top of page

History of Ginseng and its Substitute: 人参 and 党参 (Codonopsis)

Someone asked about the early origins of Ginseng 人參, and its relationship to Codonopsis 党参(黨參), and a region where Codonopsis is grown, Shangdang 上黨. Here are some tips for how to search it using the site, and a novel contribution to drug lore:

1) View the Map of the Bencao jing jizhu. (BCJJZ) Go to the search list on the right side, clear the ticks, and search for 人參 (using traditional characters)

We can see that the location of 上黨 is not identified in Tao Hongjing's commentary (dated 498), but in the Mingyi bielu 名醫別錄 (MYBL - ca. 250-400 CE), compiled from the work of Li Dangzhi 李當之, Wu Pu 吳普 and others. On the map the MYBL locations appear as a blue locations, while Tao Hongjing's locations are red.

2) Read the source passage in the Bencao jing jizhu.

You can read the source passage from the BCJJZ (and the MYBL which is a layer in the BCJJZ) , and visualise the locations. Here you can see Shangdang in the first para of the entry, which is almost always a mix of SNBC and MYBL text, whereas Tao's commentary follows in the 2nd para.

3) Look it up in Polyglot Drug Synonymy. Once you've looked up the drug in the sidebar, and then selected the entry you want, it will pop out the primary name, and the alternate names, the 出處 (provenance), as well as scientific species name. It gives this this permalink, which you can always refer back to:

This clips shows looking up the name, the Provenance bubble, which is the 神農本草經, that is the first mention, as well as when you click on the scientific name, in the right side you can select more scientific data to look up. POWO gives not only images of the plant, but also distinguishes native and introduced plants.

We saw already above that Renshen is listed in the MYBL, a Wei/Jin text, so it appears to have already been imported into China by then.

4) Look up the Provenance

If you want to know the date and the text where the drug is first mentioned, either click on the green Provenance bubble, or just look up top in the main window for the primary drug. You'll see the publication date and author, and author's birthplace (if available). So you can get to know more about regional origins of knowledge about drugs.

5) The synonymy also cites 1757 as the first mention of 黨參, which confirms a late date the in questioner's resources.

6) Search for 党参(黨參)in the Drugs Across Asia China database.

If you follow the search method in the below video, it's as follows: I) search your term 党参.

II) Then use Time Not Before (TNB) and Time Not After to narrow your search results. You can see a number of sources appearing in the 18th century.

III) Once you've filtered them down, you can open the <Metadata> button to show more details about the search results.

7) Make a discovery!

We see an entry for 党参 not from 1757, as asserted by the Bencao dictionaries in the Synonymy, and the questioner's article, but a much earlier date of 1602.

By using the tools in combination on the website, we can begin to actively improve on mistaken assumptions and oversights in the Bencao literature.

47 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page