As more people seek out ancient wisdom to maintain health and heal diseases, the interest in herbs, roots and other botanical medicines grows in tandem. With the rise of health care costs and reduction in access, the idea of simple, affordable therapies becomes all the more appealing. Enter ginseng, a root receiving accolades among many ill and infirm patients. Actually, this plant benefits from several studies that credit its power to fight off cancer and heart disease; reduce high blood pressure and menopausal complications; and even cure erectile dysfunction. Best of all, you can learn how to grow ginseng in your own house.
- Types of Ginseng
- Benefits of Ginseng
- Choose between Seeds and Seedlings
- Select Growing Medium
- How to Grow Ginseng Indoors to Reap Its Amazing benefits
- Potted Ginseng Care: Can You Grow Ginseng In Containers
- Growing Ginseng in Planters
- How to Grow Ginseng in Containers
- 1. Finding The Right Environment
- 2. Testing The Soil
- 3. State Permission
- 4. Purchasing Seeds
- Ginseng Growing Basics -Growing Ginseng at Home
- Growing American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) in Forestlands
- Growing Ginseng
- Department of Environmental Conservation
- Ginseng Varieties and Glossary
Types of Ginseng
When it comes to growing a ginseng plant, it helps to know which of the ginseng plants you are growing. Ginseng plants are short with fleshy roots that can be identified into two main types: Korean and American.
Korean Ginseng is also known as red ginseng, Panax ginseng, or Asian ginseng. This originated from Eastern Asia. Red ginseng production has increased in Korea after it was found out that it can treat impotence in men. Red ginseng plants are harvested after at least 6 years. Man people consider this the original ginseng.
American Ginseng or Panax quinquefoilus is known for helping to fight fatigue and boost energy levels. The wild American ginseng roots can be found growing in American national parks. Wild American ginseng plants cost a lot of money. Moreover, the American ginseng plant was discovered by native Americans.
Fresh ginseng plants are typically cultivated before four years. However, the wild ginseng plant is now endangered making it illegal for wild ginseng plants to be harvested.
Benefits of Ginseng
But before anything else, these are the different benefits of ginseng as it is considered one of the best medicinal plants.
- Ginseng seed extracts have anti-inflammation properties especially red ginseng seed extracts
- Improve brain function
- Treat erectile dysfunction
- Improve immune system
- Increase energy (especially the American ginseng)
- Lower blood sugar levels
Choose between Seeds and Seedlings
As we will see, growing ginseng is a marathon, not a sprint. One determinative factor regarding the duration of its growth is whether the gardener plants stratified seeds or seedlings. Understandably, seedlings require less time since they are post-germination and partially grown. Of course, a plant already growing will have some extra cost built into the purchase price so prepare to pay extra. Time versus money is the choice.
On the other hand, ginseng seeds must be stratified, i.e. stored in a moist medium at varying temperatures for several months before being usable. Should you choose to grow the root from its very origin, research the dealers to make sure you obtain quality seed. This will ensure the success of each step in how to grow ginseng.
Select Growing Medium
It is important to note in growing ginseng is that ginseng root grows well in media dominated by either soil or peat. Good drainage is key to a successful yield, a counter-intuitive reality since ginseng thrives in moisture. A positive variable is that weed competition is non-existent since the ginseng is growing indoors.
If the soil is preferred, it is best to choose a granular, sandy variety. Still, horticulturalists advise adding a small amount of coal dust (lignite fines) to the medium—whether soil or peat—as it helps to pulverize the particles better. Gardeners can find peat in its purest form or mixed with lignite fines (and a little soil) at many commercial nurseries. Some growers mix in hardwood chips and other agents that further aid drainage.
Locate Plants Optimally
A discussion of how to grow ginseng is not complete without mentioning sunlight. Of course, some light is essential to its maturity but prolonged, and direct sunlight can be fatal. In fact, some research indicates that home-grown ginseng is more robust in a light less than the ambient sunlight afforded wild ginseng. Always remember when growing ginseng indoors, a shaded area of the house or even a basement with a narrow window high on the wall will serve the plant thoroughly.
To be sure, replicating the light and temperature of wild ginseng environments is a safe strategy for locating the growing space. A cool room, modestly lit and mildly humid will accommodate these roots and be a primary resource when learning how to grow ginseng.
Give the Plants Space
When the time comes to actually plant the seed or seedlings, find containers with adequate drainage reservoirs of one foot in depth. If planting stratified seeds, place them at a depth of one and one-half inches beneath the medium surface; planting roots should go deeper—three inches is best. Most growth, remember, is downward.
Each plant should have its own room, that is, its own pot or container. Once planted, the medium receives a thin cover of moistened mulch. If you were planting them outside, you would need to give the plants three inches on each side. Thus, allowing them to fill out their pots individually is a good rule of thumb when discovering how to grow ginseng indoors.
When growing outdoors, ginseng needs little tending unless the climate is excessively dry. However, when cultivating this herb in the house, gardeners should be meticulous about irrigation. Keeping the soil or peat lightly moist requires little more than a spray bottle. After a couple of years, though, the roots are larger and thirstier so a drip irrigation system may address the matter better.
