Have you ever heard of ginseng? Commercial growers describe this plant as having a yellowish-green or greenish-white flower that is a bit fragrant to smell. It blooms late in summer or from late spring. Looking at it, we can say it looks more like a disfigured carrot or even ginger. It has been used as traditional medicine and has been sought after in Native American and Asian cultures which lead it to being legally protected in these regions.
What is Ginseng?
What type of plant is this? It is actually a perennial plant that belongs to the genus Panax in the family Araliaceae. This slow-growing plant is well known to the many regions of China as an ingredient in their traditional medicine. It is also well known in other parts of Asia.
The term ginseng is derived from the Chinese word renshen, where ren means person and shen means plant root. Its shape largely resembles a person’s pair of legs as the plant’s tapered roots can be around two to twelve inches in length when it matures.
The Native Americans are some of the people who have been harnessing the curative powers of this plant for centuries. This herbaceous root plant of the Panax family has been widely used in Native American traditional medicine.
Matured ginseng produces red berries that can be planted to grow a new batch of ginseng plants. Those that grow in the wild are much more sought after and the process of harvesting them involves digging all the way to the roots that resulted in the ginseng plants growing in the wild being classified as endangered.
To protect the species, the US government issued highly regulated laws regarding the harvesting of ginseng in the wild. Depending on the state you are living in, the cultivation of the plants can be deemed illegal. The plant is not illegal, only in the areas where it is cultivated. It is possible however to cultivate and harvest your own plant at home.
Three Main Types of Ginseng that can be consumed by people
Did you know that there are only 3 main types of this plant that can be consumed by people? As we know, there are those that grow in the wild and should not be eaten due to its possible poisonous effects.
- Panax Ginseng – “panax” means all heal in Greek. This type of ginseng is known as Korean ginseng, Chinese and Asian ginseng. They can be found in the mountainous regions of East Asian countries.
- Panax quinquefolius – this type of herb used in Native American medicine requires both its roots and leaves for healing. This American ginseng can be found in North America, Central United States, and southeastern Canada.
- Panax japonicus – for 2000 years, this type of herb found in China and Japan has been used as a healing vitamin for different kinds of ailments.
The Right Time to Plant Ginseng
Is there really a right time to plant ginseng? Yes. These plants need the perfect season to be planted which is during autumn but just before the ground freezes in winter. This is because they thrive in cool temperatures better. They can actually be grown in your garden or you can simply use containers. They do not need direct sunlight to grow; they need 80 percent shade on their planting area. They can grow best in the USDA hardiness zones 3 to 7.
How to Cultivate Ginseng
So, are you wondering how ginseng grows? If you plan to grow your own ginseng, you need to check first about your states’ regulations regarding growing and harvesting. This is to avoid the legal issues that may arise later. When you have the go signal from your local council that you can safely grow this plant then, there are methods that you need to follow to successfully grow your ginseng seeds to maturity.
Choosing a stratified seed from a local grower can ensure and speed up germination. Stratified seeds have already shed their tough outer layers which can help beginner ginseng production enthusiasts to the simplest and least time-consuming way of germinating their seeds.
Choosing the Planting Location
Growing areas for ginseng site planting should be located in the low traffic and well-shaded part of your garden. The soil should be rich and well-draining with a pH level of 6.0 – 6.5. Many growers prepare this site by removing stones or any rocks or debris that can obstruct the growth of the seeds. Planting and growing ginseng in containers is also possible; you just need to use eight-inch plastic pots to do the job.
Sowing Seeds with a lot of patience
Ever heard about patience as a virtue? This is very applicable when engaging in planting ginseng seeds and growing them into fully matured plants. You will need to plant your seeds 14 to 20 inches apart and one inch below the soil surface to encourage air circulation to lessen the possibility of plant disease from developing. Take note that the distance can be different if you are planting per square foot or per acre.
Growing American ginseng from seeds takes about 18 months to germinate. The seeds from ginseng cultivation take 3 to 5 years to grow to maturity. Thus, you will be needing a lot of patience with these plants. As these plants are growing, you need to check them periodically for fungus and pests infestation.
