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The Whole Truth About Ginseng

Everything You Need to Know About Ginseng 

There Are Three Different Kinds of Ginseng.


Panax Ginseng
(Oriental Ginseng)


What Panax Ginseng Does

REN SHEN is prized because, it alone, among all traditional herbs,  Strengthens the Original Qi.

The Original Qi (YUAN QI) is the vital energy with which we have at birth and which animates our being. When we have YUAN QI, we are alive. When it's gone, life is gone. 

Additionally, this herb has been shown to Extend Endurance, making it a safe legal performance enhancing herb, a favorite of many athletes. 

Panax Ginseng is sweet and slightly bitter in flavor, slightly warm in nature, and acts on the heart, spleen and lung channels. It can restore collapse and slowly tonify (strengthen) long-term deficiencies. It is the go-to herb to treat collapse due to overwork. It also Invigorates Spleen-qi and Lung-qi, promoting the production of the body fluids.  Ren Shen can tranquilize and can treat palpitations and insomnia. 

Effects: Invigorating Qi, treating collapse, reinforcing the spleen, nourishing the lung, promoting the production of the body fluid, quenching thirst, tranquilizing the mind and improving intelligence. 

Large doses of Panax Ginseng can raise blood pressure. Very small doses have a mild sedative effect. 

American ginseng

Panacis Quinquifoli
American Ginseng)

Like its cousin Panax Ginseng, American Ginseng is highly prized throughout China and Asia. The best quality is grown in Wisconsin. 

Though it can't boost Original Qi, as does Oriental Ginseng, American Ginseng, Panacis Quinquefolii,  does have other very useful properties. Most notably, this herb strongly Nourishes the Yin and generates fluids. People who are dry or hot (due to yin or blood deficiency) will benefit from its properties. 

This herb is bitter and slightly sweet in flavor, and acts on the Heart, Lung and Kidney Channels, Nourishing Heart, Lung and Kidney YIN.  It is Bittercold for Clearing Heat and Fire, as a heat-clearing with tonifying properties, it is often indicated for deficiency of Qi and Yin with pathogenic fire. 

Both American ginseng root and Panax Ginseng have the effects of invigorating Qi and nourishing Yin and are indicated for deficiency syndrome of Qi and Yin. However, patients with cold of deficiency type in the spleen and stomach are contraindicated to use American ginseng root; while patients with fire of excess type in the interior are contraindicated to use Panax Ginseng which is slightly warm in nature. 

Effects: Invigorating Qi, nourishing Yin, clearing heat and promoting the generation of body fluid.

Siberian ginseng

Eleutherococcus / Acanthopanax 
(Siberian Ginseng)

These inexpensive weeds, both considered Siberian Ginseng, are distant cousins of Oriental or American Ginseng, and have none of Ginseng's most valuable properties. However, they are often touted as "Ginseng" and sold at inflated prices. 

Unlike Panax Ginseng or American Ginseng (which are roots and also hard to cultivate), Siberian Ginseng (Ci Wu Jia) is a cheap and abundant weed that grows in many areas of the world. 

Two different species are used, eleuthrococis senticosis, and acanthopanax senticosus. Neither is similar in properties to either American or Oriental ginseng. Ginsenosides characteristic of Panax ginseng are not found in the roots of Ci Wu Jia. 

Chinese herbalists use the skin of the root of this plant mainly to treat Bi-Syndrome (arthritis). 

Pungent and bitter, warm in nature, it acts on liver and kidney channels. Bitter and dry for eliminating dampness, warm for dispersing cold and warm for tonifying liver and kidney, and muscles and tendons. The herb is suitable for syndromes of prolonged wind-dampness disease, muscular spasm, deficiency of liver and kidney, asthenia of muscle. 

Effects: Expels wind-dampness, tonifying the muscle and bone, promoting diuresis to alleviate edema.


