Grow your own ginseng

How to Grow Ginseng For Profit

Start Small and Plan Ahead when Growing Ginseng

Now, it’s time to make another decision: How will you obtain the plants for the new bed? It’s possible to get started in the ginseng business by digging up and transplanting wild roots, and then collecting, stratifying (preserving the seeds by arranging them between layers of a moisture-retaining material), and later planting the wildlings. Unfortunately, though, there’s not much wild ‘sang left . . . so you’d have to spend a great deal of time searching it out to collect it.

A more practical approach is to buy an initial batch of seedling roots or seeds from a successful grower (see below in “Estimating Costs and Profits”, for a discussion of these two methods of stocking). Many regional farming publications carry classified ads for ginseng, and national magazines such as MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Progressive Farmer, and Fur-Fish-Game have several of these notices in each issue.

Before sending off your order, you’ll have to decide whether you want to stick a tentative toe into ginseng farming or to take the full plunge. If you’ve had no experience, it may be a good idea to order a few dozen seedlings or the smallest quantity of seeds available (or a combination of both) for your first venture into the business. Plant the ‘sang in your prepared bed, see how it performs throughout one summer, evaluate your prospects . . . and then proceed from there.

Even if you’re already familiar with the botanical’s cultivation and are eager to establish your homegrown income, it’s probably wise to start at less than full production. I’d advise you to aim initially at growing enough plants to produce all your own seeds. Specifically, I’d recommend that, for the first year, you plant a fortieth of an acre—about 750 square feet of actual bedding space—as a permanent, seed-producing plot. (This is about the smallest area that’s worth a businesslike effort to prepare and monitor conscientiously.) For this, you’ll need to order either 2,000 seedling roots or 4,000 seeds.

Then, during your second season, plant another 750 square feet to give yourself a total of 1,500 square feet of seed-producing beds (all you’re ever likely to need), which should yield about 15 pounds of seed yearly. You’ll find that this amount—roughly 120,000 seeds—is enough to sow 7,500 square feet of beds on a quarter of an acre.

By starting with permanent seedbeds like those I’ve described, you can begin on a small scale, with a minimal capital outlay. Then, by the time you start harvesting your own seeds in quantity, you’ll have several years of growing experience under your belt.

Storing Ginseng Seeds and Setting Out

As soon as you receive an order of seeds or rootlets, inspect them. If any are mushy or soft, return them for replacements. The stock should be planted promptly, but you can store the seeds or seedling roots temporarily in your refrigerator . . . or in another place where the temperature remains between 36° and 50°F. Do not freeze the stock, though. To store it safely, open the bags, add just a few drops of water, stir or shake the contents gently, and reseal the containers. Repeat this process every few days, since seeds are especially subject to mold or dehydration. Then-just before planting them soak the seeds or seedlings for 10 minutes in a solution of 1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water to reduce the possibility of fungal contamination.

Stock should be set out in either the fall or the early spring. Plant seeds about I/2 inch deep and seedlings 1 to 2 inches deep. The spacing between the stock will significantly affect both root growth and seed production when the plants become older and larger. As a rule of thumb, rows should be set 6 inches apart . . . and it’s best to run them across not down-the length of the bed. However, you have two options (depending on how you want to handle your future crop) regarding the spacing of plants within the rows.

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If you intend to dig up your roots and sell them at the end of only four or five years, either set the seedlings 3 inches apart within the rows, or plant seeds 1-1/2 inches apart . . . thinning and transplanting as needed to achieve 3-inch spacing at the end of two years.

On the other hand, if you want to grow the glossy perennials for a longer period, harvesting several additional batches of seeds before you dig the roots, then either set the seedling roots 9 inches apart or place seeds 4-1/2 inches apart . . . thinning them to a 9inch spacing after two years.

When I plant, I start at the top of a bed, dig a shallow trench to the desired depth across the width of the bed, and set out my seedling roots or seeds. Then I dig another trench 6 inches down from—and parallel to—the first one, moving the dirt from the second trench over to cover the first. I repeat this procedure all the way down the bed, using a 6-inch-wide board as a movable guide. A seedling can be set in at any angle—or even flat—as long as the bud neither faces down nor is exposed on the surface. Be sure not to crimp the root.

Once you get to the point at which you’re planting tens of thousands of seeds, the process outlined above will become too time consuming and back straining to be practical. Instead, after the soil is broken up, the seeds can be cast by hand as closely as possible to the desired spacing (sowing about 16 kernels per square foot) and covered with a thin layer of dirt as the bordering trench/walkways are being dug. Finally, you should take extra care to mulch the area thoroughly and evenly.

Fertilizer and Mulch for Growing Ginseng

Decaying leaf litter is, of course, the natural organic fertilizer of wild ginseng. Heavy doses of soil supplements—either barnyard or chemical—though, seem to force growth, thereby increasing ginseng’s susceptibility to disease. So, unless you’re certain that your soil requires a nutrient boost, such additives should be avoided, or at least used sparingly.

