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Common Name: Japanese Ginseng
Panax japonicus is a perennial plant that can grow up to 0.60 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials.
The root contains up to 5% saponins[
Although poisonous, saponins also have a range of medicinal applications and many saponin-rich plants are used in herbalism (particularly as emetics, expectorants and febrifuges) or as sources of raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. Saponins are also found in a number of common foods, such as many beans.
Saponins have a quite bitter flavour and are in general poorly absorbed by the human body, so most pass through without harm. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of raw foods that contain saponins.
Saponins are much more toxic to many cold-blooded creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish and make them easy to catch[
E. Asia - China, Japan.
Woods in mountains all over Japan[
We have very little information on this species and do not know if it will be hardy in Britain, though judging by its native range it should succeed outdoors in much of the country. This species has 24 chromosomes which makes it quite distinct from P. ginseng which has 44 chromosomes[
]. The following notes are based on the general needs of the genus.
Requires a moist humus rich soil in a shady position in a woodland[
The roots are used as a flavouring in teas and liqueurs[
]. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.
A decoction of the root is expectorant, febrifuge and stomachic[
The root contains up to 5% saponins and it might be possible to utilize them as a soap[
Seed - sow in a shady position in a cold frame preferably as soon as it is ripe, otherwise as soon as the seed is obtained. It can be very slow and erratic to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in a shady position in the greenhouse or frame for at least their first winter. Make sure the pots are deep enough to accommodate the roots. Plant out into their permanent positions in late summer.
Division in spring.