Different types of ginseng

Mature American ginseng plant with berries
Credit: Gary Kauffman/U.S. Forest Service

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is native to deciduous forests (forests that lose their leaves every year) of the United States from the Midwest to Maine, primarily in the Appalachian and Ozark regions, and also in eastern Canada. It is also grown on ginseng farms. It has long been used for medicine, originally harvested by many different Native American tribes and used in Asian medicinal products.

Ginseng root is exported in larger volumes than any other native CITES plant species. The majority of American ginseng harvested is exported to China. In the United States, the harvest of wild American ginseng for international trade began in the mid-1700s. Today, the harvest continues to have strong economic and cultural importance to many communities in the United States and to American Indian tribes.

Laws & Regulations

American ginseng can be harvested in 19 States. To learn what states allow for the harvesting of American ginseng, .

Wild and wild-simulated American ginseng roots can only be legally exported if they were harvested from plants that are 5 years of age or older and were legally harvested during the designated State harvest season. Of the 19 States approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), 18 States require wild ginseng plants to have 3 leaves (each leaf is comprised of 3-5 leaflets), which ensure that plants are at least 5 years old, and one State (Illinois) requires wild ginseng plants to have 4 leaves and to be 10 years old. Roots of artificially propagated American ginseng can be exported at any age. To learn more about how to determine the age of American ginseng, .

In other States where it is known to occur, American ginseng has varying levels of protection and laws vary from State to State. To learn about State regulations that apply to harvesters and buyers of wild American ginseng, and for contact information for the State regulatory offices, . It is illegal to harvest American ginseng roots on most State lands and all National Park Service land. Some U.S. Forest Service National Forests issue harvest permits for wild ginseng while other National Forests prohibit the harvest of ginseng. Check with the National Forest in your area to know whether ginseng harvest is allowed.

American ginseng is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Read our factsheet on CITES and Appendix II for more information. The listing covers the export of whole live or dead plants, whole and sliced roots, and parts of roots (including root fibers), but excludes powder or manufactured finished products (e.g. teas, capsules, extracts, confectionary).

For information on past meetings centered on exporting ginseng and permit issues, please visit our Archive page.

For information on exporting American ginseng, visit our Branch of Permits page.

Flower:

A single dome-shaped cluster about ¾-inch across on a 1 to 2-inch stalk at the top of the stem. The tiny 5-petaled flowers are greenish white, less than 1/8 inch across, on a 1/3 to ½ inch stalk; 5 stamens protrude from the center. Flowers open from the bottom of the cluster first and fruit sets quickly so that large green fruit is often present well before 50% of the flower buds have opened.

Leaves and stems:

At the top of the stem is a single whorl of 1 to 4 (age dependent) palmately compound leaves, above which the flower stalk and cluster develop.

Leaflets are in groups of 3 to 5 (rarely 7), 2 to 5 inches long, 1 to 2 inches wide, oblong or broadest at the tip end, hairless, with serrated edges and an abruptly pointed tip. The central and first set of side leaflets are nearly equal in size and long stalked, the outermost leaflets conspicuously smaller with very short stalks.

Fruit:

The flat, round seeds often form in pairs, sometimes in 3s, covered by a bright red fleshy coat. Ripe fruit is up to ¾ inch across.

Notes:

America created an instant cash export market of Ginseng as early as 1716. More lucrative than the fur trade, exports exceeded 100s of thousands of tons per year well into the late 18th century. Such a notable frontier American hero as Daniel Boone actually made his fortune – not on furs – but on the lowly “man root” collected from the Appalachian wilderness. Like all things market driven, a species that can attain over a century of age, American Ginseng has been hunted to near extinction. Faced with continued human exploitation, loss of habitat and fragmentation of habitat by development, over grazing by artificially high deer populations, seed bank loss to rebounding wild turkey populations, loss and destruction of habitat to invasive plants (e.g. buckthorn, garlic mustard, etc.), and animals (earthworms and wild pigs)… oh dear… one has to wonder if we humans have the will to save anything we value. Native ginseng is extremely rare to encounter in the wild. A very common native look-a-like is Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), but its compound leaves are not palmate, the leaflets stalkless, the flower clusters typically in 3s, and the fruits round and dark purplish blue.

Ginseng Harvesters and Collectors

Good harvest and stewardship of American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) starts with you! By following the laws and regulations, which are set up to allow for plant reproduction, ginseng production can continue for generations.

Important Dates:

Dry Ginseng Season in Kentucky starts September 15

Harvesting Season: September 1 – December 1

Buying Season:

Green Starts September 1

Dry Starts September 15 – March 31

Harvesters may obtain a weight receipt for holder root. The service is free of charge to harvesters, but is only available in our Frankfort office.

