American ginseng is a long-lived North American medicinal perennial. It is a low-growing, deciduous understory plant that grows wild in the hardwood forests of the eastern US and Canada. When used medicinally, ginseng roots are said to reduce the body's various stress responses. Studies have found energizing, cognitive-enhancing, cancer fighting and overall immune boosting properties in the roots as well. This is old news to Native Americans and the Chinese, who have used a variety of ginsengs for centuries. American Ginseng contains many of the same compounds as the closely related Asian species. Known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a tonic for Qi, the circulating energy of life, it is also said to have a more cooling, Yin tonic effect than Chinese ginseng.
Our ginseng seed has been stratified (exposed to a period of cool, moist conditions to encourage germination). The seed is ready to be planted immediately upon arrival in the fall, but if you are not ready to plant, keep the seed moist and cool (between 40 and 50°F).
The most successfully cultivated plots of American Ginseng are located in areas mimicking its natural habitat. Dubbed wild-simulated cultivation, this method of growing ginseng is the least labor-intensive but also the slowest. With this approach seed is sown thinly with minimal disruption to the ground. The plants are then left to progress as naturalized plants. By allowing the crop to stand up to natural growing challenges, they grow slowly, yet are more potent than those that have been pampered.
Look for a north or east-facing gentle slope that is protected by a tall canopy of mostly hardwood trees. Ideally the site should receive about 25% sunlight during the summer. Areas protected by oak, maple, sycamore, basswood, beech, chestnut, ash, elm, poplar or black walnut are favored. Avoid areas under conifers or close to ferns. Plants such as trillium and mayapples are good indicators of desirable locations since those plants have similar requirements to ginseng and are frequently found growing near wild ginseng. The best soil condition for growing ginseng is moist, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter and calcium. Planting sites should have deep, dark humus with a good layer of leaf litter. Avoid compacted, waterlogged, or heavy clay soils. Optimum pH for the soil is 5.0-6.0. Remove any undergrowth in the planting area. Sow seed directly into the ground, 1/2-3/4 inches deep and about 3 inches apart. Cover with a 3-4 inch layer of leaf or straw mulch and water well. Seeds planted in fall should emerge the following spring.
Keep an eye out for new seedling sprouts, which should be visible by late May. They will look like 3 small strawberry leaves on a short stem. Remove some of the mulch if you don't see any sprouts, and replace the mulch layer once the seedlings emerge. The mulch will help keep the soil moist and weed-free. Keep the planting weeded and water regularly during the first growing season, but do not allow the soil to become soggy. Mature plants produce red berries in fall. The seeds from these berries will be dormant for 18-20 months and then germinate during the 2nd spring after ripening. Typically, a wild-simulated ginseng planting will be mature enough to begin harvesting roots after about 3 years. If properly maintained, these plantings will self-seed, regenerating the plant population for years to come.
You can begin harvesting the roots at the end of the 3rd growing season after planting. The active medicinal component, ginsenoside, will increase in the roots between the 4th and 5th years. It is highest in the roots right after the foliage has died down in early fall indicating the plants have entered dormancy. Dig the roots and gently clean off any soil being careful not to damage the root hairs. Dry the roots in a warm, well-ventilated area for 2-4 weeks.
Size at Maturity
Pests & Diseases
Deer enjoy ginseng leaves. Younger plants can be destroyed with even light browsing, where more established plants can re-grow but may not have enough energy to produce seed. Use deer netting to protect plantings. Slug bait will protect plants from snail and slug damage.
The most common diseases to afflict cultivated ginseng are blight and root rot, which are both fungal problems. The best defense against these diseases are healthy forest soil, plenty of air circulation, and good drainage. If you find evidence of disease, remove and destroy any affected plants. An application of a fungicide such as GreenCure® may be helpful.
Hardy to -30°F.
3-10 years after planting.