Mulch, on the other hand, is essential to helping the woodland crop retain moisture during hot, dry weather. With adequate shade and good mulching, your plants shouldn’t require watering (assuming, of course, that you’re raising them in an area with the appropriate amount of annual rainfall). This blanketing will also aid in weed control and reduction of erosion. In western North Carolina, where I live, about 2 inches of leaf litter or 1 inch of sawdust can be kept on the beds year round. Farther north, up to 4 inches of mulch is needed over the winter, both to minimize frost heaves and to keep the roots from undergoing repeated—and potentially fatal—freezing/thawing cycles. Such a thick layer must be partially removed in the spring to allow the young plants to emerge.

Leaf litter is an excellent mulch, but-in my experience-a bark/sawdust mixture from oak or poplar will promote healthy growth better than any other medium. Then too, many growers use hay or straw (probably because those materials are readily available). Whatever you cover your own plants with, check the beds regularly during the cold months to make sure the wind hasn’t created bare spots . . . particularly if you haven’t laid down a protective layer of mulch-holding brush.

Caring for a Growing Ginseng Plant

Maintaining a ginseng patch requires less ongoing care than does a vegetable garden of comparable size . . . but, of course, it does place some demands on the grower. First-year plants are especially vulnerable to stress, so they’ll need to be watched closely and weeded scrupulously. Mature, well-established specimens that were planted thinly require little attention beyond a weekly inspection. If a problem does occur, the worst that usually happens is that a few tops are killed, so that the afflicted plants’ root growth and seed production stop for the summer. Never fear: Next spring, new tops will appear.

If, however, your crop is thickly sown, you’d be wise to check even mature plants every other day, quickly removing the tops of diseased stock before trouble can spread. Of the several maladies that sometimes attack ginseng, the most dire is Alternaria (stem and leaf) blight. Many large commercial growers carry out a weekly preventive spraying program against it, beginning as soon as the leaves unfurl in spring . . . using a manebtype fungicide.

To avoid blights without having to employ a fungicide, you must plant sparsely, making sure that there’s good air circulation over your beds, and-after the tops die down in autumn – removing all the litter and mulch. (If normal leaf fall is insufficient to re-cover the patch, you’ll have to mulch again with material from another area.)

Should a disease problem arise that’s not familiar to you, consult your county agricultural extension agent immediately.

Pest Control

I’ve never had my own crop threatened by a severe infestation of insects or rodents, but I know of at least one grower who’s had a serious problem with an unidentified species of burrowing animal . . . so be forewarned that you could have “critter trouble”. In addition, slugs and snails may eat the leaves during damp weather if they aren’t controlled.

Actually, all manner of furry creatures will roam through your ginseng beds . . . without doing much damage. One summer, a zoology student asked to live trap my patch, and he caught moles, voles, shrews, gray and red squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and a lone possum. None of these trespassers seems to rate the pungent root very high on its list of preferred foods, although I suspect that animals consider the berries to be a bit of a forest delicacy. (Hence, I always pick the seed filled fruit as soon as it ripens.)

To defend against possible animal intrusions, some commercial growers fence off their growing beds. One fellow I know keeps stable of slightly underfed cats. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the unsolicited assistance of screech owls and a family of Cooper’s hawks that nest near my beds. But, as I said, four legged raiders aren’t likely to pose much of a problem.

To tell the truth, the human pests are probably the worst predators. Poaching ginseng is a punishable felony in a few states, but that doesn’t keep some light-fingered types from being irresistibly tempted by a large patch of mature ginseng. After all, once roots are dug up, they can’t be traced and can easily be sold for full value. Consequently, some growers keep large, loud dogs to ward off two legged thieves . . . but most people are just careful to keep their own counsel about the fact that they’re cultivating a crop of green gold.

Harvesting and Stratifying Ginseng Seeds

Seeds are picked in the fall as the berries ripen on third-year and older plants. A healthy fifth-year plant produces at least 15 berries, each containing two seeds. You should store your harvested red nuggets in a cool, moist place out of the sun, where they’re protected from rodents. I put mine in tubs in a shed, alternating one-inch layers of fine sand with half-inch layers of berries, and place a damp towel on top of the whole shebang. In six weeks or less, the berries decay, exposing their seeds. Until then, the berry pulp keeps the seeds moist, but when the pulp has completely deteriorated, the seeds begin to dry out and lose their viability.

To keep my rounds usable, I spread the six week-old sand-and-seed mixture on a window screen, and hose the sand away through the mesh. Afterwards, I can either plant the ‘sang starters immediately or stratify them.

In the beginning, you’ll probably elect to plant all of your seeds right away and wait the 18 months (!) it takes for them to germinate. But when you start producing more seeds than you have time (or space) to grow, you’ll almost certainly have to stratify them in order to sell them: Folks simply don’t want to buy any seeds that’ll take over a year to sprout!

To “age” the seeds so that they will germinate in the spring following a fall planting, I mix them with sand or fine dirt, and place this blend in a box that’s screened on the top and bottom to admit rain and allow drainage. Then I bury the box in the woods—just below the surface of the soil—and cover it over with an inch or two of earth and two inches of mulch. The next fall (or as early as August), I dig up the one-year-old stratified seeds to plant or sell.

Digging and Drying Roots

Various conditions determine growth rates, but it’s rarely economical to harvest roots before their fourth year. (After the fourth year, root weight generally increases about 20 percent yearly.) When you do dig up your crop, wield your shovel carefully, so as not to mutilate the roots . . . or you’ll lessen their value.