Ginseng Life Cycle

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a slow growing perennial plant. Ginseng Green Berries Perennial means it grows year after year. Ginseng propagation (growing) is mainly through the planting of seeds. When the top is removed before the berries mature in the fall – through wildlife browsing, topping to prevent theft, or with out-of-season harvest – these behaviors limit the ginseng plant’s ability to reproduce.

Before a ginseng plant can reproduce, the ginseng must grow and mature enough to produce the berries that enclose the seeds.

Ginseng berries may contain 1 or 2 or more seeds per berry. The berries typically turn red in the fall. Some plants may produce red berries sooner; some produce later. Legal harvest is in the fall the allow for more berries to ripen and allow the seeds to have the best opportunity for future germination.

A ginseng seed must go through several cold cycles in order to germinate. This process typically takes a 18 to 24 months in nature.

Seeds are ideally planted 2 cm (5/8 inch) in the soil. Kentucky regulations state to plant with no tool other than your finger. The reason for this is a common sense approach to seed planting depth, as the ideal is about to one’s first joint on their index finger.

Once ginseng produces a seedling, factors such as weather, soil conditions, amount of light, browsing from wildlife, habitat changes, and harvest impact if seedling will live long enough to produce seeds. Growing mature, marketable ginseng is a many year to decades long commitment.

A crop is not grown in one or two seasons like many other plants or animals. When discussing ginseng growth, decades is a better measurement than in years. One way to measure ginseng maturity is by the number of prongs a plant has. A prong is a set of 5 leaflet clusters with a central stem. Once a plant has more than one prong, you will find forks on the main stem that will lead to the 5 leaflet clusters. The number of these 5 leaflet clusters describe the number of prongs.

From seed to mature plant can occur in as little as 7 years in perfect growing conditions in nature, but realistically this cycle takes 12-15 years or more.

Common questions asked by Ginseng Harvesters

When can I harvest ginseng? Kentucky ginseng harvest season begins September 1 and ends December 1.

When can I harvest ginseng on my private property?

Only during established legal harvest, under Kentucky regulation. Currently, that is September 1 – December 1 per calendar year.

Can I harvest ginseng on my own private property any time of the year?

No. You can only legally harvest ginseng during established harvest season. This is set under Kentucky regulation. Currently, that is September 1 – December 1 per calendar year.

Do I need a permit to dig ginseng?

Not currently, on private property, but you should ask permission of the property owner prior to harvesting, if you are not the landowner. You must follow the Kentucky laws for trespassing.

Harvesting on state property, including state parks is not allowed.

Harvesting in all federal management areas is not allowed. In the past the exception was for the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Daniel Boone National Forest will not issue ginseng harvest permits for 2017.

What size of plant can I harvest?

Plants must have at least 3 prongs with 5 leaflets on each prong. This is the minimum legal age. The market prefers roots that are 10 years and older. Any berries present must be planted within 50 feet of the harvested root with no tool other than your finger; the goal is to put the seeds in the soil just over half an inch deep.

How much is ginseng selling for?

You will need to contact dealers directly to find out the current market value. We do not provide price reporting.

There are many factors that impact the value of the ginseng. How old was the plant? How well was the plant harvested (no nicks, cuts, entire root and fiber)? Was it washed? How was it washed? What is the quality of the ginseng you harvested? What is the supply and demand for that type of root? Is there a market for the character of your ginseng? Kentucky ginseng growing in the woods.

When can I sell my ginseng?

You can sell fresh, green ginseng on September 1. Dry ginseng can be sold from September 15-March 31 to licensed Kentucky dealers.

Can I export my ginseng out of Kentucky?

No, not as a digger/collector/harvester of ginseng. Only Kentucky licensed dealers can legally export ginseng out of Kentucky, and it must accompanied by appropriate documents. A harvester may apply to become a dealer to certify one’s own roots.

Diggers, this includes mailing your ginseng to an out-of-state dealer, leaving the state post-harvest (out-of-state residents), or to meet with an out-of-state dealer by vehicle! Kentucky ginseng cannot legally leave the borders of Kentucky without an export certificated issued by our agency.

Can I sell my Kentucky ginseng on an auction site, such as E-Bay?

Yes, but you first must be a licensed Kentucky dealer. Then, you will need to have an Export Certificate from Kentucky for each lot. Lots are built based on the Purchase Form information. The maximum number of lots per Purchase Form is 10; one for each line on the Purchase Form.

Asian Ginseng

Background

  • Asian ginseng is native to the Far East, including China and Korea, and has been used for health-related purposes for at least 2,000 years. Asian ginseng is one of several types of ginseng (another is American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius). The terms red ginseng and white ginseng refer to Asian ginseng roots prepared in two different ways. The herb called Siberian ginseng or eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is not related to true ginseng.
  • In traditional Chinese medicine, Asian ginseng was used as a tonic that was believed to replenish energy. Today, Asian ginseng is used as a dietary supplement to improve general well-being, physical stamina, and concentration; stimulate immune function; slow the aging process; and relieve various health problems such as respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disorders, depression, anxiety, erectile dysfunction, and menopausal hot flashes.
  • The root of Asian ginseng contains chemical components called ginsenosides (or panaxosides) that are thought to contribute to the herb’s claimed health-related properties.

