Saturday, March 17, 2007

Give Your Reading a Lift

Most North Americans think of ginseng as a Chinese herbal remedy, a mood lifter and energizer, encountered most often in the health food aisle. But David Taylor's new book, Ginseng, the Divine Root, tells a much more complex story. Journalist Taylor followed the herb for a year, from its native forests in Appalachia (it's nearly extinct in Asia) to the streets in Hong Kong, where a pound of wild roots can bring $400. Along the way, Taylor looks back, too, to learn that Jesuits in colonial Canada first recognized that the Asian and North American plants were viritually identical, launching over 300 years of lucrative international trade. He also investigates the health claims (confirmed and purported) by traditional herbalists and modern phamaceutical peddlars. No wonder Taylor's subtitle is: The Curious History of the Plant that Captivated the World. To learn more about the book, see David Taylor's website .

Reading this delightful book was part of the too-long research for an article that I wrote this week. Although ginseng is quite fascinating, I needed to hurry up but couldn't seem to get just the info that I needed. So I kept reading and reading, plus interviewing a few experts and re-reading their remarks. The process was dragging, which often happens to me at least, if not to most nonfiction writers.

This time, though, I found a way to perk up my research by getting away from the printed word. Though there are no movies about ginseng (an empty niche, Ken Burns?), I found a cool video showing an herbalist digging the roots on YouTube Digging Part I . There were some other lively entries in the category, too, including one the debate about health effects and several music-related. While at the site, I checked for Rachel Carson and Henry Thoreau-related videos and came up with a few of those, too.

I think I'll make YouTube a regular stop on my reading list. I think it can give visual variety, authenticity, and even humor to your reading life. That's a lift from ginseng I didn't expect.

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