When you’ve dug up your treasure, wash off the dirt. But don’t scrub the gnarled roots too thoroughly, as the soil in the ridges highlights the wrinkled quality of the tubers. If you dig them in the late fall, after growth has ceased and the leaflets have turned yellow, you can immediately replant any undersized roots without risk of damaging them.

Dry your ginseng in a well-ventilated room at a temperature of at least 60°F, not exceeding 90°F for any prolonged period. Spread the roots only one layer thick on a screen or lattice-to promote air circulation and turn them once a day. Small roots take just a day to dry, but large ones may take as long as six weeks. Keep an eagle eye on your crop, as mold may strike during damp weather. If that happens, rush the ginseng into direct sunlight for a few hours.

You’ll know your harvest is properly dry when the roots break with a snap when bent. The yield should then be stored in a dry, well ventilated, rodent proof container until you’re ready to market it.

Cashing in the Green Ginseng Gold

In most communities near where wild ‘sang grows, there’s at least one shrewd old-timer who buys both wild and cultivated roots. My experience has been that local dealers offer prices that are the same as, or very close to, the prevailing rate throughout the country. However, they may not pay a premium for particularly fine specimens. Should you have a large quantity of quality roots—or if you don’t live within ginseng’s native territory—you can sell your dried roots by mail to any of several export companies. Before shipping your entire crop, reach an agreement on a price, using a sample as the basis.

Like any other commodity, the value of ginseng fluctuates according to supply and demand . . . but there’s also considerable price variation relative to the quality of the roots. (Experienced buyers evaluate the age, size, shape, wrinkles, texture, interior and exterior color, evidence of damage or disease, and other factors before setting their prices.) So you’d be wise to obtain at least two quotes before making a large sale.

In the past few years, the price of cultivated, woods-grown ginseng has ranged between $40 and $65 per pound, and the more highly prized wild roots have sold for around $140 a pound! Most American ginseng is sold through the trading port of Hong Kong, intended for ultimate sale to people of Chinese extraction . . . who use the root for medicinal purposes. Indeed, while this article has focused on the cultivating of the woodland perennial, let me assure you that volumes have been written about the tangy root’s health applications and significance in Oriental cultures. Trading wars have erupted and international pacts have been signed because of the rare botanical!

As the market now stands, the future for ginseng cultivators appears to be rosy. In 1981, the U.S. exported $40 million worth of ginseng . . . and, with the opening of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, the demand is expected to increase steadily. So it looks as if today is the time to take a speculative walk around your property. Who knows, maybe within five years you can have a booming and lucrative ginseng export business . . . operating from a few half-acre chunks of otherwise marginal wood land!

The Life Cycle of Ginseng

American ginseng, Panax quinquefolium, is a rather ordinary-looking little plant about 20 inches high-which grows inconspicuously on the forest floor. It is a deciduous perennial that produces a new top each year and has a slow growing tuberous rootstock.

Ginseng seeds sprout in April or early May, approximately 18 months after they drop from the plant—within bright red berries—during early autumn. Throughout its first summer of growth, the plant develops a small, skinny root and atop that consists of three leaflets. It stands only a few inches high and greatly resembles the wild strawberry. After the first fall frost, the top turns a rich ocher yellow and soon dies . . . but below ground level, the root survives the winter, freezing as the ground freezes.

The second-year plant is either a single palmate cluster of five leaflets, or two prongs with three to five leaflets radiating from each prong. In succeeding years, the top has two, three, and—in time—four prongs, with three to five leaflets on each fork. From the center of this whorl of prongs and leaflets, a small cluster of yellow green blossoms arises in May or dune, followed by a clump of kidney shaped crimson berries in early autumn. At the three-pronged stage, a plant will produce 15 to 40 berries annually, each of which usually contains two hard, flat seeds.

The root may triple in size during each of the first few growing seasons, but the growth rate soon tapers off until only about a 20 percent increase in root weight is achieved during each succeeding year after the fourth season. The raw root looks something like a small, off white, distorted carrot that has had a long and bitter life . . . and it tastes pretty nearly as unappetizing, as it looks. (A root occasionally branches in such a way that it imitates the form of a man. Such a specimen is said to be worth many thousands of dollars in China. In fact, the name “ginseng” is derived from the Chinese term for “man shaped” .)

When the top dies off each fall, it leaves a scar on the neck of the root. The next year’s bud forms on the opposite side of the neck, and this habit leaves the root neck bearing a series of alternating, ascending scars, which tell the age of the ginseng. Twenty-year-old plants are common in the wild, and `geriatrics” more than 90 years old have been documented.

Estimating Costs and Profits

Raising ginseng is occasionally advertised as a get-rich-quick scheme. Be assured that this is not the case! Rather, cultivating the plant is an undertaking that a prudent, patient person who likes to grow things can find interesting and profitable.

Cost

(As of printing – July 1983)

Starting up a ginseng business entails a modest or moderate initial capital investment, few operating expenses, and a goodly amount of time and labor (which in themselves have considerable value). Each person will choose to do things differently, and thus expenses will vary. Yet you should be able to project your costs fairly accurately . . . if you consider the factors I’m about to mention.

Assuming that you plan to (eventually) plant seeds you grow yourself, your biggest capital outlay will be for an initial order of seedling roots and/or stratified seeds. Naturally, the greater the quantity you buy, the less you’ll have to pay for each seedling or seed.

