I’m happy to see interest from people who want to begin to grow Ginseng. Growing Ginseng in your woods isn’t easy money but can be very rewarding as a long term plan. Planting ginseng seed is also a great way to teach your children about working on long term goals. If you get your five-year-old kids out planting, tell them they are raising money for their first car in ten years!
There is more to growing Ginseng than just planting seeds and waiting ten years to go back and harvest roots. The first Spring they germinate and put on just three leaves, they look very different from mature ginseng plants. It’s interesting to take pictures and keep a journal of the Ginseng life cycle. They start out as small 3 leaf plants, then as the years go by they grow prongs with five leaves each. Once the plants are three years old, they will be producing flowers and seeds. Watch the cycle as they go from 2 prongs, to 3, then the 4 prong plants at maturity. Some plants even grow 5-6 prongs after many years and may develop two seedpods.
There are complications that you may run into, as with all crops, but Ginseng is a sturdy plant and not difficult to grow. It is only endangered because of over-harvesting by careless people who only see it as something to grab and take to the local root buyer for some quick cash. Poachers often harvest young plants that fetch the lowest prices and are only bought by less than ethical buyers. They don’t know or don’t care how to harvest in a manner that preserves the future of Ginseng.
Your mission as a Good Ginseng Steward, should you choose to accept, is plant seed, learn all you can, harvest ethically, and pass your knowledge along as you learn. I hope to steer you in the right direction to do just that. The first step is finding the best place you have to plant it, and getting the seed. You have plenty of time to learn the rest as you go along.
Ginseng is one of the most highly regulated plants in North America. It is illegal to dig it outside of the Ginseng season which is September 1 to December 31, even if it is on your own property. This is to be sure that the seeds have time to mature. However, some seeds may still be green on Sep. 1 so it is best to wait until they are ripe red to harvest the plants. If you find ripe seeds before the season starts, it is OK to plant them near the mother plant. Planting seeds a half-inch deep gives them a better chance of germination than just letting them drop. See Marcus’s post Planting Depth of Ginseng Seeds for more info on this. This must-read post also tells you how to prepare seed that you buy for planting.
It is also permitted in most states to remove the tops of Ginseng plants once you have planted the ripe seeds so that poachers won’t find the roots. However, this practice may stunt root growth the following year. You can pick a few of the leaves to make Ginseng leaf tea if they are still green. Any major detour from Nature’s course will probably affect your plants one way or another, and usually not for the best.
Science is also finding uses for the juice of the berries which can be squeezed out when you harvest the ripe seeds. The fruit is usually buried with the seed, but you can add the strained skin and pulp after squeezing the juice into a jar from a muslin bag. Unless you are cultivating seed for resale and have a lot of the Ginseng fruit leftover to use, it is probably best to plant the whole berry intact as it takes many plants to yield a little juice.
Some people may wish to grow it just for the leaf and berries, and that is OK too and may become more popular as the science continues to research their use. The leaf tea is also becoming more widely used so there may be more of a market for that later on. You just won’t have as hardy a root as you would if you let the plant alone.
You can download printable brochures about the laws for harvesting Ginseng in your state here.
In most states, it is illegal to remove seeds from the area where they are harvested. However, you can buy cultivated seeds to plant which are mostly grown in Wisconsin to start your own Ginseng patches. Some people think “Well that is not wild ginseng.” The truth is that we don’t know if any Ginseng in the woods is truly wild. People could buy seeds from Sears & Roebuck catalogs fifty years ago and some planted them. So you could find a fifty-year-old root that may have originated from cultivated Ginseng seeds.
If cultivated Ginseng seeds are woods-grown in natural conditions, they are usually considered wild plants. Ginseng is considered “cultivated” when it is grown under shade cloth. There are other factors that affect the appearance of the root, and its value, but those are the main criteria.
So get your seed and start growing your own Wild Ginseng! See the Ginseng and Forest Herbs Links page to learn about selecting a site to plant Ginseng and other basic information. I will add more parts to this article soon so stay tuned! I hope you will register on this site to comment and ask questions.
Join us on Facebook, too. The Ginseng Cultivation and Forest Farming Group is the most active and informative group about growing Ginseng and other forest herbs. Thank you!