Did you know that wild ginseng root can actually be found right here in America's national parks and private woodlands? Here I'll briefly discuss the history of the North American ginseng (panax ginseng) plant. I'll also address the problem many National Parks are facing—ginseng poaching—as well some alternatives to poaching, such as licensed harvesting or, even better, growing your own.
Ginseng root, revered for its ability to give energy, lower cholesterol levels, enhance strength, and reduce stress, has been cultivated and used in China for over three thousand years. Ginseng is only found in the Northern Hemisphere, and the countries that grow it include North America, Korea, Manchuria, and Siberia (although Siberian ginseng does not contain ginsenosides). American ginseng is very similar to Chinese ginseng—both have high ginsenosides levels—and is very much sought after in China. Ginseng was actually one of the first marketable herbs in the US, starting back in 1860 when Wisconsin shipped 120 tons of wild ginseng root to China!
American ginseng was especially widespread along the Eastern Coast of the US, but, due to its popularity (and selling price on the black market), it has been over-harvested (especially in the 1970s). It is illegal to take ginseng from any national park, and national parks are dealing with poachers by giving stiff fines and even jail time to those who get caught. However, some states do allow harvesting and exporting during certain times of the year and with the necessary licenses. Wild American ginseng root can sell for anywhere between 400-800 dollars per pound. The most sought-after roots are shaped like a man, with a thick "body" with leg-like roots extending from it. These "man roots" are carried in the pockets of the superstitious for good luck! WildGrown.com is an excellent website that explains proper ginseng harvesting "stewardship" practices as well as which states allow harvesting and exporting.
A Note on Safety
Be very sure you know what ginseng looks like before you go and attempt to harvest it. An adult ginseng plant will have the following characteristics:
- It will have two to four prongs with five leaves on each prong. Each prong grows from the same point on the main stem of the plant.
- It will not be taller than 14 inches.
- When it is ready to be cultivated it will have a red flower in the center (see my header pic).
People have mistakenly harvested and consumed water hemlock, resulting in illness or death. One man in Maine took three bites of this poisonous plant root and died.
Water hemlock will have the following characteristics:
- It will have white flowers.
- It can grow to be several feet high.
- Each leaf is made of several small, ridged leaflets. The leaves do not all grow from the same point on the stem.
So it's easy to distinguish between the two if you know what you're looking for, but the roots look similar, as shown above.
National Parks Cracking Down on Poachers
Some of the national parks heaviest hit by poaching are inKentucky (Cumberland Gap) and the Smoky National Forest in North Carolina and Tennessee. But park rangers are stepping up to protect this diminishing resource—poaching ginseng carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine, and courts often rule for both jail time and a fine in order to discourage future ginseng removal. My advice, if you go hunting for ginseng, is to stick to private land areas and to make sure to plant your seeds as you pick the root, so that future generations of this plant can grow.
How to Recognize Ginseng
Ginseng grows close to the ground and has distinctive leaves that are each made up of five leaflets—two small leaflets closest to the center of the plant flanking three large leaflets. Young plants will usually have three leaves while older plants will have more. Each leaf grows from the same place on the stem. Ginseng berries are bright red and oblong.
Grow Your Own
Here's an even better idea: Grow your own! There are many sites explaining how to do this; one of my favorites is hardingsginsengfarm.com, which explains the benefits of growing "wild-simulated" ginseng. But be patient, as it can take four to eight years from when a ginseng seed is planted for it to mature. The best advice is to start out small and continue to build your harvest area as you become more successful. Every time you harvest a ginseng plant, immediately plant the red seeds from the flower so that future plants will grow.
Where It Grows Best
If You're Planning to Plant
Only 19 states allow people to grow and harvest ginseng, so do your homework. All of these states except for Illinois require the plant to be at least five years old with three leaves before they can be harvested; Illinois necessitates that they are 10 years old with four leaves.