An alternative to soil or peat, by the way, is to find how to grow ginseng hydroponically. Whatever technique you prefer, it is important not to neglect to supply the roots with adequate amounts of water.
Harvest with Patience
As noted above, ginseng is more slow cooker than a microwave. Five years is often the minimum wait until harvesting is ideal, though some gardeners will extend to twice that time. A hand trowel or soil knife can easily extract the root from the pot. Harvesters, nevertheless, should take caution lest they damage the root in the process.
Once removed and washed, the ginseng root is ready to eat immediately (or get brewed in tea). Otherwise, the root is often dried, cut up and stored for future use. In this state, ginseng enjoys extended longevity. At this stage, gardeners are fully educated in how to grow ginseng indoors.
Save the Seeds
Above the ground, the ginseng plant produces flowers which, in turn, produce berries containing seed. These berries ripen from green to red in hue. At this point, seeds are removed and then stratified for future planting.
Having learned how to grow ginseng indoors, you might try doing so in a backyard garden. Ascertaining differences in taste and potency is both interesting and fun. Alternatively, you can begin another indoor crop from the stratified seeds. Either way, you have an endless supply of ginseng if you collect the berries.
How to Grow Ginseng Indoors to Reap Its Amazing benefits
With all of the health enhancement and life extension that ginseng provides, participating in a home-grown enterprise is an attractive option for gardeners. Doing so indoors means less dependency on times and seasons. At the same time, the task is more labor-intensive when natural conditions are simulated. Nevertheless, the work of ginseng growing is hardly overwhelming whereas the benefits of ginseng are astounding.
Whether you prefer the ginseng that grows on North American soil or that indigenous to Asia, you gain expertise and confidence when you grow it yourself.
Image resources: 1, 2
Potted Ginseng Care: Can You Grow Ginseng In Containers
Ginseng (Panax spp.) is a plant that has been used for thousands of years in Asia. It is an herbaceous perennial and often cultivated for medicinal use. Growing ginseng requires patience and careful maintenance. It prefers to grow outdoors, either in beds or in pots. If you have questions about growing ginseng in containers, read on. We’ll give you information about potted ginseng including tips to help container-grown ginseng thrive.
Growing Ginseng in Planters
It may surprise you to learn that ginseng is native to North America as well as East Asia. It has dark, smooth leaves with toothed edges and tiny white flowers that develop into red berries. However, ginseng’s primary claim to fame comes from its roots. The Chinese have used ginseng root medicinally for millennium. It is said to stop inflammation, improve cognitive power, lessen anxiety and restore vitality.
Ginseng is available in this county as a supplement and also in tea form. But you can grow your own ginseng in planters or pots if you don’t mind the wait. Before you embark on growing potted ginseng, you should realize that it is a slow and long process. Whether you opt for container-grown ginseng or plant it in a garden bed, the plant roots do not mature until four to 10 years have passed.
How to Grow Ginseng in Containers
Ginseng in a pot can be cultivated outdoors in temperate regions. The plant prefers an outdoor location and adapts to both frost and mild drought conditions. You can also grow potted ginseng indoors.
Pick a container about 15 inches (40 cm.) in diameter, and be sure it has drainage holes. Use light, slightly acidic potting soil that drains well.
You can grow ginseng from seed or from seedlings. Note that seeds can take up to a year and a half to germinate. They require up to six months of stratification (in the refrigerator in sand or peat), but you can also buy stratified seeds. Plant them in the fall 1 ½ inches (4 cm.) deep.
To start growing ginseng in containers, it is faster to buy seedlings. The prices will vary by age of the seedling. Remember that it will take years for the plant to reach maturity.
It’s important to place the containers out of direct sun. The plants require significant shade and only dappled sunlight. Don’t fertilize ginseng, but water potted ginseng to keep the soil moist.
Ginseng is no longer a hidden herb and by this time almost everyone knows what this plant is and what its roots can do. However, if you are someone who still doesn’t know about Ginseng and if you want to know what benefits it comes with then yes, you are at the right place, reading the right article. The word Ginseng comes from the Chinese word “Renshen” which means “man root” because the shape of the roots of Ginseng resembles the legs of a man.
In fact, Ginseng has another name and that is “Panax” which means “a cure to all”. Yes, you read it right, Ginseng is nothing like the ordinary herbs and roots you come across every day, in fact, Ginseng is a cure to almost all the diseases of the world. For example, it can treat anything from erectile dysfunction to Alzheimer’s. So, yes, if you are someone who is looking for a life-changing herb then you need to opt for Ginseng because this herb can do wonders to your health and you will see the changes for yourself.
Now, you have two options, first, you can get the Ginseng from an online store, click here to know what kind of a store we are talking about. The other solution is to grow your own Ginseng. Yes, you read it right, you can grow Ginseng at your home and we are now going to tell you how that happens.
1. Finding The Right Environment
The first thing you need to do is to find the right environment to grow Ginseng in the first place. If you use the “wild simulated” method to grow Ginseng then know that you will have to first find a natural environment for that so that the plant can actually grow. Know that Ginseng grows in a cool climate so if it’s hot out there then don’t waste your time on growing Ginseng and buy it from a dealer instead.
