The geography of ginseng and the strange alchemy of needs.
Of all the plants in the pharmacopoeia of traditional Chinese medicine, none was more treasured than ginseng. For most of the past, the plant was found only in Korea and Manchuria. Starting in the early eighteenth century, however, the geography of ginseng underwent a dramatic expansion—both through transplantation and new discovery. My talk will start with the story of this expansion, and then pursue the surprising web of consequences that followed from the plant’s spread. The modern history of ginseng, I shall show, is a global tale that entwines the histories of different Asian countries not only with each other, but also with Europe and North America. It is also a story about the strange alchemy of needs, which ultimately brings together the fates of substances as disparate as tea and opium, kombu, salt, and MSG.
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