Ginseng Growing Conditions
Ginseng grows best in soil that is:
- Cool (in a shady area in a region that gets cold winters)
The best way to tell if it's a good spot to plant ginseng is by looking at what already grows in the area. If you see other ginseng plants or one of ginseng's companion plants (which is more likely, as ginseng is becoming increasingly rare in the wild), it's likely a good spot. Here are some companion species that indicate a good location:
- Black walnut
- Maidenhair fern
- Rattlesnake fern
- Solomon's seal
- Stinging nettle
- Sugar maples
- Tulip poplar
- Wild ginger
- Wild yam
The other way to tell if it's a good spot to plant ginseng is to test the soil to see if it is high in calcium (3,000-4,000 pounds of calcium per acre). Check nearby universities to see if they can help you with a soil analysis, as at-home kits can be tricky. If you do not have enough calcium in the ground, you can fertilize the area with gypsum.
How to Grow Ginseng from Seed
If this is your first time growing ginseng, be sure to purchase stratified seeds that will be delivered in the late fall. If you cannot plant them immediately after delivery, keep them in the refrigerator in a plastic bag and mist them once a week with a spray bottle filled with water so that they do not dry out.
The best way to plant ginseng is the wild-simulated method. In this method, you try to find a place where ginseng once naturally grew, and leave nature to its devices. Now that you have found a likely spot for the ginseng, clear the area of small plants and ferns so that there is no competition for nutrients or light and rake the leaves to the side. Use a hoe to rake furrows into the ground—if a slope is present, rake the furrows so that they go up the slope, rather than parallel to it. Plant the seeds about six inches apart on the surface of the ground. You want to ensure that all seeds are in contact with the dirt, then cover them with the leaves you had previously raked.
From this point on, there's little for you to do but wait! Some plants will die of natural causes, but if the site is suited to ginseng and poachers are kept at bay, there will be a handful of strong, healthy plants at the end.
How Long Does It Take to Grow?
Using this method will result in mature ginseng within eight years. There are labor-intensive methods to grow ginseng in a field that will result in mature ginseng within four years, but these are not recommended for anyone growing ginseng in a backyard garden.
Best of luck with your wild-simulated ginseng!
JMarie on November 24, 2019:
Has anyone been successful at growing Ginseng in Mississippi on the coast?
Carama on January 30, 2019:
I have learned a lot of valuable information from your broadcast. Thank you for all the insight you share. It is always nice when you find a person you can share the same passion for the great outdoors with.
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on September 15, 2018:
I haven't heard of anyone cultivating wild ginseng from Connecticut, but of course, that doesn't mean there isn't any! If you look closely at the map it seems that the surrounding areas do all have wild ginseng, so if there isn't any in Connecticut I'd be curious as to why. Willing to bet there may be a little bit hiding somewhere...
Ivan on September 15, 2018:
Does ginsing grow in connecticut??
Jasbury on September 02, 2018:
I noticed you said ginseng only grows to 14 inches. This is false, I've dug it my entire life. Its not common but ive seen plants that are easily 30 inches or taller (waist high). Other than that this is a interesting artical
lillyp1968 on April 21, 2018:
Is ginseng legal to plant in Florida
Evonne Smith on February 28, 2018:
“The Herbal Drugstore” authors Linda B. White, MD., Steven Foster and the staff of Herbs for Health, p. 245, 2002. This book states, “The properties of this herb are similar to those of Siberian Ginseng.” This website states American (Panox, which is the type of ginseng for both America and Chinese) and Chinese ginseng are similar. To me, it appears the book has mis-stated the similarity of Chinese ginseng with Siberian ginseng. Can you clarify this?
Rich on February 03, 2018:
Does ginseng grow in maine
Matt b. on December 29, 2017:
James Kennedy, I have yet ginseng and looking for a great spot in Tennessee. If you know of any sweet spots from back in the day it sure would be helpful. Thanks
William pointer on November 22, 2017:
Dose ginseng grow in South Texas?
noluv19124 on October 26, 2017:
does ginseng grow in south jersey pine barrons
James Kennedy on October 16, 2017:
I grew up in East Tennessee. Bought my first car with money made from digging Ginseng. I have seen it growing over 14 inches many times. But I live in Cleveland Ohio now, and havent been ginsenging in many years.
Diane on April 01, 2017:
We bought some land in new York and it grows all over the place. If I harvest it where do I sell it
email@example.com on March 21, 2017:
enjoyed the video
onefractalspark on March 17, 2017:
couple years ago the history channel had ginseng 'gatherers' . now natgeo' running a similar show . so I wanted to see where it grew . it does sound enticing when you read posts that say 300lbs of seng is worth $250,000 "of the I seng !" America America ! God I could sure use some of that .
