolongs as the base, and cover them in an exterior layer of additives. While it is possible for this style of tea to contain some true ginseng in powdered form, it is typically sweetened with artificial substances like aspartame to avoid bitterness, and it is often difficult or impossible to verify the list of ingredients.
3. Blended Ginseng Tea
Because of our shop’s history as an herbal apothecary, we are able to make our own blended version of ginseng tea using small pieces of pure white ginseng root. The bitterness of ginseng is released more slowly by brewing small pieces instead of powder, while the natural sweetness and floral notes of our Taiwanese oolong Tung Ting provides a balance of flavors. We make no claims regarding the health benefits of this brew, but we do think it is a delicious and approachable tea.
Have you tried any of these types of ginseng tea? Tell us what you think in the comments below!
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