One-year-old seedling roots are generally priced from 10c to 17c apiece, two-year-old roots range from 21c to 30c each, and three year-old specimens cost 30c to 45c per item. To qualify for the lower ends of these price ranges, you’ll have to buy at least 1,000 roots. The price of stratified seed varies from just over 1 to a bit over 2Q per seed. Ads generally offer seeds for $4 per ounce, $18 per thousand, and $110 for a pound (about 8, 000 seeds).

The advantages of using the more expensive seedling roots include their higher probability of sprouting and surviving . . . and the savings of one to three years of time and labor. (Within three years, the value of the seeds you’ve harvested should at least equal the initial cost of the seedlings.) The primary advantage of stocking with seeds is their lower unit price.

As I stated in the body of this article, I think it’s a good idea to plant 750 square feet of permanent seedbeds for two years running. This will require about a half pound of seed or 2,000 seedling roots each year . . .
at an annual cost of approximately $60 (for seed) or $600 (for 2,000 third year seedling roots). In succeeding years, you’ll be planting your own seed.

Besides stocking your ginseng nursery, you may need to buy mulch, pest-control aids, and—perhaps—a little fertilizer. My total cost for such items last year was about $40. If you’ve decided to fence your plots, calculate that expense, as well.

You’ll also need a few tools, such as a shovel . . . an axe for clearing saplings and cutting tree roots . . . a sturdy garden rake . . . and a tiller (unless you favor really hard work). You can rent or borrow the tiller, since you’ll need it only when you prepare the beds for planting.

As far as labor goes, during the growing season you should be able to manage as much as an acre of ginseng on a part-time, after work, every other-day basis. (There’s little to do for the plants in the winter.) The work required won’t break your back, but it will bend it.

Production

Your yield will depend, of course, on your cultivation methods, the soil’s condition, and your horticultural expertise. From my own experience and that of other growers I know, I’d say that one tenth of an acre (about 3,000 square feet of actual bed space) of cultivated ginseng raised in forest shade should yield a dried root weight of about 120 pounds at the end of five years. Now this is a fairly conservative figure . . . nevertheless, only growers with some experience behind them are likely to do this well. Yet a person who achieves considerably less success will still net a tidy sum!

Profit

So what’s the bottom line? Simply this: The 120 pounds of dried roots you should be able to raise on one-tenth of an acre—at an average price of $50 per pound—would have a gross value of $6,000 . . . to say nothing of the seeds you’d harvest to use or sell along the way. On half an acre, then, you could expect to gross $30, 000.

Now do you see why ginseng is called green gold?

Growing American Ginseng in Ohio: Site Preparation and Planting Using the Wild-Simulated Approach

Growing American ginseng has been a popular income-generating pastime for over 200 years. Many people throughout Appalachia and beyond have experimented with growing ginseng or have tended wild patches of ginseng in the woods over many years.

Figure 1. Life cycle of American ginseng. Photo from: American Ginseng GREEN GOLD courtesy of W. Scott Persons.

In the early days of ginseng cultivation, most plants were simply transplanted out of the wild and into beds where one could keep a closer eye on them and tend to them more easily. Due to the limited availability of ginseng seed outside of the wild, most prospective growers started with transplanted roots. Today an aspiring ginseng grower has many options to get started. In addition to seed, 1-, 2- and 3-year-old rootlets are readily available for planting.

In this fact sheet we will be focusing on growing ginseng in the wild-simulated fashion. Wild ginseng from the Appalachian region in particular, is the most highly valued ginseng in the world. In the wild, the ginseng plant begins to produce seed after about 3 years of age. In the fall before the vegetation dies back for winter, ginseng seeds fall to the ground and lay dormant for 16–18 months before germinating (Figure 1). Upon germination, the root must negotiate obstacles such as rocks, twigs, and leaves to become established. Growing under these natural conditions tends to make the root take on interesting shapes as it grows into the soil, working its way around pebbles, neighboring roots, and other obstacles. The slow grown root with unique characteristics is highly valued in the Asian market.

The goal in growing wild-simulated ginseng is to produce a root which is virtually wild in appearance. This allows the grower to receive wild ginseng prices when it comes time to market the product. Growing in this method is almost always done exclusively from seed.

Wild-simulated ginseng production requires little capital to get started; however, you must have a woodland with suitable ginseng sites in order to produce wild-simulated ginseng. To ensure adequate drainage, ginseng is usually planted on slight to moderate slopes. If terrain is flat, be sure to avoid areas with poorly drained soils. Some indicators of a good ginseng site include sugar maple and tulip-poplar trees with spicebush, ferns, goldenseal, jack-in-the-pulpit, and blue cohosh as understory vegetation. Every site varies; refer to Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet F-58, Growing Ginseng in Ohio: Selecting a Site for information about selecting the proper site. A few simple tools such as a leaf rake, steel garden rake, pruners, and mattocks, as well as good seed are all that are needed to get started.

Site Preparation

Before preparing any site one should consider many factors, foremost is security. Be sure to pick a site that isn’t frequently used by others and that you can monitor regularly. Ginseng’s biggest pest is the poacher, and due to its high value, many poachers covet ginseng. Poaching is a serious problem and many growers have thrown in the towel after seeing many years of work go down the drain after being poached.