How Much Do We Know?

  • There have been many studies of Asian ginseng in people, but few have been high quality. Therefore, our understanding of Asian ginseng’s health effects is limited.

What Have We Learned?

  • There’s currently no conclusive evidence supporting any health benefits of Asian ginseng.

What Do We Know About Safety?

  • Short-term use of Asian ginseng in recommended amounts appears to be safe for most people. However, questions have been raised about its long-term safety, and some experts recommend against its use by infants, children, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • The most common side effects of ginseng are headaches, sleep problems, and digestive problems.
  • Some evidence suggests that Asian ginseng might affect blood sugar and blood pressure. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, consult your health care provider before using Asian ginseng.
  • The risk of interactions between ginseng and medications is believed to be low, but there are uncertainties about whether ginseng might interact with certain medications, such as the anticoagulant (blood thinner) warfarin (Coumadin). If you’re taking medication, consult your health care provider before using Asian ginseng.

Keep in Mind

  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

5 Different Types Of Ginseng Root And Their Unique Benefits

For years, Asian societies have used ginseng as an energy booster. Certified TCM Practioner Adele Lau, of One Farrer Hotel & Spa, notes that the miracle root is often used to “tonify Qi, which means that it reinforces the body’s life force, and this is highly useful for a stressful lifestyle.” Extensive research shows ginseng is believed to induce relation, help fight cancer and treat diabetes. “For women who are always on the go, trying to balance family and work life, ginseng can be a good choice,” adds Adele.

The Miracle Healer?
The World Health Organisation defines health as a state if complete mental, physical and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease. If we take this to be true, ginseng has already proven itself as a cure-all. Eu Yan Sang’s Resident Physician Anita Pee explains “some literature refers to ginseng as a well-known adaptogen, which means that when ingested it can produce a total body response, which increases resistance against harmful agents and improve the function of many body systems.”

Backed By Science
For all the myths surrounding ginseng’s use in TCM, its true test lies in scientific fact. Thousands of clinical trials have been carried out to investigate numerous claims for the power of ginseng. Through these studies, scientists discovered two groups of compounds that have been proven to have remarkable medicinal properties: Ginsenosides and polysaccharides. Both have antioxidant effects that are healing and restorative.

Everything In Moderation
So should we rush out to buy this miracle root in bulk? Not so fast! “Even herbs that are purported to have wide-ranging health benefits may cause undesired side effects when used inappropriately or taken in large doses,” says Anita. She recommends consulting a registered TCM physician first before consuming any herb, miracle or not.

If you are convinced and would like to try ginseng, read on as we outline the different types available for consumption and their unique benefits:

Varieties Of Ginseng For The Home Gardener

Ginseng has been an important component of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, used to treat a wide variety of conditions and ills. It was also highly valued by Native Americans. There are several types of ginseng on the market today, including a few varieties of “ginseng” that are similar in many ways, but aren’t actually a true ginseng. Read on to learn more about different types of ginseng.

True Ginseng Plant Varieties

Oriental ginseng: Oriental ginseng (Panax ginseng) is native to Korea, Siberia and China, where it is highly prized for its many medicinal qualities. It is also known as red ginseng, true ginseng or Asian ginseng.

According to Chinese medicine practitioners, Oriental ginseng is considered to be “hot” and is used as a mild stimulant. Oriental ginseng has been widely harvested over the years and is nearly extinct in the wild. Although Oriental ginseng is available commercially, it is very expensive.

American ginseng: A cousin to Oriental ginseng, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is native to North America, particularly the Appalachian mountain region of the United States. American ginseng grows wild in forested areas and is also cultivated in Canada and the U.S.

Traditional practitioners of Chinese medicine consider American ginseng to be mild and “cool.” It has many functions and is often used as a calming tonic.

Alternative Types of “Ginseng”

Indian ginseng: Although Indian ginseng (Withania somnifera) is labeled and marketed as ginseng, it isn’t a member of the Panax family and, thus, isn’t a true ginseng. However, it is thought to have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Indian ginseng is also known as winter cherry or poison gooseberry.

Brazilian ginseng: Like Indian ginseng, Brazilian ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata) isn’t a true ginseng. However, some herbal medicine practitioners believe it may have anti-cancer properties. It is marketed as suma, thought to restore sexual health and relieve stress.

Siberian ginseng: This is another herb often marketed and used as ginseng, although it isn’t a member of the Panax family. It is considered to be a stress reliever and has mild stimulant properties. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is also known as eleuthero.

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