Non-timber forest products Fact sheet no. 7
Produced by the Special Forest Products Program at Virginia Tech in collaboration with:
USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, SRS-4702, Blacksburg, Virginia;
Top of the Ozarks Resource Conservation & Development, Inc., Houston, Missouri; &
Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, Missouri.
American ginseng (Panax Woods-grown ginseng is an alternative to quinquefolium) grows wild in the wild exploitation. It is an intensive culture of eastern half of North America. field-cultivated ginseng. Wild-grown This perennial herb inhabits hardwood ginseng is an expensive venture, requiring forests on well-drained, north-and east- valuable land, high-cost artificial shade and facing slopes in predominantly porous, costly maintenance for four or five years humus-rich soils. Ginseng also grows on before a harvest. Is there an alternative to southwest-facing slopes, in soil where sand commercial collection of wild ginseng that or clay is characteristic, and in forests with will help conserve the species in its natural conifers and softwoods. habitat while providing an income for the ginseng grower with a modest investment? Wild and cultivated ginseng produce an annual crop in the United States and Woods-grown refers to the use of natural Canada valued in excess of $25 million. The forest canopy for shade. Cultural techniques price of wild root is about three times that of vary from simulating forest conditions cultivated root. Because ginseng root is (wild-simulated ginseng) to approximating valuable, many overzealous collectors dig the practices used in culturing ginseng under all plants from wild populations. They often artificial shade (cultivated). A grower should fail to reseed, and as a consequence, there is adopt those procedures compatible with the serious concern about the survival of local conditions. The ginseng grower would American ginseng in the forest ecosystem. find wild-simulated ginseng more feasible Some diggers consider wild ginseng free to the more limited the yearly investment. exploit, but such collecting is a criminal act in many states unless one owns the land or Greatest demand, largely from the Orient, is has permission to dig. for root that is old, variously shaped and forked, moderate in size, stubby but tapering, off-white, firm when dry, and with and slopes toward the north or east. For many closely formed rings. Aged and slowly adequate drainage, soil should be light and grown roots are preferred and bring the loose with rocky or porous subsoil such as highest prices. Field-grown, sometimes that in limestone or sandstone areas. Avoid heavily fertilized, cultivated roots often are hardpan and sites lacking good soil harvested when relatively young. These moisture. Sites that won't support other generally lack many of the characteristics herbaceous growth are generally unsuitable typical of wild roots, are less in demand and In addition, selling seeds to other growers may provide a small income several years after planting, and 1or 2 year old seedlings may also be sold. The seed crop may also be of value in expanding one's own plantings.
Natural habitat

The Ozark Plateau, Appalachian-Allegheny Mountains, and river bluffs and hilly outcrops elsewhere in eastern North America abound in habitats suitable for growing ginseng. Often these areas are only marginal for growing most crops, but even small wooded ravines and hollows may be desirable areas for long-range ginseng culture. While ginseng collection has As a guide to appropriate sites, look for historically centered in mountain regions, indicator plants, i.e., those that often grow producers are beginning to focus more among naturally occurring ginseng attention on the piedmont region for populations. Besides the usual deciduous production. Piedmont environments offer trees (ash, basswood, elm, hickory, sugar many of the same characteristics needed for maple, red oak and white oak), herbaceous production with the benefit of decreased perennials that include the rattlesnake fern incidence of theft. (Botrychium), spleenworts (Asplenium), jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema), May apple Choose a well-drained upland area a few (Podophyllum) and wild gingers (Asarum) square yards to an acre or more that is shady indicate suitable habitats. that have been properly stored since harvest Ginseng requires at least 70 percent shade to (August through October) during the current develop successfully during the season. The or previous year. Proper storage (or site must have a tree canopy. However, to stratification) consists of holding seeds maximize aeration and minimize under conditions that approximate the competition, the shrubby and herbaceous natural environment of the forest soil-a understory may be trimmed or removed protected site that is never permitted to dry provided the disturbance is minimal. completely. Freshly extracted seeds may be mixed with equal parts of clean, damp sand Little is known of the soil requirements for and placed in a screened box (to exclude wild American ginseng. It grows best in rodents), partly buried in well-drained soil, well-drained, porous soils with topsoil rich and covered with