How to Take Ginseng

Ginseng can be chewed, brewed, swallowed or stewed. No matter if it is taken as a tea, lozenge, pill, powder, or food, it is always best to use a good quality root. 

pouring a cup of Chinese teaUsing the dried ginseng root is best. First cut it into dime sized slices. Note: Ginseng will slice easily after it has been warmed in the oven for a few minutes or in the microwave for a few seconds (alternatively, you can buy it already sliced). The slices can now be chewed or brewed. Sucking and swallowing slices of Ginseng provides a quick method of dosage and oral satisfaction. To brew tea with Ginseng, use 3-9 grams per person. Double boiling is preferred. Slow boil herb slices for about one hour, and drink the tea on an empty stomach. 

Note that Panax Ginseng is sometimes steamed with aconite or other herbs to enhance its strength. This is called red ginseng. It has an especially warm nature. Also available is White Ginseng. This is unprocessed Panax Ginseng. Milder White Ginseng is more appropriate when the user has too much heat. Its cooler nature won't aggravate hot or inflammatory conditions.


Ginseng Value: How To Buy Ginseng, What You Need to Know

The price of Oriental or American can vary greatly. Soup grade ginseng can sell for a few dollars at the grocery; while the highest grades will bring over $10,000 per root. What determines the value of Oriental or American ginseng? 

ginseng root being sold at market

  • Ginseng roots gathered from the wild are far more costly than those cultivated on a farm.
     Wildcrafted roots will not contain traces of the fungicides which are used on cultivated

  • Roots that resemble a human form are more valuable than those that do not. 

  • Big roots are better than small ones. Thick roots are preferable to thin roots. 

  • Old roots are more prized than fresh ones. 

  • Strong characteristic taste and smell also indicate the strength of Ginseng roots. 

  • Siberian ginseng is cheap, and should cost only a fraction of what Oriental or American ginseng costs.


Ginseng Extracts (Ginseng pills and liquids)

Like every other herb, ginseng is made up of hundreds of different chemicals. Standardized ginseng extracts are rated by the percentage of ginsenosides they contain. Scientists believe ginsenosides create ginseng's effects

Herbalists, however, generally believe that the effects of any herb depend on many chemical components interacting together. That is why most TCM herbalists prefer whole herbs or simple water extractions over standardized extracts.

Also, extracts are often taken from herbs that have poor appearance, weak taste, and lower potency. 

Low-temperature water extracts, which have not been chemically manipulated in order to standardize ginsanocides, are more like the herb as it is found in nature.

Organic Ginseng

Ginseng that is truly gathered in the wild (wildcrafted) is likely free of fertilizers and pesticides. However, to be called "organic", ginseng must be certified by a third party organization recognized under the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA). This law can be accessed through the USDA website at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/ofp/ofp.shtml.

Methods of certification vary from state to state, and until very recently, there were no Chinese certification agencies recognized by federal authorities. This picture is beginning to change.  More and more batches of certified organic ginseng are becoming available, as markets adapt to the demand for organic herbs.


Ginseng Research

Ginsenoside Re of Panax ginseng possesses significant antioxidant and antihyperlipidemic efficacies in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.

   • Cho WC,
   • Chung WS,
   • Lee SK,
   • Leung AW,
   • Cheng CH,
   • Yue KK.

School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University, 7 Baptist University Road, Hong Kong, China. williamcscho@gmail.com 

Diabetes mellitus is characterized by hyperglycemia and complications affecting the eye, kidney, nerve and blood vessel. We have previously demonstrated the occurrence of oxidative stress of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats, preceded by a depletion in the tissue level of glutathione. In this study, when diabetic rats were treated with ginsenoside Re of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer, there was a significant reduction in blood glucose, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. On the other hand, oxidative stress has been implicated in the pathogenesis of diabetes and its complications. It was found that treatment by ginsenoside Re restored the levels of both glutathione and malondialdehyde in the eye and kidney to those found in the control rats. This is the first report demonstrating ginsenoside Re has significant antioxidant efficacy in diabetes, and prevents the onset of oxidative stress in some vascular tissues. Our results demonstrated that ginsenoside Re could lower blood glucose and lipid levels, and exerts protective actions against the occurrence of oxidative stress in the eye and kidney of diabetic rats. Our data also provide evidence that ginsenoside Re could be used as an effective antidiabetic agent particularly in the prevention of diabetic microvasculopathy. 