2. Testing The Soil
Once you find the right environment, you then need to test the soil and evaluate it to check whether it’s suitable for the Ginseng or not. You need to make sure that the soil is all moist and loamy and on top of everything, it’s supposed to be able to drain quickly too. Don’t opt for hard clay or a swampy soil because that won’t be a favorable condition for the Ginseng plant to grow.
3. State Permission
You then need to take the permission from the state you are living in. There are only a few states in the world that are allowed to legally grow Ginseng. So, make sure to get a permit first and then get started with the process.
4. Purchasing Seeds
The next step is to purchase the seeds from a dealer who also needs to have a license. Make sure to purchase the green seeds because they are the most suitable ones when you want to grow the plant. You can’t opt for soft or discolored seeds because they won’t work for you. Once you purchase the seeds, you then have to plant them. Just make sure to keep the seeds moist and water them every now and then before a week of planting them.
This is the process that you need to follow to grow Ginseng. One more thing to know is that you need to stay a little patient with the growth process as it’s a time taking process. Other than that, just follow the tips we gave and you will have your own Ginseng very soon.
Ginseng Growing Basics -Growing Ginseng at Home
The picture above is of a second year ginseng garden in Ontario Canada. You don’t have to invest in tens of thousands of dollars to grow ginseng though. Most folks can grow ginseng somewhere around their home.
Let me start by telling you a brief story.
I have been hunting and digging ginseng since I was 18. I had read all of the articles in the magazines. However, one thing I could not get over was why I had not been able to find ginseng in the woods. I suspected that I just did not know what to look for. Finally, asked an older friend if he would take me out and show me what real ginseng looked like. He did. I remember the thrill I felt when I first saw a plant that looked like it could be ginseng. I was even more thrilled when my friend confirmed that it actually was wild ginseng. From that point on I have tried to find a way to grow ginseng.
Since that experience, I have always been thrilled to see ginseng. Even if it is growing around my house and I see it every day!
You can grow ginseng at home! Shade and woodland gardens have seen a serious increase in recent years. Just like normal gardeners, shade and woodland gardeners like to see new and interesting things in their beds.
Without question ginseng is the queen of the woodland gardens. Being an endangered plant species, ginseng is a bit elusive to find, and is guarded by both state and federal laws regarding its harvest and possession. That means you simply don’t go out into the woods and look for ginseng to bring home unless you know the local and federal laws regarding its harvest.
The first thing you need to be sure of is the best place to grow ginseng on your property. Ginseng needs from 70-85% shade to stay healthy. It requires loose, well-drained soil to keep it disease free. If such a place with suitable soil does not occur naturally, you can always make your own with raised beds.
Generally, a suitable place can be found on the north and east sides of most properties. If you have an area that is shaded by either trees or buildings, and you can maintain the shade requirement through out the day, you are in business. I’ve grown ginseng beside my porch in town with only cinnamon ferns to provide shade in the afternoons.
Additionally, I have grown ginseng along the north side of my home and near some shady bushes as well. In additon to natural shade, I’ve created simple natural shade structures with camouflage netting and common shade cloth.
You also should be aware that ginseng needs a change of seasons. Ginseng is native to the hardwoods of the eastern United States where the winters provide the necessary dormancy for the plants.
I have experimented with artificial shade with good results. I generally like military camouflage netting as a shade. For very small gardens. If you get much larger than about 20′ x 12′ you might need to start looking at commercially available shade netting. Most surplus stores, and, of course, Ebay, are good sources for camo netting. Camo netting will become brittle and harder to use after a few years, however. Shade cloth doesn’t.
Commercially available shade cloths are the standard, but they can be expensive and not readily available to the average home gardener. You might check local greenhouses or greenhouse suppliers for commercial shade cloth.
Seeds or Roots?
There are advantages to both. Generally speaking roots cost more, but they give you a head start and are a little hardier. The first year is the most perilous for the young ginseng plant. If you don’t have much experience or don’t want to worry about all the things that can keep a seedling plant from coming back the following year -go with rootlets. The older the rootlets the more hardy and expensive they will generally be.
If you buy seeds, you will need to be sure you are buying from a reputable dealer and that the seeds you are buying are stratified. Stratified seeds are seeds that have been held in sand for approximately 12 months. Ginseng seeds take roughly 18 months to germinate. So, when you buy stratified seed, you plant them late in the fall and can expect to see healthy seedlings the next spring. There really are no shortcuts here short of adding chemicals which might and might not work. Additionally, ginseng has a very complex perennial dormancy and any number of things could cause the seeds to remain dormant for a second year and sometimes longer.
Buying roots gives you an advantage in that you have live plants to start with. Older roots tend to be stronger than seedlings and can take more stress than can seedlings. Seedlings seem to be more susceptible to diseases than older plants, although both are very susceptible to fungal type disease. Again, buy only from a reputable dealer. Often you will see ginseng seeds and roots offered for sale in the spring and often all summer long on Ebay. While seed that comes out of stratification in mid summer may be planted and might do fine, the chances of interferring with the seed’s dormancy increases. Growers with experience will tell you not to plant before August and to get the seed in the ground as quickly as possible after it comes out of the stratification boxes in the fall. Whether you are going with roots or seeds,by all means avoid planting in the spring!