mulch to prevent drying in humus formed from hardwood and other and admit rainfall. Plant fresh or stratified leaf litter. Natural populations tolerate a seeds in the fall; spring planting is less wide range of pH, and grow in soils that vary greatly in level of other soil nutrients. Indications are that the species prefers a pH Fall planting as early as September is range of 5-6. The addition of lime to raise recommended. If seeds are fresh, and within soil pH to this range may be desirable. the moist pulp of the red fruit, squeeze them Avoid very sandy or clayey soils. Many out (usually two per fruit). Plant the seeds veteran growers have observed that adequate immediately so they do not dry; planted this calcium is equally as critical a soil factor as way, many seeds (at least in the South) will pH for successful ginseng production. germinate the following spring. They also should be disease free. Some seeds require Leaf litter is important as an organic another year before germinating. If you are fertilizer and for mulching. Light mulching cleaning many seeds, rub them on a wire in addition to natural leaf fall helps retain screen and wash them with water to get rid moisture, prevent leaching, maintain humus levels, and minimize frost heaving and damage. Otherwise, habitat preparation Seeds should be planted about 1/2-inch deep should be restricted to removing and six inches or more apart. Alternately, troublesome weeds and branches. seeds may be scattered on the soil, after raking to remove litter and loosen the soil surface. Then recover with the litter. One or grown ginseng
2-year old seedlings can be planted, too. The hole or spade cut should be sufficiently deep to accommodate the taproot without If fresh seeds are not available from wild cramping and to cover the terminal bud with populations or local growers, purchase seeds one inch of soil. Roots need not be exactly vertical since wild roots frequently grow at The majority of plants grown to simulate the an angle, even horizontally, in the soil. wild condition will not reach a desired root size and maturity until 9-10 years after Wild-simulated woods-grown ginseng planting. However, you can remove flowers requires little maintenance. Adding light annually from two- and three-prong plants in mulch to the natural leaf litter is appropriate. increase root size and decrease harvest time Minimal use of pesticides may be necessary by a year or so. If flowers are not removed, if pests threaten a planting, and some use of annual seed crops are possible after four or fertilizers may prove valuable (see five years. Seedlings can also be sold should discussions below). Weeding out major thinning prove necessary during the first few intruders is also appropriate. Keep plants well separated for maximum aeration. As already noted, plant different stock at distinct sites and disinfect seeds purchased commercially. Footpaths for access should be included at the site. During the first year of growth under natural conditions, the above-ground portion of ginseng has three leaflets (like a strawberry). The second year it usually has five leaflets, and in subsequent years two, three, or four prongs with three to five leaflets in each prong. This progressive development of prongs is not necessarily annual; rather, the plant often remains in the two-prong stage for several years and even longer in the three-prong and four-prong stages. Dig roots in the fall as the above-ground Harvesting may occur before plants reach parts die back. Carefully expose the the four-prong stage. Flowers usually underground stem (rhizome) at the base of develop during the two-pronged stage and a the above-ground portion, and follow its limited number of fruit may mature. By the often horizontal length until it joins the top time the three-prong plants form, you can of the true root. Remember that the taproot expect a full complement of 20-40 fruit. may be forked and that it has many diffusely branches rootlets. Expose the whole root and rhizome intact, remove loose soil, and as all understory (small trees) and even some soon as possible wash, but do not scrub, the larger trees may be necessary. A canopy remaining soil from the root (a little soil left shade of more than 70 percent must be around the root rings may enhance its The more intensively cultured plantings of ginseng seek to maximize yield in minimum Processing
time. They minimize competition by bedding and by growing dense plant Forked root of old ginseng plant are of populations. Some growers also add higher commercial value. Spread cleaned complete fertilizers and/or organic roots on screen racks for dying. Turn them frequently and provide adequate aeration. Drying time varies with root size and drying Soil is tilled to a depth of six to eight inches. techniques: large roots require three or more Lime may be added to adjust pH to 5.5 or weeks to dry at room temperature or higher. Some growers add a balanced outdoors, but small roots dry in a few days. fertilizer, such as 14-14-14, before planting; More rapid drying is possible, with artificial organic fertilizers may also be added. Four- heat at about 90F, using exhaust fans to to six-foot wide beds are elevated six to expel moisture. Do not oven dry; such eight inches with a low walkway between drying is too rapid and roots may discolor. them for maximum water runoff. In Store dried roots in a dry, airy, rodent-proof addition, beds should slope gently downhill place until ready for sale. so that the roots never stand in water. Beds should not be elevated on steeper slopes Usually the price for roots is best between where serious erosion could occur. November and April, but since price often fluctuates sharply, a grower should sell Seeds (or seedlings) are usually planted cautiously even during this period. closer than six inches (only two to three inches apart when simulating field-grown Cultivated woods-grown