Ready for harvest and storage
Has your cultivated ginseng now become fully mature and ready for harvest? If yes, then this is now the best part of the entire long and tiring process. When you are ready to harvest, take note that the roots are the prized part of the Ginseng and should be handled with the utmost care during reaping time to avoid damaging them.
You have to also loosen the soil before gently pulling your matured ginseng from the ground. Then, carefully remove excess dirt from the roots and collect the ripened berries from it. These berries can be planted where the roots are removed to have another go for planting ginseng.
Using cool water, wash the ginseng carefully when rubbing the soil off, taking care not to break or damage the roots. The inside of the ginseng roots should turn white before they can be used. To do this, you need to air dry them for two weeks in a rack and place them in a warm area, out of the sun’s direct light.
Once you’ve finished reaping your roots, you can use a wicker basket to store them. You can also use other containers as long as they are well ventilated. Then, you can sell the mature roots to prospective clients. Some would even want to buy your crop at wholesale prices so you may want to think about that in advance or you can always check out market price resources for further reference. During seasons when you cannot sell, you can always brew natural ginseng tea two times a day.
How to Maintain and Care for your Ginseng Plant
Do growers find it difficult to care for and maintain these plants? One of the things you should avoid doing when is overwatering. Ginseng needs a cool and damp atmosphere to thrive, not a flooded soil bed. Just water them to moisten the soil, add more if the weather is dry but do not overwater them as it can result in root rot.
Maintain your planting site by regularly removing any unwanted plants or weeds from encroaching and overcrowding them.
A part of the site that is well shaded is the ideal location for your ginseng to grow well. Keep it from direct sunlight. Ginseng growing in a pot can move to the shaded part of your garden. Both garden direct ginseng and container ginseng can benefit from mulching using leaf litter or organic matter to keep their soil moist.
Looking out for Pests and Diseases
Did you know that pests can eat up the plant before you can actually harvest it? You can set up barriers or traps to make sure that your ginseng is safe while it grows. Visually checking for wilted leaves or leaf litter can indicate animal eating it or some signs of diseases. If you spot the culprit of why the plant is not at its usual state, then applying organic fungicides might just solve the problem and can help make the leaf litter healthy again.
Aside from pests and diseases, you have to be on the lookout for poachers. This has not only caught the attention of animals but has become attractive to poachers because of its high market value. To avoid this, you can remove the visible portions of your matured plants so that it does not become a telltale sign that there are precious plants growing in the said location.
Planting Wild-Simulated Ginseng
Is planting wild-simulated ginseng difficult? Let’s find out!
You can start by planting the ginseng seed during autumn. This is the first process of growing wild-simulated ginseng. You have to plant at the time when leaves start to shed off trees but be careful not to do when the ground is already almost freezing.
A wild-simulated ginseng seed first goes through a process called stratification. This is also referred to as a period of cold dormancy before it finally germinates as soon as spring arrives. Be sure to get your wild-simulated ginseng seed from a good source. This can cost between $85 to $150 per pound of high-quality seeds.
If you are thinking to invest in cultivating a half-acre plot, then get ready to invest around $800.00 for 10 pounds of seeds plus manpower for around 20 days. A half-acre will reap you about 200 pounds of dried roots after 6 to 10 years. You will be able to get a great deal per pound once you sell this in the market. However, to be able to get great yields, you will have to check out the fertility of your cultivated site. This will help you determine the type of ginseng that can be grown there.
On the other hand, you also have to remember to get your wild-simulated ginseng seed spread all over as you do planting over the years. There’s a good reason for this method as it will allow you to harvest varieties of mixed aged ginseng roots. You can get hold of this harvest annually instead of just harvesting one type of wild-simulated ginseng seeds once it comes into maturity. As you are planting over the years, you are also assured that your crop does not go into complete loss due to weather, rodents, or other environmental factors.