When to Plant
Like most woodland plants, ginseng is oriented to fall planting. Both seeds and roots should be planted in the fall. September and October offer the best planting conditions in my area of north central Ohio the best time in your area might differ depending on when winter sets in. Most commercial growers in the northern US and southern Canada plant in August.
Ginseng starts getting ready a year ahead of time. In the fall when roots are harvested, they have the bud for next spring’s growth already in place. If they dry out completely, they will die, but surface drying might not completely kill the root. Seeds are similar, but we know now that the seed can handle drier conditions than can the roots. Play it safe and keep roots and seed from completely drying out (but never wet) and plant them as soon as possible.
The stratification period allows the seeds to mature and sometimes they begin to ‘grin’. That is they split open the two halves of the seed shell and you can see the white embryo inside. The overall appearance is that of a smile or grin. The seed doesn’t have to be grinning to be good seed. Seed that is stratified above ground is normally very dry when it comes out of the stratification box in the fall. Even though it might float, and it has no grinning seed, the germination tests are normally very good and disease issues are reduced.
Don’t hold stratified seed in the refrigerator. We need to mimic natural conditions for the seed. Holding it in the refrigerator before planting in the fall could trigger a double dormancy. Also, if you hold ginseng seeds in the refrigerator over winter, they will have root sprouts before March. If anything happens to damage those shoots in the least, the seed will die. There are rumors in ginseng circles of dealers who offer spring seeds that are only grinning because they have been washed with sand to remove the small roots making the seeds appear plantable to the eye, but in reality they will soon die. In most areas it is too wet to get into the woods to plant until April at the earliest, and then it’s a hit or miss proposition -and not a pleasant one at that. Stick to planting in the fall.
Water and Fertilizers
In one word, don’t. There are exceptions of course. I water my ginseng beds (especially the raised beds) when it becomes especially dry. But do not soak them. Water standing around the roots of ginseng is a sure path to disaster. In fact, the raised beds and custom soil mix I arrived at initially was there specifically because water drained from my neighbor’s lawn into my ginseng garden. That caused losses of nearly 50% in my beds. Some of the beds were a total loss from root rot caused by the wet ground. Additions of raised beds, a tile, and better soil mix solved those problems.
Fertilizer also tends to cause a higher than normal disease occurrence in ginseng. While small amounts of plant food may not hurt, too much can really cause problems. Fertilizing ginseng results in clearly cultivated roots. If you want a big healthy plant for your woodland garden, that is one thing. But, if you are growing wild simulated, they will look nothing like wild roots if you fertilize them at all.
How to Plant
Ginseng seeds are easy. Just poke them into the ground with your finger to a depth of 3/4 – 1 inch. If you want, rake up a small area and broadcast the seeds. Rake them into the soil and mulch them with an inch or two of shredded leaves or straw. Whole leaves are not a good idea because they tend to pack down and can keep the seedlings from emerging in the spring. Right after the seed is broadcast or planted and before mulching is an ideal time to apply fungicide if you are going to use chemical fungicides at all. For wild simulated plantings, chemical fungicides are usually a no no.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is at least one seeder on the market that is designed just for planting ginseng in the woods without raking leaves. The only one I’ve found on the marked and handmade here in the United States -the ECF Seeder. You can see more about it by clicking this link and visiting our ECF Seeder page.
While ginseng plants may often grow close together in the wild, keeping them sparse will help curb disease should it occur. In production beds, I will use a mechanical seeder and my goal is one or two ginseng seeds in each square inch. That’s close. Too close in fact for wild simulated stands. Ginseng will often thin themselves out if they are planted too closely. When there is a particularly heavy stand, it seems that fewer will reappear in subsequent years. I plant heavy in commercial production to conserve the amount of fungicide I must use, and to save time applying it. I know of one leading ginseng expert that advocates planting at 10-12 seeds per square foot. He indicates that this is very dense planting because he fully expects that the survival rate by the 3rd or 4th year to be only 15%.
Transplanting ginseng roots is a little different from seed planting. You can plant the root to be at a slight angle in the ground. As much as 45 degrees from vertical, or, you can simply lay the root flat (horizontal). Either way, the bud must be at least an inch and a half below the surface. Be aware, however, of the hard lesson that I have learned from planting too shallow. In tilled and loose beds, 3 inches is a better choice. After the fall rains, the soil will compact slightly around the roots and you may return to find your ginseng roots poking out of the ground! If this happens and your mulch is light or blown away all together, an especially cold winter can damage the roots of your ginseng plants. This is one reason why mulching can be so important to your ginseng.
Just be sure to lay the roots into the hole and be particularly careful to not curl up the fine roots. Make the hole big enough to spread the roots out flat. I used to dig a small trench and lay the roots against one side then backfill on top of them as I move down the bed. However, I now just lay them flat to be sure the roots are fully extended as I think this is the most important issue in transplanting roots.
Depending on the size and age of the roots, I would space them at least 6 inches apart and up to a foot or more apart for larger roots. Remember, an older, larger plant will have a top that has three or four prongs on it. That top could be as much as 16 to 18″ across!
Pests and Disease
Now, a not-so-pleasant subject we must deal with when we talk about growing ginseng, pests and diseases.