It is important to remember that ginseng (particularly ginseng under cultivation) is a plant prone to many diseases. The cause of many of these ginseng diseases is too much moisture and not enough air movement through the plants. Stagnant air in a moist setting can create serious disease problems, which can be very hard to control. Overcrowded plantings tend to have many more disease problems than well-spaced plantings. Usually the first step in preparing a wild-simulated ginseng growing site is to remove the necessary understory trees and shrubs in order to create an environment where air can flow more freely over the ginseng plants.

This usually means going out with some hand pruners and pruning the lower branches off of small trees and shrubs such as pawpaw and spicebush that may be growing on your ginseng site. Typically, you do not want to remove these trees and shrubs altogether. Performing selective pruning allows increased air flow while maintaining proper shade levels. These small trees and shrubs will provide habitat and protection for your ginseng if managed properly. Pay attention to what direction the wind tends to blow on your site and clear accordingly to allow for maximum air flow over your ginseng plants. This will require yearly maintenance and some pruning to maintain good air circulation.

The next step in site preparation is picking up any large rocks or sticks that may be lying in the area you wish to plant. Consider using the larger rocks and sticks to line the bottom or downhill side of your planting area to help catch debris or soils that may be blown or erode off of the site.

Site preparation work can begin any time throughout the spring and summer of the year, but it must be completed prior to planting in the fall. Now that the site is prepared you are ready to begin the planting process.

Planting Wild-Simulated Ginseng

The process of growing wild-simulated ginseng begins by planting seed in the autumn around the time the trees begin to shed their leaves, but before the ground freezes (in Ohio this is usually done between October and November). Ginseng seed must go through a period of cold dormancy (also known as stratification) before it can germinate the following spring (Figure 2). To ensure success we recommend that the novice ginseng grower acquire stratified seed from a reputable commercial seed source. Cost of good quality, stratified ginseng seed is around $85 to $150 per pound.

It is a good idea to spread your plantings out over many years for a variety of reasons. Planting over a number of years will eventually allow you to harvest mixed aged roots on a yearly basis rather than having one entire crop come into maturity all at once. Planting over a number of years can also help ensure that you won’t have a complete loss of your crop due to weather, rodents, or other environmental factors that can wipe out a young planting in one season.

Ultimately you want no less than one and no more than two mature ginseng plants per square foot upon maturity. This density helps to ensure minimal disease problems and maximum growth. Normally planting four to five seeds per square foot ensures proper density at maturity, since germination will not be 100%, and mortality in the first two years is often high. The first year plants will emerge the following spring and do not resemble a mature ginseng plant at this stage. They can be easily overlooked if you’re not familiar with their appearance (Figure 3).

Figure 2. Stratified American ginseng seed. Photo courtesy of Rural Action Sustainable Forestry.

Figure 3. One-year-old American ginseng seedling. Photo courtesy of Rural Action Sustainable Forestry.

Some novice growers have even mistakenly weeded out all of their first-year ginseng seedlings.

Begin the planting process by raking back the leaf litter along the bottom of the slope you are going to plant. You will want to rake the leaf litter off of an area about 5 feet wide and 40 feet long if possible. This is best done with a large heavy-duty leaf rake. This 5 X 40 foot area is equal to 200 square feet and will require approximately two ounces of seed. One pound of ginseng seed contains approximately 6,400 to 8,000 seeds (400 to 500 seeds to an ounce). Therefore, each ounce of seed should cover approximately 100 square feet at the optimal seeding rate. Once this area is clear of leaves, go back and scratch the soil surface with your rake to loosen the soil up to about ¼-inch deep. This helps the seed to make better soil contact and increases your seed germination rate. The site is now ready to be seeded. Try to spread the seeds evenly over the plot by walking along the top of the plot and sprinkling the seeds by hand. Although it may take some getting used to, this should become a comfortable technique to use for seeding your ginseng. Remember you want to seed at a rate of four to five seeds per square foot. The next step is to move upslope and begin the process over again. This time you will use the leaf litter that you are raking downhill off of the next area to be seeded to cover the previously seeded plot. Make sure to cover the seeded plot entirely with leaf litter, but do not exceed more than 3 inches of leaf litter over the seeded plot. Once you’ve raked the leaf litter down onto the seeded plot, your next plot should be ready to seed. Repeat the process and continue until you have seeded your whole area.

Figure 4. Raking to remove leaf litter in preparation for planting of American ginseng seed. Photo courtesy of Rural Action Sustainable Forestry.

On sites where raking and other site preparation would be difficult, ginseng can also be planted by hand one seed at a time. Although this method will substantially increase the time spent planting, it will dramatically increase germination rates and will also allow you to plant areas that may be more difficult to plant with the technique described above. Many growers like to use a variety of techniques to seed their wild-simulated ginseng. You should experiment and determine what works best for you on your sites.

Summary

Growing wild-simulated ginseng can be a relaxing and rewarding experience. You should take time to do research on growing ginseng and on the laws that govern ginseng harvesting and sales before ever planting a seed. Currently in Ohio it is illegal to market a ginseng root under five years of age. This law also applies to wild-simulated ginseng growers because wild-simulated ginseng is typically not distinguished from wild ginseng in the marketplace.