PMID: 17027742 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Increase of acetylcholine release by Panax ginseng root enhances insulin secretion in Wistar rats.

   • Su CF,
   • Cheng JT,
   • Liu IM.

Department of Nursing Sciences, National Tainan Institute of Nursing, Tainan City 70201, Taiwan, ROC. 

The present study was designed to ascertain the effect of Panax ginseng root on plasma glucose and investigate the possible mechanisms for the effect. Ninety minutes after the oral administration of P. ginseng root to fasting Wistar rats, plasma glucose decreased in a dose-dependent manner. Simultaneous with the reduction in plasma glucose, an increase in the plasma level of insulin and C-peptide was also observed. Moreover, disruption of the available synaptic acetylcholine (ACh), using the inhibitor for choline uptake (hemicholinium-3), or the inhibitor for vesicular choline transport (vesamicol), abolished the metabolic actions of P. ginseng root. Conversely, physostigmine, at a concentration sufficient to inhibit acetylcholinesterase, enhanced the metabolic effect of P. ginseng root. It is possible that P. ginseng root mediates the release of ACh from nerve terminals to enhance insulin secretion. Blockade of the actions of P. ginseng root by 4-diphenylacetoxy-N-methylpiperdine methiodide (4-DAMP) suggested that the site of action is the muscarinic M(3) receptor. Taken together, the results suggest that P. ginseng root has the ability to increase the release of ACh from nerve terminals in rats so as to stimulate muscarinic M(3) receptors activity located in the pancreatic cells for the secretion of insulin, which in turn lower plasma glucose. 

PMID: 17123721 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Pesticide multiresidue analysis in Panax ginseng (C. A. Meyer) by solid-phase extraction and gas chromatography with electron capture and nitrogen-phosphorus detection.

   • Park YS,
   • El-Aty AM,
   • Choi JH,
   • Cho SK,
   • Shin DH,
   • Shim JH.

Natural Products Chemistry Laboratory, Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology, Chonnam National University, 300 Yong-Bong Dong, Buk-Ku, Gwangju 500-757, Republic of Korea. 

An analytical multi-residue method using gas chromatography coupled with electron capture and a nitrogen-phosphorus detector was investigated for the simultaneous determination of 18 commonly used insecticides and fungicides in Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer). Samples were previously extracted with an acetonitrile and cleaned up by solid-phase extraction (SPE). The calibration curves were linear, with determination coefficients higher than 0.989. Recoveries at concentrations between 0.01 and 14.9 ppm ranged from 72.3 to 117.2%, with precision, which was expressed as relative standard deviation (RSD), at values lower than 5%. The proposed method was applied to the determination of pesticide levels from 12 ginseng samples, taken from four different agricultural areas of Jeonnam province, where several insecticides and fungicides were applied. Except in one sample, tolclofos-m was the only pesticide contained at a level lower than the maximum residue limits (MRL) authorized by the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) in real ginseng samples grown for 4, 5 and 6 years. Copyright (c) 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 

PMID: 17120302 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Adjuvant effects of protopanaxadiol and protopanaxatriol saponins from ginseng roots on the immune responses to ovalbumin in mice.

   • Sun J,
   • Hu S,
   • Song X.

Department of Veterinary Medicine, College of Animal Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang 310029, China. 

