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MINI REVIEW
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 28  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 15-20

The history of ginseng in the management of erectile dysfunction in ancient China (3500-2600 BCE)


Department of Urology, Darent Valley Hospital, Darenth Wood Road, Dartford, Kent, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Seshadri Sriprasad
Department of Urology, Darent Valley Hospital, Darenth Wood Road, Dartford, Kent, DA2 8DA
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0970-1591.94946

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Emperor Shen-Nung was the second of China's mythical emperors (3500-2600 BCE). Widely considered the father of Chinese medicine, he catalogued over 365 species of medicinal plants which he personally tasted. Through his treatise 'Shen Nung Benchau Jing', we relive Emperor Shen-Nung's contribution to urology with reference to his management of erectile dysfunction. Time-related sources in medical and historical literature were reviewed, including the 'Shen Nung Benchau Jing' (The medicine book of Emperor Shen-Nung), archives and manuscripts at the Wellcome History of Medicine Collection, the Royal Society of Medicine, London, The Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, and The Museum of Medical History, Shanghai, China. Chinese traditional herbal medicine began approximately 5000 years ago. Agricultural clan leader, Emperor Shen-Nung, was said to have a 'crystal-like belly' to watch the reactions in his own stomach of the herbs he collected. Ginseng was among of Shen Nung's contributions to herbal medicine. He experienced a warm and sexually pleasurable feeling after chewing the root. He advocated this as a treatment for erectile dysfunction and used it to stimulate sexual appetite. The reputation of ginseng as an aphrodisiac is based on the doctrine of signatures, since the adult root has a phallic shape. Shen-Nung believed that ginseng's resemblance to the human form is proof of its rejuvenative and aphrodisiac properties. It was believed that the closer the similarity to the human figure, the more potent the root. The use of ginseng for erectile dysfunction by Emperor Shen-Nung was unique for its time. It continues to hold parallels as a modern-day herbal aphrodisiac 5000 years on.


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