In Ohio, ginseng is regulated under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 1533.87 (Ohio Ginseng Management Program Laws). Administrative Rules for The Ohio Ginseng Management Program are available through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and should be obtained, read, and understood before taking up this pastime.

Acquiring Seed and Planting Stock

Contact the Rural Action Forestry Program for information about how to obtain seed and planting stock of ginseng and other medicinal herbs:

9030 Hocking Hills Drive
The Plains, OH 45780
(740) 677-4047
ruralaction.org/programs/forestry/

The Roots of Appalachia Growers Association (RAGA) is another resource for ginseng growers. They can be contacted through Rural Action Forestry.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to David Cooke, West Virginia University Cooperative Extension; Greg Duskey, Wild American Ginseng Company; and Deborah Hill, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension for reviewing this document and providing valuable suggestions for improvement.

Growing American Ginseng in Ohio: An Introduction. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet F-56. Growing American Ginseng in Ohio: Selecting a Site. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet F-58. Hankins. A. (2000). Producing and Marketing Wild-Simulated Ginseng in Forest and Agroforestry Systems. Virginia Cooperative Extension Service Publication 354-312. Persons, S. (1994). American Ginseng: Green Gold. Bright Mountain Books Inc. Asheville, North Carolina. Persons, S. (2002). Tuckasegee Valley Ginseng Newsletter. P.O. Box 236, Tuckasegee, North Carolina 28783, (828) 293-5189. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. 1-800-WILDLIFE. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. 2013. “Ohio’s Green Gold–American Ginseng” . Available:wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/portals/wildlife/pdfs/publications/laws%20&%20regs/pub007.pdf

Ginseng Seed Propagation – Tips For Growing Ginseng From Seed

Fresh ginseng can be hard to come by, so growing your own seems like a logical practice. However, ginseng seed sowing takes patience and time, plus a bit of know how. Planting ginseng from seed is the cheapest way to grow your own plant, but can take up to 5 or more years before the roots are ready to harvest.

Get some tips on ginseng seed propagation so you can reap the benefits of this potentially helpful herb. Keep reading to learn how to plant ginseng seeds and what special circumstances these helpful roots require.

About Ginseng Seed Propagation

Ginseng is purported to have a variety of health benefits. It is commonly found dried in health food or supplement stores but getting hold of fresh can be difficult unless you have a good Asian market nearby. Ginseng is a shade-loving perennial whose seeds need several specialized conditions before germination can occur.

Ginseng is grown either from root or seed. Starting with roots results in a faster plant and earlier harvest but is more costly than growing from seed. The plant is native to deciduous forests of the eastern United States. The perennial drops its berries, but they do not sprout until the following year. This is because the berries need to lose their flesh and seeds need to experience a period of cold. This process of stratification can be mimicked in the home grower’s garden or greenhouse.

Seeds purchased have already had the flesh surrounding them removed and may already be stratified. It is best to check with the seller to determine if this is the case; otherwise, you will have to stratify seeds yourself.

Tips on Germinating Ginseng Seeds

If your seed has not been stratified, the process is quite easy but will delay germination. Ginseng from seed can take up to 18 months to germinate. Make sure your seed is viable. They should be firm and off white to tan in color with no odor.

Experts suggest soaking unstratified seeds in formaldehyde followed by fungicide. Then bury the seed outside in moist sand or place in the refrigerator. Seed must experience cold temperatures for 18 to 22 months before planting. The best time to plant is fall.

If you receive seed during a time outside of that period, store it in the refrigerator until planting time. Seeds that are not properly stratified will likely fail to germinate or can take nearly two years to sprout.

How to Plant Ginseng Seeds

Ginseng seed sowing should start in fall to early winter. Select a site with no weeds in at least partial shade where soil drains well. Plant seeds 1 ½ inches (3.8 cm.) deep and at least 14 inches (36 cm.) apart.

Ginseng will do well if left alone. All you need to do is keep weeds away from the bed and make sure the soil is moderately moist. As the plants develop, keep watch for slugs and other pests as well as fungal issues.

The rest relies upon your patience. You can start harvesting roots in fall, 5 to 10 years from sowing.

Ginseng is one of the most popular, and most profitable, herbs in the world. It’s fairly easy to grow too. In just a few years’ time, you can have a successful ginseng growing business. Here’s how:

Ginseng’s popularity is nothing new. It’s certainly not a fad. In fact, ginseng has been popular for hundreds and hundreds of years. Ginseng actually helped finance the American Revolution, and mentions of the popular herb show up in George Washington’s diaries. The Chinese have used ginseng for thousands of years.

So why is ginseng so popular? Why is it the most profitable herb you can grow? Easy, its medicinal uses. Ginseng has been known to lower cholesterol, increase blood circulation to the brain, lower blood pressure, increase vitality, strengthen the nervous system and much, much more. Because it takes time to grow, mature roots bring as much as $600 a pound. Now that’s profitable!

Growing ginseng isn’t too difficult. It doesn’t require a full-time commitment either. You can still have a full-time job and other commitments. You just need a few hours a week to give your ginseng the care and attention it needs. One of the key ingredients to success as a ginseng grower is patience. Ginseng does not grow overnight. In fact, it can take about five or six years until your roots are mature enough to sell. Don’t fret, while you’re waiting for that, you can make good money selling seed and rootlets, which are possible to sell after just a couple years. A half-acre of ginseng can be worth as much as $100,000 after five or six years.