By far the worst pest of ginseng (other than people and animals stepping on the plants) is a slug. Slugs seem to love to give you as much trouble as possible. You will read often about how ginseng will lie dormant for one or more years. I often suspect that is most likely caused by slugs eating the buds. I have had beautiful four-prong plants that simply did not show up any more because the slugs got to the bud during the winter and early spring.
There are several commercially available slug and snail baits on the market. I have used several and now use a brand called Sluggo exclusively. It is a bit expensive, but it outlasts the other brands that I have used because it is resistant to moderate amounts of rain. Sluggo is also an iron phosphate based product that is totally biodegradable and not toxic to wildlife. I understand that Deadline has come out with a similar iron phosphate product, but I’ve yet to try it.
Whether you go with a commercial slug product or a home remedy like a saucer of beer, make sure you deal with the slugs before they cause damage to your garden.
There are many different diseases to be aware of regarding ginseng. That alone is a topic for a whole book.
The susceptibility of ginseng to fungal diseases is the main reason why many would-be ginseng growers are unsuccessful. Fungal disease (along with theft) is the primary cause of concern among growers. I use fungicide sprays on my ginseng. I have had years where I did not have to spray at all after the first week of June. Then again, I have had years when I put off spraying aggressively in the early spring only to have a week of cool, wet weather in early May which gave rise to root rot. To keep my losses to a minimum I had to spray at least once a week until the plants went down in the fall. I’ve also avoided spraying some years. I am positive that actively engaging disease with fungicides allows me to grow more, and healthier plants.
Typically speaking, a shade or woodland gardener should not have to worry about spraying fungicides. Just plant your ginseng far enough apart so that there is plenty of room for air to circulate and dry the surface of the leafs. Also, make sure the soil is loose and drains well, and is not in a place that is frequently wet. That alone may be all you will ever need to do to avoid disease in your plants. After all, wild ginseng has been growing in the woods for thousands of years without any fungicide applications. If you start to see the tell tale signs of blight (Alternaria), you can always pick up a copper based fungicide at your local garden store and use that on your woodland flower bed ginseng.
Growing in Raised Beds
If you are having trouble locating a suitable place for ginseng on your property, you might be better off creating a suitable place. For woodland or shade gardeners, you might want to amend or replace native soil that is unsuitable with soil that is loose and drains easily.
If, on the other hand, you want to grow ginseng for your own consumption or for profit, you might want to invest in a raised bed system. By creating raised garden beds from pressure treated lumber and filling it with suitable soil, you might be able to grow ginseng and other medicinal plants productively in an area where you would otherwise have been unable to do so. I used to have a small area beside my vegetable garden where I had several raised beds of ginseng growing. I made the beds of treated 2x10s about 9′ long and 4′ wide to fit into the area. I filled 4 beds with one truckload of custom mixed soil. I also spread gravel between the beds for the walks.
The lumber, soil, fasteners (specially treated screws, not nails), cost about $200. The camo netting I use as shade was purchased for about $70 for a 12’x20′ piece. I did have to use several pieces of netting to adequately shade the beds after watching to see where shade was needed as the sun moved across the sky. How much, if any, artificial shade needs to be created will depend entirely on where you locate your beds.
After some years, I now use 2×8 treated lumber and make the beds four feet by sixteen feet long. In a bed that size, I use nine bags of Canadian peat, 1/2 – 3/4 ton of sand, and four or five bags of hardwood mulch. I mix this together in the bed of a truck with a small tiller. I also lay plastic under the beds to avoid trouble with nematodes. The trade off is that in dry weather I must sometimes water the beds. Additionally, I’ve gone to exclusively commercially made shade cloth. Currently, were I to cost-out two 4’x16′ beds, it would look like this:
- 5 pc 2x8x16′ Bed sides and ends $100
- 4 pc 4x4x10 Posts for shade $50
- 1 box 1/4″ x 3″ Washer head exterior screws $20
- 18 bags 3cu ft Canadian peat $200
- 1 ton course sand $25
- 16′ x 24′ 80% black shade cloth w/grommets and edge tape $130
So, for two 4’x16′ beds, soil mix and shade we are looking at about $550. This allows for a two foot walkway between the beds and also a one side and one end shade.
There are several advantages to raised beds. By filling them with a sandy, loose soil mix, the soil stays damp but never wet even after the hardest of downpours. By raising the beds, the temperature of the soil is increased over that of surrounding ground temperature. The treated frames of the beds and the gravel between them helps immensely with slug control in the ginseng garden. All of these features of the raised bed system aid in resisting disease in your ginseng garden. Loose soil that is higher than surrounding ground level drains well and never stays wet. This helps to prevent root diseases. Separate beds, separated by gravel, help prevent the spread of disease from one bed to the others as well.
If your goal is a small production of ginseng for personal use or for sale you might want to consider the following plan. If you were to implement a system on a 7-year cycle, you could set up 7 beds as described above. Your first fall, plant one bed with seeds, the second with one-year-old roots, the third with 2 year olds, and the fourth with 3-year-old roots. The following fall, plant seeds in the fifth bed and so on each year. Ginseng normally begins to produce seed in its 3rd year. By the end of the fifth year, you should be able to plant your own stratified seeds. By the fourth year, the three year olds you planted the first fall will now be 7 years old and ready to harvest if you decide to, and then you can plant seeds in that bed to start the whole process over again. However, because of replant failure a condition wherein ginseng doesn’t grow after a previous harvest, it will be necessary to replace the soil mix in the beds. This is another advantage of raised beds in that you can replace the growing medium.