Protopanaxadiol saponins (Rg3, Rd, Rc, Rb1 and Rb2) and protopanaxatriol saponins (Rg1, Re and Rg2) isolated from the root of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer were evaluated for their adjuvant effects on the immune responses to ovalbumin (OVA) in mice. BALB/c mice were subcutaneously injected twice at a 3-week interval with 10mug of ovalbumin or 10mug of OVA plus 50mug of ginsenosides Rg3, Rd, Rc, Rb1, Rb2, Rg1, Re or Rg2 or Quil A (n=5). Blood samples were collected for measuring specific total-IgG, IgG1 and IgG2a, and splenocytes were harvested for determining lymphocyte proliferation as well as IFN-gamma and IL-5 production 2 weeks after the boosting. The results indicated that OVA-specific antibody responses were significantly higher in mice immunized with OVA co-administered with Rg1, Re, Rg2, Rg3 and Rb1 but not with Rd, Rc and Rb2 when compared with the control (immunized with OVA only). Significantly enhanced splenocyte proliferative responses to Con A, LPS and OVA as well as the production of both IL-5 and IFN-gamma stimulated by OVA were also detected in mice immunized with OVA co-administered with Rg1 but not with Rb1, Re and Rg3. Of the ginsenosides studied, Rg1, Re, Rg2, Rg3 and Rb1 have more potent adjuvant properties than the others, indicating that they are the major constituents contributing to the adjuvant activities of total ginseng saponins. Varieties of ginsenosides in adjuvant activity might be attributed to the varieties of molecular conformations determined by the side sugar chains attaching to their dammarane skeleton. 

PMID: 17069940 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Dammarenediol-II synthase, the first dedicated enzyme for ginsenoside biosynthesis, in Panax ginseng.

   • Tansakul P,
   • Shibuya M,
   • Kushiro T,
   • Ebizuka Y.

Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan. 

Panax ginseng produces triterpene saponins called ginsenosides, which are classified into two groups by the skeleton of aglycones, namely dammarane type and oleanane type. Dammarane-type ginsenosides dominate over oleanane type not only in amount but also in structural varieties. However, their sapogenin structure is restricted to two aglycones, protopanaxadiol and protopanaxatriol. So far, the genes encoding oxidosqualene cyclase (OSC) responsible for formation of dammarane skeleton have not been cloned, although OSC yielding oleanane skeleton (beta-amyrin synthase) has been successfully cloned from this plant. In this study, cDNA cloning of OSC producing dammmarane triterpene was attempted from hairy root cultures of P. ginseng by homology based PCR method. A new OSC gene (named as PNA) obtained was expressed in a lanosterol synthase deficient (erg7) Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain GIL77. LC-MS and NMR analyses identified the accumulated product in the yeast transformant to be dammarenediol-II, demonstrating PNA to encode dammarenediol-II synthase. 

PMID: 16962103 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

20(S)-Ginsenoside Rg3 prevents endothelial cell apoptosis via inhibition of a mitochondrial caspase pathway.

   • Min JK,
   • Kim JH,
   • Cho YL,
   • Maeng YS,
   • Lee SJ,
   • Pyun BJ,
   • Kim YM,
   • Park JH,Kwon YG.

Department of Biochemistry, College of Sciences, Yonsei University, Seoul, Republic of Korea. 

Ginseng, refering to the roots of the species of the genus Panax ginseng, has been widely used in traditional oriental medicine for its wide spectrum of medicinal effects, such as anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic, adaptogenic, and anti-aging activities. Many of its medicinal effects are attributed to the triterpene glycosides known as ginsenosides. In this study, we report a novel anti-apoptotic activity of 20(S)-ginsenoside Rg3 ((20S)Rg3) and its underlying molecular mechanism in human endothelial cells (ECs). ECs undergo apoptosis associated with increased LEHDase (caspase-9) and DEVDase (caspase-3) activity and DNA fragmentation after 24h of serum deprivation. These apoptotic markers were suppressed by the addition of (20S)Rg3. (20S)Rg3 increased the expression of Bax and conversely decreased Bcl-2. (20S)Rg3 potently induced a rapid and sustained Akt activation and Bad phosphorylation, resulting in the inhibition of mitochondrial cytochrome c release. These anti-apoptotic activities of (20S)Rg3 were significantly abrogated in cells expressing dominant negative Akt. Taken together, our results suggest that (20S)Rg3 prevents EC apoptosis via Akt-dependent inhibition of the mitochondrial apoptotic signaling pathway. The novel property of (20S)Rg3 may be valuable for developing new pharmaceutical means that will control unwanted endothelial cell death at the site of vascular injury. 