There are three methods to growing ginseng. One is the “artificial shade” method, which is usually too expensive for small growers, as the start-up costs are quite expensive. The other two methods are “wild-simulated” and “woods-cultivated.” Unless if you have a few acres of dense hardwoods, you’ll probably want to use the woods-cultivated method. In this method you plant your ginseng under a canopy of hardwood trees.

Before planting your ginseng, make sure you have healthy soil. It needs to have a pH between 5.0 and 6.0, and be well-drained. Check for disease and pest problems too. As your ginseng grows you’ll want to keep checking for disease and pest problems. Be sure to only use organic matter, such as compost and leaf mold. For pest and disease problems, once again only use organic solutions, such as yellow sticky traps.

When you’re ready to sell your seed, rootlets and mature roots, you have three main ways you can do so. First you can sell to wholesale buyers. This gets you paid right away, and you can sell right out of your backyard nursery. Next, you can sell to out-of-state buyers. When shipping your ginseng, treat it like grandma’s fine china. Package it carefully! Finally, you can sell to ginseng brokers who buy ginseng in bulk and then resell it to other people. If you’re selling seed and rootlets, you can sell direct to purchasers who are just starting a ginseng patch. Try one, or all of these, and you’ll soon see what works best for you and your ginseng garden.

Growing ginseng for profit is a great way to make some nice money. It doesn’t require a full-time commitment either. In just five or six years’ time, you can be making nice money with ginseng production. To learn more about growing ginseng, read Golden Harvest.

Just Released!

New ginseng grower’s guide.

to discover more.

How to Grow Ginseng at Home

The name ginseng derives from the Chinese word rénshēn, meaning “man root,” because the shape of the fleshy root resembles the legs of a man. Ginseng root has been coveted by the Chinese for thousands of years as an herbal panacea, allegedly improving cognitive power, restoring vitality, reducing stress and serving as an anti-inflammatory. Claims of the exotic root’s power reached North America in the early 1700s and a search for ginseng in the Americas revealed a comparable plant, now called American ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius), to join the original red ginseng (Panax Ginseng) as a sought after herbal remedy.
In the 1970s, high demand for the root drove American ginseng to near extinction and prices soared. Today, the harvest of wild ginseng and cultivation of the crop is highly regulated in the U.S. and the pricey root continues to hold appeal sold as a supplement in capsules and as an ingredient in herbal teas and energy drinks.
The small, shade-loving perennial is cultivated for domestic sale and export in the U.S., but wild ginseng is prized as a superior crop. Found growing in forested regions, harvest and export is big business, fetching hundreds of dollars a pound, but is heavily regulated and competition between foragers is fierce and often operates outside the law. Because the slow-growing plant is destroyed to harvest the root, those who illegally harvest ginseng can face stiff fines or imprisonment.
Regulation of wild ginseng harvesting varies from state to state and permits can be obtained at a price, but growing ginseng on private property for home use is possible without risking backwoods feuds or a trip to the slammer.
Growing ginseng at home is not difficult, but requires patience. Ginseng seeds take up to 18 months to germinate and although seeds may be stratified (stored in shallow sand or peat under refrigerated conditions for more than six months) at home, look for stratified seeds sold by reputable dealers. Planting purchased seedlings is easier and less-time consuming, but considerably more expensive. Because it takes a minimum of 5 years before ginseng is ready to be harvested, the price of seedlings will vary by age.
Whether starting from stratified seed or root, select a well-shaded location with good drainage. Select sloping ground with 75-80 percent shade. Plant where competition from weeds is minimal and plants are unlikely to be disturbed by foot traffic. Conditions may be simulated in raised beds covered with netting. Ginseng can also be grown successfully indoors using containers with drainage reservoirs placed out of direct sunlight. Seeds are to be sown in the fall at a depth of about 1 ½ inches, while roots should be planted under 3 inches of soil and do best when planted in early spring.
Ginseng plants do best in moist conditions, but require little attention to develop. Refrain from fertilizing plants. Water ginseng grown outdoors when conditions are especially dry. Seeds of the deciduous plant will germinate in the year following planting and plants over a year old will often flower and produce red berries, from which seeds may be harvested, but the valued part of the ginseng plant is the root, which reaches maturity only after 5 to 10 years and after it has developed three or more prongs. Prongs do not necessarily reflect the age of the plant, but are an indicator of maturity.
When maturity is reached, ginseng should be harvested in the fall. The root of this special plant can be chewed raw or used fresh in tea, soups or stir-frys. To preserve the root, it may also be dried and then sliced or grated for future use.
As with all herbal supplements, consult a doctor before using in conjunction with medication and strictly adhere to recommended dosage and applications before using any non-traditional curatives.