conditions) in rows 6-12 inches apart at a depth of 1/2 inch. Beds are then covered with one to two inches of leaf mulch or clean straw. Fresh or stratified seeds and Except for the choice of habitat, growing seedlings preferably should be planted in the cultivated ginseng in the woods differs fall after disinfecting all stock purchased markedly from growing wild-simulated from large commercial sources. ginseng. Even site details vary. A larger continuous area for intensive cultivation Organic and chemical fertilizers enhance may be desirable, and a radical removal of plant growth, but the more they are used, the more the roots will resemble the lower exposed about two feet above ground to valued field-grown ginseng. A top dressing keep out the majority of these pests. of balanced or complete chemical fertilizers is desirable. Also, organic fertilizers such as You can harvest roots using a potato digger bone meal or blood meal (repellant to deer or by hand with an appropriate tool. Drying and rabbits) can be added periodically procedures parallel those described above. during the growing season. Cover beds annually in the fall with leaf mulch or clean For reasons not understood, it is not always possible to culture a second crop of cultivated, densely grown ginseng at the Growers recommend weeding beds same site as the original crop. This is a routinely, removing flowers as desired and concern in the northern United States, applying pesticides. Application of Ontario and parts of Asia. Apparently, it is fungicides, particularly for stem and leaf less important in the southern United States blight (Alternaria), may be necessary weekly where growers report three successive crops when rain or dew is heavy. Some growers of ginseng before a major reduction in suggest maneb (e.g., dithane M-22). Plants production occurs, and others produce good heavily infected with Alternaria may be crops after fallow periods of two years. removed, soaked in maneb solution and planted away from the main site. Debate still continues on the range of Additionally, insecticides may be needed to allowable conditions for successful ginseng control lygus bug, white fly, aphid, leaf production. For example, many collectors beetle and other insects. Growers variously and growers believe that ginseng may only recommend the organophosphate malathion be grown under hardwood shade and soils. or the plant- derived biodegradable However, preliminary research from West pyrethrum or rotenone. Since pesticides Virginia suggests that as long as favorable don't affect some diseases of ginseng, soil and environmental conditions are met, diseased-appearing plants should be ginseng can grow quite successfully under removed and destroyed as soon as they are white pine shade. observed. Use of pesticides should be minimal during the final year of growth Other risk factors are biological in nature before harvesting. and include the non-sustainable management of native American ginseng populations and Larger animals also may be serious pests. the control and management of ginseng Moles, mice and slugs can be destroyed with pests and pathogens. High prices paid for poison baits placed in appropriate holes or American ginseng and ease of theft have on paths and beds. It may be necessary to created non-sustainable harvesting surround each site with a vertical metal conditions throughout ginseng's natural shield buried one foot in the ground and range. Because of its scarcity, when found in the wild ginseng is often harvested before it on ginseng production and marketing to reaches seed bearing maturity. landowners. Additionally, tools such as Consequently, ginseng is now listed as a ginseng value grading systems have been threatened or endangered plant in many developed to effectively transfer the states. Similar conditions caused the marketing knowledge of seasoned growers extermination of wild ginseng populations in to novices. For the veteran grower, new growers entering the market are generally welcomed for multiple reasons: new Marketing