Of course if you stick to planting roots, you can shorten up the cycle considerably. If you use only four beds, and each year plant 3-year-old roots, you have the same effect and some spare seeds to boot.
A couple advantages to growing ginseng at home is that you know what has, or has not been sprayed or otherwise used on the plants. You know where they’ve been. Also, especially in raised beds, if you have a disease problem, you just empty the bed, disinfect it, and fill it with fresh soil and are back in business. And last but not least, you get to see your plants every day!
In conclusion, I have enjoyed every hour I have spent in the pursuit of successfully growing ginseng, both at home and commercially. It is true I might not have been enjoying it at the time when I was bent over for hours and hours pulling garlic mustard and jewelweed from my production beds, or lugging a deep cycle battery into the woods for the electric deer fence when it was too wet to drive. As I look back, I enjoy the result. I like to see ginseng! It really is a thrill each and every time I look at one of these majestic plants.
In fact, just today I was working in the beds and gave a tour to some people I know (and trust). As I walked past one of my beds I happened to notice a small patch of wild ginseng growing within 8 feet of the mature plants I had transplanted. The wild plants were small two and 3 prong plants that were likely 2 to 4 years old. They had gone unnoticed under a barberry bush for the past two years. They were not as large as the plants in the beds, but they were fascinating to me. They were absolutely beautiful to see. That is the thrill I get each time I see a wild plant. Each and every time! I get that same thrill seeing ginseng at home during the many phases of watching it grow. I get to see it come out of the ground bowed over, pulling into the air and the fully formed leaves complete with flower buds. I watch as it straightens up and unfolds, anxious to see if it will be the three prong plant it was last year or will it add a new fourth prong this year. I observe the seed heads as they mature into the classic example of ginseng that charges each ginseng hunter in the fall -as it has for centuries.
I wish you the best of luck in your path to growing ginseng.
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Growing American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) in Forestlands
Ginseng may not be harvested from any state or other publicly-owned lands in Virginia, but harvest is allowed on private property between August 15 and December 31 (Endangered Species Coordinator 2009). Ginseng may be harvested on private property outside the legal harvest season with a signed landowner-seller declaration; it is illegal to possess uncertified ginseng without a landowner-seller declaration between April 1st and August 15th (Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services 2009). Virginia ginseng laws are enforced by game wardens and law-enforcement officers. Violation of Virginia ginseng laws is a class 1 misdemeanor with a maximum $2,500 fine and 12 months in prison (Code of Virginia § 18.2-11 2000; Code of Virginia § 3.2-1011 2008b). Further detail and explanations of Virginia’s ginseng laws are available at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and online (VDACS 2009).
Virginia law regulates ginseng buyers more than it does ginseng harvesters. Dealers must purchase a $10 annual license, available online, from VDACS (VDACS Office of Plant and Pest Services 2007). All sales must be inspected by a VDACS inspector from the Office of Pest and Plant Services to authenticate its legality and document average size, county of origin, and price. Ginseng buyers must keep transaction records for three years, send in copies monthly, and report total transactions to VDACS annually. Records include whether roots were wild or cultivated, whether they were purchased dry or green, the total weight, county or state of origin, and cross-state shipment ID numbers when applicable. More information on Virginia’s ginseng management program and examples of regulatory forms can be found at VDACS or online (VDACS 2009). International export of more than eight ounces of American ginseng requires certification from the FWS in addition to dealer certification through VDACS. Full detail of export certification requirements can be found online on FWS form 3-200-34 (Department of the Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2010).
The FWS is currently working with the state of Virginia to revise its ginseng laws. Virginia is the only state that does not require re-seeding or a minimum plant size. The FWS recommends all wild and wild-simulated plants be three-pronged or larger to ensure that plants are at least five years old. The FWS wants to require that diggers re-plant seeds after harvesting ginseng to ensure the future presence of ginseng plants. It also recommends changing the start of harvest season from August 15 to September 1 so ginseng berries have time to ripen before harvest (Division of Scientific Authority Chief 2009).
- Ginseng is regulated internationally by CITES.
- Ginseng is listed as a threatened species in Virginia.
- Harvest is only legal between August 15 and December 31.
- Harvested plants must be 5 or more years old.
- Roots must be sold to a certified dealer in the state.
- Dealers must work with the state and keep transaction records.
Wild ginseng roots are much more valuable than field-grown roots. For more information on wild versus cultivated roots and market prices, please refer to Hankins (2000) at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/354/354-312/354-312.html. Plants can be intentionally grown to look like wild ginseng using a method called wild-simulated cultivation. Wild-simulated cultivation can yield up to 160 pounds of dried root per acre that sell for wild ginseng prices. In 1998, there were more than 3,330 growers across the United States tending more than 905 acres of wild-simulated ginseng (Persons 1998).