American Ginseng

Herb Seed

DAYS TO GERMINATION: 180+ days.
SOWING: Direct seed: Sow seeds ½-¾” deep (never more than 1″ deep) and about 3″ apart (15-20 seeds per square foot). Mulch with 3-4″ of leaves or straw, and moisten the mulch to ensure that it remains in place. New shoots will be small when they first appear, and will look like bean sprouts with three small leaves. Keep well-weeded, but take care in weeding around young plants to avoid disturbing the roots. Once ginseng is well established, mulch will help to prevent weed growth.
LIGHT PREFERENCE: Shade. American ginseng grows best in its natural habitat under a hardwood canopy with at least 70% shade, comprised preferably of oak, maple, sycamore, or basswood trees.
SOIL REQUIREMENTS: American ginseng prefers a light loam soil that has high humus content and a pH of 5.0-6.0. Good drainage is critical to ensure healthy ginseng plants.
PLANT HEIGHT: 8-16″.
PLANT SPACING: 3-6″.
HARDINESS ZONES: Zones 4-8.
HARVEST: Harvest may begin at the end of the third growing season, but the ginsenoside content increases dramatically between the fourth and fifth years — many growers wait until then to harvest. Roots should be dug in early fall (late August or early September), as the ginsenoside content is highest right after the tops have died down and the roots have entered dormancy.
For full cultural information, see tech sheet on American Ginseng Production from Seeds.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Panax quinquefolius

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Stratified Ginseng Seed

Ginseng is a perennial plant that possesses very complex seed dormancy. In other words, that means that ginseng is cold hardy and normally comes back every year. But, the seed isn’t ready to grow when the berries get ripe in the fall. The seed has to undergo a series of seasonal changes and experience a very narrow window of conditions before it will germinate and come up. If everything works out as anticipated, ginseng seed harvested in the fall will be mixed with sand and held in favorable conditions until the following fall. At this point they are considered to be stratified. Stratified ginseng seed may or may not show grinners (i.e., the embryo swells up and splits the outer shell) based on the method by which it was stratified. There are advantages to both common methods (e.g., above or below ground).

Because of the nature of the ginseng plant and seed itself, there can be no guarantee of germination percentages. There are just too many individual variables from person to person and the weather and climate conditions before that.
But, the promise I’ve always made is that I’m selling the same seed I plant myself.

~Brad

For a more detailed look at ginseng seed dormancy, please see my article on the subject
Seed Dormancy & Delayed Germination …in Plain English

Fall of 2012 we were concerned about the germination rates because of issues with the seed growing conditions in the fields the year before. As a result, I planted a little thicker than normal in the SELECT beds. The mice and voles worked them over good, but I think I experienced germination rates in the neighborhood of 80% or better. Here are reports from some folks who’ve bought seed from me that year (and in years since) and shared their experiences.

“I am very very happy to report to you that I think I have about a 60-75% emergance rate. This is better than I expected, truely. I was very very happy about that! I came out of the woods this weekend doing a little dance!”
~ North Carolina Grower
“I’m seeing pretty good germination from the seed I got from you. These are all wild sim plantings. I must admit that I had my doubts about that seed when planting last fall because of the small size and the fact that there were not any “grinning” seed in the mix. I just found them emerging early last week. It seems that they are still coming up too.”
~ Ohio Grower
“Brad, I am very happy with the seed this year and wanted to let you know. You said the viability rate was down a little, but I gotta tell ya I think they all came up! Even the ones that didn’t germinate last year because of the drought are starting to come up too! I’m happy!”
~ Ohio Grower
“Brad, I bought some seed from you last year. I did a little experiment and bought seed from different places. I’ve got to tell you, I got the best germination from your seed.”
~ New York Grower
Fast forward to 2019
Here is a report I got just a couple days ago from a grower who tried our seed and our ECF Seeder for the first time:
“Did well. I have little plants scattered out evenly just like I wanted. Everywhere the seeds were undisturbed had pretty seedlings. Now, I’ll have some quality roots to sell down the road.”
~ Kentucky Grower

Important:

If you need a large amount of seed (20lbs or more) it is important to get your order in early to ensure availability!

Please visit the Emerald Castle Farms Shopping Page
for a shopping cart purchase option for multiple items.

“100” seed packages. Folks, it appears many of you take me literally when I am selling 100 seeds at a time. Rest assured, I do not have time to count out 100 seeds. What you are actually buying is a 2″ x 2″ baggie as full as I can get it. You can count from the pictures below if you like, but I would say they are normally in excess of 200 seeds.


“100” seed packages on their way.

Quantity Price Buy Now
100 seeds $9.95 Sold Out
2 ounces $29.95 Sold Out
1 pound $144.95 Sold Out
5 pounds $704.95 Sold Out
10 pounds
Ships Free
(advance orders only)
$1377.95 Sold Out
20 pounds
Ships Free
(advance orders only)
$2619.95 Sold Out
Over 50 pounds $123/lb Call 419.651.8158
to Order
Sold Out

Call 419.651.8158 to inquire about ordering bulk quantities of seed.
You may also order stratified ginseng seed on the Emerald Castle Farms Shopping Page.
There, you may combine items into one shopping cart.
Please also remember, first come, first served, and orders will be cut off again this year mid August.

Mail Order:

To order by mail, send a check or postal money order for the correct total amount,
made out to Castle Enterprises or Emerald Castle Farms, to:
Emerald Castle Farms
5482 St Rt 19
Galion, Ohio 44833
Don’t forget to include your legible name and mailing address. From the Shopping Page, just add your items to the Paypal shopping cart, enter your zip code to calculate correct shipping, and print the page. This will provide a list of your items, the correct shipping charges (including 7.25% sales tax if you are in Ohio), and an accurate total amount for which you should make out your check or postal money order. Just drop a copy of the shopping cart in the mail with your check or money order.

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