PEI

VanKampen siblings grow ginseng to fight Parkinson's

A family-run greenhouse in P.E.I. is growing ginseng to see if it can help people with Parkinson’s disease.

Sister and brother hope their groundbreaking work will help people with dementia

Jackalina VanKampen hopes their work can help people with Parkinson's. (CBC)

A family-run greenhouse in P.E.I. is growing ginseng to see if it can help people with Parkinson’s disease.

Siblings Jackalina and Charlie VanKampen regularly monitor their ginseng trays, which contain seeds that have not yet sprouted.

“It's thinking about coming alive,” Charlie VanKampen said. “We're trying to get a couple hundred plants; it's a trial run. We're really looking for a few samples to see if we can do this. It's a fairly unique thing — I can't find anyone else doing it anywhere.”

Ginseng usually grows in fields in China, not greenhouses in Canada.

Charlie runs the greenhouse and Jackalina, a neuroscientist, plans to advance her research into how ginseng can help people with Parkinsons and the dementia that often accompanies it.

“Our main goal of course is to slow the progression of the disease, but there are also short-term benefits in terms of clearer thinking, more energy,” she said.

A personal matter

The VanKampens’ father started the greenhouse, and he later had Parkinson’s.

“He was desperate to take control of the disease. There had to be something to stave off the progression and there wasn't, so that kind of led me down this path,” Jackalina said.

“I am the kind of person who deals with things by doing.”

VanKampen works for the Neurodyn, a company developing natural products for treatment in neurological diseases. The latest is a liquid ginseng supplement, but it's been tough to find good ginseng.

“We fully expect that it will be more potent than the ginseng grown in the ground,” said Denis Kay of Neurodyn.

“This would put P.E.I. at the forefront of the highest quality possible of ginseng production.”

Jackalina Vankampen believes ginseng could have helped their father and she’s glad her work may help others.

“To turn around and help people with Parkinson’s makes everything worthwhile,” she said.

The plants will be ready for harvest in a year, and it could be three years before testing is complete.

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