growers must purchase seed until their own plants produce seed; they lend strength to A natural outgrowth of collective protection existing cooperatives, or help to form new against poaching, neighborhood or area marketing alliances; and they help to police growers can realize economic benefits by other growers' crops from theft. forming grower cooperatives. By collectively pooling their resources, Domestic growers also have two more cooperatives allow individual growers factors working in their favor: lack of greater control over ginseng marketing, adequate oriental environments for ginseng including building long-term relationships production and very high demand. Years of with overseas buyers, access to education poor forest management practices have programs, and information transfer. stripped oriental forests of needed hardwood cover and fertile soils for ginseng As much of the U.S. ginseng crop is production. Lack of suitable growing exported to the Orient, long-term environments combined with a huge demand relationships with these markets are crucial. (approximately 1/3 of the world's However, because foreign markets are not population) creates what may be viewed as generally not interested in small producers a "bottomless market" for domestic marketing directly, individual growers must growers. Consequently, savvy growers will sell their ginseng to a domestic buyer, who realize that there is much to be gained by then gathers adequate quantities for encouraging new growers to enter the shipment to the orient. Obviously, small growers stand to realize greater gain from their efforts by eliminating the middleman There is yet one more way to increase and marketing directly, via a growers' income from ginseng production. Rather cooperative, to overseas buyers. To aid in than selling raw or green ginseng to the development of cooperatives, overseas markets, some enterprising growers experienced growers are collaborating with are processing and marketing ginseng into state, federal, and private natural resource value added products. For example, a agencies to implement education programs grower in Kentucky currently processes part of his ginseng harvest into a berry/ginseng conserve. While only a small percentage of Center for Integrated Natural Resources and the total product volume is ginseng, the Agricultural Management, St. Paul, MN. value added price per pound is about 1.5 times that of raw product marketed overseas. Hankins, Andy. 2000. Producing and Greater numbers of value added products Marketing Wild Simulated Ginseng in and domestic demand for ginseng should act Forest and Agroforestry Systems. to increase the price overseas buyers are Alternative Agriculture Publication 354-312. willing to pay for U.S. grown ginseng. Virginia Cooperative Extension. References and
Hutchens, Alma R. 1991. Indian Herbalogy information resources
of North America. Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. 382 p. (There are several publications available on Miller, Richard Alan. 1998. The Potential ginseng and its production. We have listed of Herbs as a Cash Crop. Metairie, just a few here. You may be able to find Louisiana. Acres USA, Inc. 230 p. some of these or other publications in your local library. Another valuable resource is Miller, Richard Alan. 1988. Native Plants your local cooperative extension office.) of Commercial Importance. Grants Pass, Oregon. Oak, Inc. 343 p. Beyfuss, Robert L. 1998. American Ginseng Production in New York State. Cornell Persons, Scott W. 1994. American Ginseng: Cooperative Extension of Greene County. Green Gold. Bright Mountain Books, Inc. Asheville, North Carolina.203 p. Beyfuss, Robert L. 1999. Economics and Persons, Scott W. 1999. Growing American Marketing of Ginseng. Agroforestry Notes, Ginseng in its Native Woodland Habitat. In: Forest Farming # 4 (July) USDA Forest Proceedings of the North American Service, USAD NRCS, National Conference on Enterprise Development Agroforestry Center, Lincoln, Nebraska. Through Agroforestry: Farming the Agroforest for Specialty Products. Ed: Scott Hankins, Andy. 1999. Producing and J. Josiah. Pg. 74-84. October 4-8, 1998. Marketing Wild Simulated Ginseng in Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Forest and Agroforestry Systems. In: Agricultural Management, St. Paul, MN. Proceedings of the North American Conference on Enterprise Development Through Agroforestry: Farming the Agroforest for Specialty Products. Ed: Scott Electronic resources
J. Josiah. Pg. 85-91. October 4-8, 1998. (Several web sites now carry information on 312/354-312.html the cultivation and resources needed for ginseng cultivation. Several published references reflect the work being done with ginseng by researchers and extension experts.) Medicinal Plants Society National Agroforestry Center, Missouri This fact sheet was written and prepared by Missouri Department of Conservation Soumitri Das, Laura Shillington, and Tom Hammett at the College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia. Virginia Cooperative Extension This is part of a series of fact sheets on special forest products. The full set of fact sheets is available at the Special Forest Products website: Please give us your comments on this fact sheet and suggestions for future fact sheets. Direct your comments to Tom Hammett, Department of Wood Science and Forest Products, 210 Cheatham Hall, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg VA 24061-0323. Phone: (540)-231-2716. E-mail: January 2001 The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in its programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc) should contact USDA's TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD).


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