PMID: 16962070 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Pharmacological properties of traditional medicine (XXXII): protective effects of hangeshashinto and the combinations of its major constituents on gastric lesions in rats.

   • Kawashima K,
   • Fujimura Y,
   • Makino T,
   • Kano Y.

Department of Kampo Medicinal Science, Hokkaido Pharmacutical University, Otaru, Japan. kkawa38@hokuyakudai.ac.jp 

The protective effect of Hangeshashinto (HST) and its major constituents, baicalin (BA), berberine (BE), saponin fraction of ginseng (GS) and glycyrrhizin (GL) on rat gastric lesion induced by ethanol was examined to clarify its active ingredients and action mechanism. Oral treatment with HST at the doses of 125 and 250 mg/kg suppressed ethanol-induced gastric lesions. The mixture of BA, BE, GL and GS (4M), each of BE, GL and GS at the dosage corresponded to HST (125 mg/kg) also suppressed the ethanol-induced gastric lesion in rats, but BA did not. Treatment of ethanol augmented the activity of myeloperoxidase (MPO) in the stomach, which was significantly suppressed by the administration of HST, BE, GL and GS. These results suggest that the protective effect of HST on ethanol-induced gastric lesion was depended on BE, GL and GS, by, in part, the reduction of MPO activity in stomach. 

PMID: 16946521 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Inhibitory effects of Korean red ginseng and its genuine constituents ginsenosides Rg3, Rf, and Rh2 in mouse passive cutaneous anaphylaxis reaction and contact dermatitis models.

   • Bae EA,
   • Han MJ,
   • Shin YW,
   • Kim DH.

Department of Food and Nutrition, Kyung Hee University, Hoegi, Dongdaemun-ku, Seoul, Korea. 

The inhibitory effects of the Korean red ginseng (steamed root of Panax ginseng C.A. MEYER, family Araliaceae) saponin fraction (KRGS) and its constituents ginsenosides Rg3, Rf, and Rh2 in mouse passive cutaneous anaphylaxis (PCA) and contact dermatitis models were measured. Orally administered KRGS and its genuine ginsenosides potently inhibited the PCA reaction induced by IgE. However, when these ginsenosides were intraperitoneally administered, ginsenoside Rh2 showed the most potent inhibition. The ginsenoside Rh2 also the most potently inhibited the beta-hexosaminidase release from RBL-2H3 cells induced by IgE with antigen. KRGS administered topically at a dose of 0.1% suppressed ear swelling in an oxazolone-induced mouse contact dermatitis model by 38.8%. Its onstituents ginsenosides Rg3, Rf, and Rh2 at a concentration of 0.05% also potently suppressed mouse ear swelling by 47.5%, 34.8%, and 49.9% at 16 d, respectively. These ginsenosides also significantly reduced mRNA expression levels of cyclooxygenase (COX)-2, interleukin (IL)-1beta, tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interferon-gamma induced by oxazolone applied to mouse ears. However, the ginsenosides, except for ginsenoside Rh2, almost did not notably reduce IL-4 levels. The ginsenoside Rh2 also potently inhibited COX-2 and inducible NO synthetase protein expression in liphopolysaccharide-stimulated RAW264.7 cells. Based on these findings, KRGS and its ginsenosides are suggested to improve atopic and contact dermatitis by regulating expression of cytokines. 

PMID: 16946499 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

In vitro anti-cancer activity and structure-activity relationships of natural products isolated from fruits of Panax ginseng.

   • Wang W,
   • Zhao Y,
   • Rayburn ER,
   • Hill DL,
   • Wang H,
   • Zhang R.

Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Cancer Pharmacology Laboratory, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, 35294, USA. 