Good ginseng growth begins with a productive planting site. The best soil condition for growing ginseng is moist, well-drained soil that is high in calcium and high in organic matter. Planting sites should have deep, dark soil that is loose and covered with a good layer of leaf litter. Ginseng will not grow in waterlogged soil, compacted areas (such as old roadbeds), leaf-filled depressions, rocky outcrops, water flows, or heavy clay soils (Charron and Gagnon 1991; Fritsch and Bamford n.d.; Persons and Davis 2005; Pritts 1995; Stoltz 1994). For information on soil pH and fertilizing, please refer to Hankins (2000) at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/354/354-312/354-312.html.
The most fertile sites tend to be north or east facing, not too steep, and near the bottom of slopes (Charron and Gagnon 1991; Fritsch and Bamford n.d.; Persons and Davis 2005; Stoltz 1994). A slope is too steep when it cannot maintain fertile topsoil due to erosion. Slopes facing to the north and east are typically cooler and moister than southern or western facing slopes. Flatter areas typically hold more moisture and have deeper soil than steep slopes; however, flat sites with poor drainage or a history of flooding will not support ginseng growth (Apsley and Carroll 2004). Hollows (also called hollers, dells, and vales) are often productive sites for ginseng because they retain moisture, are shady and have deep, fertile soil.
The best wild-simulated ginseng habitat is native forestland with a relatively open understory, a tall canopy that maximizes air circulation, and light levels around 25 percent sunlight. The presence of dense, woody shrubs may indicate that light levels are too high for ginseng (Charron and Gagnon 1991; Division of Scientific Authority Chief 2009; Fritsch and Bamford n.d.; Persons and Davis 2005; Stoltz 1994). Too much sunlight burns ginseng leaves and increases competition from other understory plants. Long-lived tree species that develop few canopy gaps make better ginseng habitat than short-lived tree species (Stoltz 1994). Sugar maple, tulip poplar, and black walnut stands make the most productive habitat because they are long-lived, tall, and release calcium into the soil when their leaves senesce in the fall (Nadeau et al. 1999; Persons and Davis 2005). Other good canopy species include beech, basswood, buckeye, white ash, slippery elm and northern red oak (Apsley and Carroll 2004).
The following understory species indicate a habitat suitable for ginseng: jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium, bloodroot, solomon’s seal, lady’s slipper, mayapple, baneberry, spicebush, jewelweed, galax, ferns, wild yam, black cohosh, wild ginger, pea vines, Indian turnips and goldenseal. As long as understory plants do not overtake the site, they should be left to grow alongside the ginseng. Ferns, however, may exude toxins that kill adjacent ginseng plants, so it may be prudent to remove them from the ginseng growing site (Hankins 2000; Persons and Davis 2005).
- Good sites have moist, rich, well-drained soil.
- The best sites are usually eastern or northern facing and not overly brushy.
- Ginseng needs forests with 75 percent shade.
- Optimal overstory trees species are black walnut, sugar maple, and tulip poplar.
- Ferns may poison adjacent ginseng plants.
Viable seeds are necessary to start a successful ginseng patch. One pound of ginseng seeds contains between 6,000 and 8,500 seeds and costs from $60 to $220 per pound. It is important to find a reputable seed source because improperly stratified seeds germinate poorly. Local seed sources may be hardier than imported seeds, and imported seeds may harm the fitness of wild populations (Grubbs and Case 2004; Mooney and McGraw 2007). Other growers and ginseng publications can advise new forest farmers on recommended seed suppliers. Cheap seeds are more likely to be improperly stratified and likely to germinate inconsistently. Sometimes bad seeds can be detected by a foul smell, moldy husks, or milky/cheesy interiors when the seeds are split open (Persons and Davis 2005). Viable seeds should be firm and off-white to dark brown in color. Viable seeds may also have tiny white tendrils showing (Pritts 1995). Good seeds usually lead to at least 70 percent germination. Before planting, seeds should be stored in a refrigerator between 36 and 50 degrees, kept moist, and aerated. Some growers like to treat their seeds with fungicide for added protection, and some suppliers sell pre-treated seed (Persons and Davis 2005; Stoltz 1994). For further details on how to separate viable seeds from bad ones, how to obtain seeds, and how seeds are stratified, please refer to Hankins (2000) at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/354/354-312/354-312.html.
- Find a reputable dealer.
- Seeds generally cost between $60 and $220 per pound.
- There are approximately 6,000 to 8,000 seeds per pound.
- Seeds should be kept refrigerated.
Plant seeds as soon as possible after purchase. Planting is best in October and November, but seeds may be sown between mid-August and mid-December before the ground freezes. Before sowing seeds, heavy vegetative competition on the planting site should be thinned either mechanically or with herbicide (Persons and Davis 2005). On steeper slopes, it may be beneficial to lay deadfall or wood along the contours of the slope to retain topsoil and build up natural terraces over time (Fritsch and Bamford n.d.).
No two growers plant ginseng using the exact the same method, and preferred planting methods and densities vary by grower (Persons and Davis 2005). Planting method and density depends on the quality of the site, labor and startup capital available, and the objectives of the ginseng forest farmers. We present three different wild-simulated methods of varying intensities to demonstrate potential options:
Hankins (2000) details how to efficiently hand-plant 10 pounds of seed per acre in 5-foot wide beds with 3-foot walkways laid out up-and-down a slope. This method is particularly effective on sub-optimal sites, where scattered seeds germinate poorly and dense plantings grow slowly (Persons and Davis 2005). This method will also maximize the germination rate of seeds and minimize seed costs. This planting method is moderately labor-intensive per plant grown.
