American ginseng is native to the Eastern United States. In Appalachia and neighboring regions as far north as New York State it was once wide spread but is becoming a rarity, not only due to over harvesting but also in part because of the destruction of its habitat. Commercially produced ginseng is generally harvested within 3 - 4 years. Wild ginseng requires up to a decade to reach maturity.
Plants require a bare minimum of three to five years before reaching maturity. However, if left to full maturity, which takes 5 -10 years the best and most potent roots can be harvested.
Ginseng is a perennial herb that reaches roughly 1 - 2 feet at full maturity. Mature harvestable plants should have at least three leaves, each bearing five oval jagged edge leaflets. Blooms are a greenish-yellow and appear in midsummer, followed by visually appealing red berries. The berries are edible and healthy but not very tasty, in fact they are pretty much tasteless.Each berry will contain two seeds.
Ginseng does not produce flowers in its first few years, it generally takes 2 or 3 years, at times as long as 4 years for berries to appear.
Starting Ginseng From Seeds
Planting ginseng is relatively easy. Ginseng is generally planted via seeds. The seeds should be stratified for at least a year, two years if possible, although some growers plant the seeds directly and allow them to stratify in the soil naturally.
To stratify gingseng seed, after collecting seed from the berries place the seeds in moist sand for a year, in a safe location away from predators. After one year remove the seed and it is is ready to be planted.
Non-stratified ginseng seed can also be planted immediately following the berry harvest. It will stratify naturally in the ground over the next year and a half, anticipate some loss to disease and rodents.
Seeds should be about three inches apart in a shallow furrow covered with about 1.5 inches of topsoil. Beds are not absolutely necessary, but can't hurt, if you're planting in a woodland remember that poachers will spot a cultivated bed much more easily than one that appears au naturaelle. When finished planting your seeds, rake some leaves back over the bed, they serve well as an organic mulch. After a week or so mother nature will have your site looking like no planting ever occurred.
Starting From Root stock or Rhizomes
Ginseng can also be started with root stock or rhizomes, which are subterranean root stems. Rootlets and rhizomes should be planted in spring or fall. In the fall just after the berries have dropped off is an ideal time. Handle the root with tender loving care, try not to damage it during transplanting. When planted in the fall it should emerge in early to mid spring. When planted in the spring it is possible you will see some activity before Winter, but not guaranteed.
Ginseng grows in shaded forests, it is fairly unique in that it does not tolerate sunlight, in fact it needs nearly complete shade, in the ballpark of 80% shade . A shaded location under a tree perhaps, is best. If you have a wooded area on your property that would be ideal. You can also create shaded environments in containers.
If planting in a forest and no other plants are growing in a desirable shaded area, in all likelihood the ginseng won't grow there either.
Deep loose soil high in humus and organic content is optimal, it imitates the natural environment conducive to robust ginseng plants. Well drained soil is essential, saturated or clay soil ain't gonna work. A soil pH of between 5 and 6 is best.
Ginseng plants are not highly susceptible to insect infestation, but rodents will sometimes eat them and poachers will at times steal them, especially when planted in a remote wooded area.
Once you've run the gauntlet, harvest time has finally arrived the last thing you want to do is destroy or damage your crop with a hasty harvest. Dig ginseng roots out carefully, wash off any excess dirt and spread out the roots on a flat surface, preferably a screen. Don't cluster them , you want them spread out in such a way that allows for good air circulation, which expedites drying time and discourages mildew.
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