PURPOSE: Panax ginseng and its extracts have long been used for medical purposes; there is increasing interest in developing ginseng products as cancer preventive or therapeutic agents. The present study was designed to determine biological structure-activity relationships (SAR) for saponins present in Panax ginseng fruits. METHODS: Eleven saponins were extracted from P. ginseng fruits and purified by use of D(101) resin and ordinary and reverse-phase silica gel column chromatography. Their chemical structures were elucidated on the basis of physicochemical constants and NMR spectra. Compounds were then evaluated for SAR with their in vitro cytotoxicity against several human cancer cell lines. RESULTS: The 11 compounds were identified as 20(R)-dammarane-3beta,12beta,20,25-tetrol (25-OH-PPD, 1); 20(R)-dammarane-3beta,6alpha,12beta,20,25-pentol (25-OH-PPT, 2); 20(S)-protopanaxadiol (PPD, 3); daucosterine 4, 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rh(2) (Rh(2), 5); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rg(3) (Rg(3,) 6); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rg(2) (Rg(2), 7); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rg(1) (Rg(1), 8); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rd (Rd, 9); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Re (Re, 10); and 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rb(1) (Rb(1), 11). Among the eleven compounds, 1, 3 and 5 were the most effective inhibitors of cell growth and proliferation and inducers of apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. For 1, the IC(50) values for most cell lines were in the range of 10-60 muM, at least twofold lower than for any of the other compounds. Compounds 1 and 3 had significant, dose-dependent effects on apoptosis, proliferation, and cell cycle progression. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that the type of dammarane, the number of sugar moieties, and differences in the substituent groups affect their anti-cancer activity. This information may be useful for evaluating the structure/function relationship of other ginsenosides and their aglycones and for development of novel anticancer agents. 

PMID: 16924497 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Prevention of cerebral oxidative injury by post-ischemic intravenous administration of Shengmai San.

   • Ichikawa H,
   • Wang L,
   • Konishi T.

Niigata University of Pharmacy and Applied Life Sciences, Department of Functional and Analytical Food Sciences, Higashijima 265-1, Niigata-city, Niigata, 956-8603, Japan. 

Shengmai San (SMS) is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) comprising three different herbal components, Panax ginseng, Ohiopogon japonicus and Fructus schisandrae and has been used for treating coronary heart diseases (Bensky and Barolet, 1990). It was shown that SMS effectively prevented cerebral oxidative injury in rats when it administered into the duodenum before cerebral ischemia-reperfusion. In the present study, we examined whether post-ischemic administration of SMS can ameliorate cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury in rats as well. Results showed that SMS injected immediately after ischemia also prevented the ischemia-reperfusion injury, when the effect was evaluated by the formation of protein carbonyl and thiobarbituric acid reactive substance (TBARS), and the loss of glutathione peroxidase (GPX). The preventative potential of SMS was decreased rapidly dependent on the time lag until SMS was injected after ischemia. However, it was noted that intravenously administered SMS protected the oxidative injury approximately 30% even after 60 min of reperfusion in terms of protein carbonyl formation. It is thus suggested that SMS injection might be useful for preventing the progression of injury in cerebral infarction after stroke. 

PMID: 16883630 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Protein chemotaxonomy. XIII. Amino acid sequence of ferredoxin from Panax ginseng.

   • Mino Y.

Department of Environmental Analysis, Osaka University of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Japan. mino@gly.oups.ac.jp 

The complete amino acid sequence of [2Fe-2S] ferredoxin from Panax ginseng (Araliaceae) has been determined by automated Edman degradation of the entire S-carboxymethylcysteinyl protein and of the peptides obtained by enzymatic digestion. This ferredoxin has a unique amino acid sequence, which includes an insertion of Tyr at the 3rd position from the amino-terminus and a deletion of two amino acid residues at the carboxyl terminus. This ferredoxin had 18 differences in its amino acid sequence compared to that of Petroselinum sativum (Umbelliferae). In contrast, 23-33 differences were observed compared to other dicotyledonous plants. This suggests that Panax ginseng is related taxonomically to umbelliferous plants. 

PMID: 16880642 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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