For larger planting areas it may be easier to use a less labor-intensive approach to planting ginseng (Persons and Davis 2005). One method requires raking back the leaves and scattering seeds on the surface of the soil rather than planting individual seeds. First, a rectangular section 40 feet wide and 5 feet across is marked off across the bottom of the planting site (figure 5, row 1). The leaves are then raked downhill off this 200-square-foot rectangle. The exposed soil surface should be scratched with the rake’s teeth to help the seeds contact the soil. Two ounces of seed are measured out in a small bag and scattered across the 200-square-foot bed. This results in approximately four or five seeds per square foot, 1 ounce per 100 square feet, and 25 pounds of seed per acre. The next planting section is laid out directly above and adjacent to this first row so that the leaves raked off of row two cover the seeds just sown in row one, as depicted by row 2 in figure 5. This method requires roughly 25 hours of site preparation and planting per half-acre sown.
Department of Environmental Conservation
Ginseng Varieties and Glossary
Ginseng is a deciduous perennial herb with adaptogenic properties. The root lives for many years, even though the stem and foliage die back to ground level at the end of each growing season. An ancient species first identified as growing when the continents were connected, Ginseng today is found in two forms, Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolium. These are two cousin plants which vary primarily due to climatic and growing conditions. They both contain active ingredients called ginsenosides.
Oriental ginseng (Panax ginseng): native to eastern Asia, primarily China and Korea. It was found in the wild abundantly centuries ago. Because of its popularity, it was dug almost to extinction. Today it is commonly available as a cultivated plant.
Wild Oriental ginseng: the stuff that has set emperors and dynasties against each other. In the year 221 BC the emperor Shoangte sent more than 3,000 foot soldiers to find and bring back ginseng. It is not practical to consider it as a modern medicinal herb due to its rarity and cost (as much as $20,000 per ounce when available).
Cultivated Oriental ginseng: the most common type of ginseng found. Almost all of the Oriental ginseng exported to America is cultivated. It is relatively inexpensive and is grown using intensive cultivation.
White ginseng: the name given to the natural ginseng root which has not undergone any processing. It is the natural color of the ginseng root when harvested and thoroughly washed. The root, when dried, takes on a tan color.
Red ginseng is ginseng that has been processed using steam and heat to preserve it. The roots that are thus processed turn a red color. In order to withstand the heat, superior and older roots must be used, hence the claim of red ginseng being more potent than white.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium): the botanical cousin to Panax ginseng and is indigenous primarily to the Appalachian mountain region of North America. It can be found growing wild in forests and cultivated in plantations in the U.S. and Canada.
Wild American ginseng: the ginseng plant in its natural form. Wild American ginseng grows generally in shaded hardwood forests and can live to be almost a century old, although the average plant grows to be about 8-15 years old. The plant is listed as a threatened species. The wild plant is regularly harvested by “shang diggers” under controls set forth by the various state and provincial governments.
Woods-grown American ginseng: grown in the forest where the soil has been mounded up to increase the yield of the crop. Most woods-grown ginseng is grown organically, and reaches 6-8 years old.
Cultivated American ginseng: the most common type of American ginseng found. It is grown under artificial shade in fields and yields a crop in approximately 3-4 years. Wisconsin and Canada are the leading growers of cultivated ginseng, where it is a large cash crop which uses modern farming technology.
Other Species That Are Called “Ginseng”
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticocus): is often labeled as ginseng for marketing purposes. It is not a true ginseng, but is a related plant also with adaptogenic properties. Siberian ginseng has more of the stimulating qualities of ginseng without ginseng’s balancing and tonic effects. It is also relatively inexpensive compared to real ginseng.
Wild red American (desert) ginseng: is another impostor. It is a native American plant called Canaigre or Rumex that can be toxic and dangerous when used improperly.
Other Ginseng Terms
Adaptogen: is a term that applies to herbs that maintain health by increasing the body’s ability to adapt to environmental and internal stress. Adaptogens generally work by strengthening the immune system, nervous system and/or glandular systems.
Ginsenosides: are the active ingredients of the ginseng plant. They are dammarane-type triterpenoidal glycosides, which have been identified as the main substance that gives ginseng its unique properties. According to modern research, ginsenosides are found in different proportions depending on where and how the ginseng is grown and the quality of the ginseng in the ginseng products. Some tend to be stimulating (Yang according to the Chinese), and some relaxing or cooling (Yin). This supports many traditions that certain types of ginseng are better than others for different segments of the population with different imbalances and needs. Oriental cultivated ginseng tends to contain higher proportions of the heating (Yang) ginsenosides, preferred by those seeking stimulation for performance. Wild American ginseng contains all known ginsenosides, preferred by athletes and older men for stimulation of the hormonal system. American woods-grown or cultivated ginseng tends to contain higher proportions of the cooling (Yin) ginsenosides, preferred for stress related use in general and for hormornal balance by women.