Don’t forget that your ultimate goal is to harvest two mature wild-simulated ginseng plants every square foot. This density will ensure that maximum growth is achieved and minimal disease problems are experienced. You can plant 4 to 5 wild-simulated ginseng plants in a square foot plot to make sure that you have the proper density when wild-simulated seeds reach maturity.
This is because 100% germination cannot be guaranteed and the chances of the plants dying are higher within the first two years. During the first year, your wild-simulated plant will not resemble mature ginseng following its supposedly mature stage in spring. If you aren’t familiar with its appearance including the ginseng roots, then this can be easily overlooked.
Traditional Medicinal Purposes
Did you ever wonder what American ginseng is used for? There are a lot of native groups around the world that have been using these plants as a part of their medicinal tradition. This was after many learned of its value in Asia. In fact, they have been among the important herbs in Chinese medicine and are mostly sold at high prices.
Their traditional medicinal purpose includes treating fatigue, colds, and even cancer. American ginseng has also been used by the Iroquois and the Mohegans as a painkiller, fertility medicine, and even a psychiatric drug. Meanwhile, American ginseng has been used in many Asian traditions to boost strength and stamina. It has also been used to relieve respiratory disorders, anxiety, and even slow the aging process.
You might think that ginseng is everywhere in China but the truth is, not everyone there has actually encountered the herb. This is because strict rules and regulations are implemented which makes the herb prices almost impossible for everyone to buy. Thus, it is also associated with royalty if you are able to afford one.
Frequently Asked Questions about Growing Ginseng
Why is growing ginseng illegal?
Is it really illegal to grow ginseng? Ginseng is one of the most sought-after plants that have been used as an herbal panacea for thousands of years. The word “ginseng” is derived from the Chinese word renshen, meaning mans’ legs, as its fleshy roots resembled the legs of a man. It is claimed to have a restorative and curative remedy and helps improve a person’s cognitive power, restores vitality, and reduces stress, among others.
It can also act as a cure for inflammation. Its popularity has reached North America in the 1700s which prompted the search for a plant comparable to it. They were able to discover their own American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius) which has joined the original red ginseng (Panax Ginseng) as a coveted herbal remedy.
The demand for the ginseng root hasn’t waned since the 1970s; the American ginseng has been almost rooted out of extinction which prompted its very high price. Harvesting requires uprooting the plant, which literally means terminating its existence. Those who harvest them illegally will have to pay fines or risk imprisonment.
Presently, the pricey roots that resemble a person’s feet still hold their appeal to the public. It is now sold as an ingredient in energy drinks and herbal teas and in the form of capsules as a food supplement. Cultivating and harvesting wild ginseng has been highly regulated in the U.S. Regulations on harvesting wild ginseng vary from state to state. You need to pay for a permit to do this. You can also plant this for home use if you have a private property and not in some common open space that can raise feuds with the authority which can also mean spending time in prison.
Ginseng is not illegal by itself as it is by no means harmful. The illegality in question is from the areas where they are being grown or harvested. There are states permitted by law that can freely grow and harvest these roots for export. Other states not on the list practicing the same system are deemed illegal.
Wild ginseng can be harvested without restrictions for export in the following states including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Three States where ginseng is grown and harvested through artificial means and can be exported include Maine, Michigan, and Washington.
How much money can you make growing ginseng?
Can herb cultivation make you rich? The American ginseng is a native plant that has been seen in the forest of the East Coast. For centuries, it has been used by the Native American tribe for various curative purposes. Since ginseng is also popularly used in China, a large portion of these plants is being exported to the Far East and China every year.
The recently published estimates by the US Fish and Wildlife Service put the figure of ginseng harvesting profits at around $27 million. This shows that ginseng can be a sizeable source of profit for its growers across the United States. Presently, 19 states allow unrestricted harvesting of wild ginseng for export. Three other states are allowed to export ginseng that has been grown and harvested through artificial means. The many rules and legal restrictions that are imposed on this wild root make growing, harvesting, and exporting ginseng illegal in other areas.
Can you grow ginseng in your backyard?
