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Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant

by Kristin Johannsen

Availablecloth$40.00s 978-0-8131-2384-4
224 pages  Pubdate: 03/10/2006  5.5 x 8.5  photos

For thousands of years, cultures around the world have relied on herbal medicine for healing. Only recently have Americans flocked to once-suspect botanical treatments for the promise of good health and longevity. Among the most treasured of these plants is American ginseng, revered by millions of Asians as a virtual panacea that sustains every system of the human body. In Ginseng Dreams, Kristin Johannsen chronicles the remarkable world of the mysterious plant that commands as much as two thousand dollars a pound. She unfolds ginseng’s history and its future through the stories of seven people whose lives center on it: a huckster, a field researcher, a farmer, a ginseng “missionary,” a criminal investigator, a broker, and a cancer researcher. Each of them brings a different perspective to the elusive root—and each is consumed by a different dream. Despite its venerable past and medicinal promise, American ginseng faces an uncertain future. Urban sprawl and environmental destruction threaten its fragile forest habitat, and the law provides little recourse against ginseng thieves who roam the backwoods. One step away from endangered species status, this precious plant of so much promise could soon be lost to us forever. Ginseng Dreams tells the extraordinary story of a natural treasure and the spell it casts on those who seek it.

A Book Sense Notable Pick Johannsen's book brews up an intriguing tale. By the end, the twisty root has corkscrewed its way into your heart and mind. Five stars. -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

Johannsen paintsa clear picture of the mythic nature of ginseng: its medicinal properties, commercial vagaries, and finicky growth requirements leading to gold rush-style boom or bust cycles. While other writers have focused on how toproduce and use ginseng, Johannsen instead writes with a journalist's eye, poking into the offbeat nooks and crannies of this mysterious plant. -- Library Journal

For many, ginseng holds the promise of perfect health and miracle cures. Johannsen shows that, for just as many, ginseng holds an even more American dream -- Publishers Weekly

This is a narrative that sings of the earth and the people's relationship to that land. It is the story of a humble root that bears the promise of health and wealth and happiness. -- Ron Pen, University of Kentucky

Kristin Johannsen has written a beautiful book that answers every question I ever had about ginseng, and some I hadn't even thought of yet. However, Johannsen has done more than create a font of knowledge about ginseng. Instead she has provided us with a wonderful study of a culture, preserving a way of life that may slip away far too soon. This is a tender, informative, wise, and lovely book. -- Silas House

Kristin Johannsen reveals the fascinating, and often hidden, world of American ginseng through the stories of the people who inhabit it. She describes, with equal grace and felicity, the centuries-old culture of 'sang diggin' that pervades the hills and hollows of Appalachia; the dramatic contrast between Hong Kong's towering glass skyscrapers and the modest traditional medicine shops that thrive in their shadows; the enticing but uncertain enterprise of ginseng farming; and the compelling new western research evidencing ginseng's efficacy (long accepted in China) as both aphrodisiac and cancer treatment. -- W. Scott Persons, author of American Ginseng: Green Gold

The descriptions of the woodland habitat of the plant itself and the pleasures of hunting ginseng in the leaf mold of a damp autumnal forest did make me want to go for a tramp in the woods. -- Washington Post Book World

Together, Ginseng Dreams presents a tale that provides the reader with an illuminating, compassionate, and often entertaining view of Appalachian ginseng harvesting. -- Douglas Deur -- Agricultural History

Ginseng Dreams is a delightful book for anyone who enjoys light reading about such a fascinating plant/medicine/folklore icon. [It] is well researched and appeals to both professional and lay persons who are interested in both herbs and the unlikely merging of cultures from Appalachia to Asia. -- Robert Beyfuss -- Herbalgram