Can I grow ginseng in my backyard? Yes! It is surely possible as long as it is planted on private property. Growing this in a natural way is not difficult but can demand your patience. There are state-sanctioned areas where ginseng can freely thrive and be harvested. If you happen to live in the areas mentioned in the list, you can assume to grow or reap these sought-after roots legally. If you are not within these areas, it would be better to avoid the drawbacks of planting ginseng and growing it illegally. The safest way is to buy ginseng from safely approved sources through the web.
When your area is state-approved for ginseng harvesting and growing, you can grow your ginseng using your garden or you can use containers. Growing ginseng from seeds to maturity takes years and they need all the basics of low-maintenance care as they are easy to cultivate despite their long growing years.
When you have followed the proper ways to grow your ginseng, you need to check on them as they are germinating which can take 18 months, and growing, which can take 3 to 5 years, as they can be attacked by pests or fungus and can be subjected to poaching.
Ginseng needs water as all other plants do but you need to make sure not to overwater them as this can produce root rot. Keeping them in a cool, damp atmosphere is the ideal environment that can foster their growth. Take the time to check for other growing plants in the area that can invade your planting site to avoid overcrowding. Direct sunlight is not an ideal area for them and if you have planted them in a pot, you can always move them to the shaded part of your garden.
Using organic matter or leaf litter can be an ideal way to keep your soil moist if you have your ginseng planted directly in the garden or a pot. Check for pests and diseases on a regular basis. Check on their leaves as wilted ones can be a sign of disease or animal damage like bites marks can be seen on their roots when you dig the wilted ones. You have to set up barriers or traps that will discourage rodents and other pests from damaging your ginseng site.
Poaching is possible since ginseng is a sought-after plant that can take years to mature. The long process of growing them can prompt thieves to prey on your plants. Some cultivators even remove the top part of their visible portions to hide planting sites.
How long does ginseng take to grow?
How many years do you need to get this full-grown? Ginseng has been widely used as a traditional medicine of the Native Americans and the Chinese. This herbaceous perennial root comes from the Panax family which is part of the ivy family. For centuries, it has been highly coveted not for the red berries that it produces when matured but for its roots. This is the reason why the harvesting of ginseng has been highly regulated in the US that you have to uproot the ginseng plant which means destroying it entirely.
There are cultivated ginseng grown in a controlled environment and then there’s the wild ginseng in which growth occurs in an organic and natural habitat. Wild ginseng is endangered since it is uprooted upon discovery. This leads to the highly regulated harvesting in areas where it is sanctioned and is illegal in other states. It can be cultivated at home and for personal use only.
Research whether your area or state has local ordinances about ginseng growth and harvesting at home. When you have the go signal that what you are about to do is legal, then you can proceed to the cultivation of your ginseng.
Ginseng takes around 3 to 5 years to mature. By then, it will be ready for reaping. When they have reached maturity, they can be harvested using a delicate process since the prized part of these plants is in their roots.
Planting areas should contain rich and well-draining soil with an acidity level between 6.0 – 6.5. Partial shade is a must since ginseng thrives in the cooler, shaded part of your garden. If you plant your seeds in a container, use eight-inch plastic pots or bigger.
Spacing your seeds means placing them 14 to 20 inches apart to encourage air circulation and reduce the chances of disease. After that, sow the seeds below the soil surface at an inch deep. Your patience is needed when growing these since germination can take up to 18 months and maturity runs longer years. In between those years, you need to constantly check your prized plant for pest or fungus to ensure its healthy growth. You need to harvest it at its most appropriate time as all your efforts will be in vain if you gather it before its maturity.
Great care should be employed when harvesting matured ginseng to avoid damaging the roots. Loosen the soil around the area and pull them gently from the ground. The ripened berries on the topmost part can be collected and replanted in the same area where you harvested your ginseng. Then wash the roots with cool water, gently rubbing the soil off and keeping it light enough not to tear or break the roots. Air-dry your newly harvested ginseng for at least 1-2 weeks out of direct sunlight, or until the inside of the ginger root turns white.