Danny on September 13, 2016:
where can I buy the seed to get started ?
Pauli on August 30, 2016:
Hi there! Do you know if ginseg grows in northern California, Oregon or Washington? I'm planning on growing ginseng in Chile and our climate is very similiar to the US's west coast.
moonlake from America on January 15, 2016:
I now know I have wild ginseng in my woods. I hadn't thought about it for years. Our other house also had ginseng in the woods. My Dad had said he had found some in that woods. I think I have photos of it somewhere. I take photos of everything in the woods. Interesting hub and enjoyed reading it.
nbredredneck on July 26, 2015:
born in the city, so I never got the chance to hunt it. that's about to change though, finding anything in the woods naturally is thee best and I have access to several hundred thousand acres. while growing it sounds intriguing nothing beats all natural. anytime you can find something to make a buck on or survive on is just a natural high, whether it be for sustenance or home remedies I just really dig it, pun intended!
Amy on May 31, 2015:
What states can grow ginseng?
gerson on May 08, 2015:
Ahmad on May 08, 2015:
Hi Where does Ginseng grow and how do people poach it.
tootimae on April 20, 2015:
Does wild ginseng grow in the Florida Panhandle area? Remember hunting it with my grandfather in Virginia and Maryland... That was so much fun and I remember everything he taught me about foresting it...
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on March 03, 2015:
Hi Jeremyberger81 and ladybugt2,
It looks like "Wild" american ginseng grows mainly in the eastern US forests. See this link -
However, you could always try to farm or, even better, hydroponics! Thanks for stopping by!
firstname.lastname@example.org on March 02, 2015:
How about the middle section of Idaho, there were many Chinese Mining Idaho in the 1860?
Jeremyberger81@yahoo.com on March 02, 2015:
Does it grow in north idaho? Up about 80 miles from canada?
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on February 19, 2015:
Had to look this one up, but yes apparently ginseng does grow in Pennsylvania -- "Ginseng, sometimes called “sang,” grows wild in rich, cool shady woods in Pennsylvania" -- Thanks for stopping by!
Woody on February 18, 2015:
Does ginseng grow in the California Siearas
esmeralda on February 16, 2015:
Does ginseng grow in south texas
chris on February 02, 2015:
Does ginseng grow in Pennsylvania?
Rhonda on January 31, 2015:
Liked this article.My parents always dug sang when we were growing up.Im from mississippi.i would like to dig it again
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on November 03, 2014:
Ginseng does grow in Alabama. You actually have to register with the state of Alabama annually I believe, to grow, harvest, or ship out of state.
thx for stopping by!
banned on November 01, 2014:
Just amazing, thanks
joe on November 01, 2014:
doe's ginseng grow in Alabama?
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on September 26, 2014:
Hey Dugar :),
Excellent question, had to look this one up -- found an article where someone was asking about growing ginseng in Hawaii -- "Ginseng does need to freeze in order to germinate so I am afraid you would not have much luck in Hawaii. Ginseng survives in zones 3-8 and you are in a zone 10." --- But don't give up, Im a firm believer that you can grow anything with hydroponics -- So I looked that up too -- found an article -- http://www.gardenguides.com/87617-growing-ginseng-...
Thanks for stopping by!
Dugar III on September 25, 2014:
Good read. Can Ginseng grow in the Pacific Islands?
Charlie on September 05, 2014:
Hi Gaga if you still have any left 300lbs is worth about $250,000 or more don't let thes crooks cheat you out of it becarefull and it hide and safe shop around and get the best price all the luck and god bless there are crooks out thre becarefull the best if luck and good money. Charlie
Ana Maria Orantes from Miami Florida on September 02, 2014:
I like your hub about ginger. I like your pictures . It is easy to identify the plant .After, I see the pictures of the leaves. Great job. Thank you Mr. Jeff.
email@example.com on August 15, 2014:
Where is ginseng most likely to be found in eastern ky
Jasochoyle69@gmail.com on August 06, 2014:
Everyone is wanting Gaga's Sing , she knows what to do with it and you guys begging for it wont get it - 1500 a pound don't let them rip you off .
jj on July 17, 2014:
hi. does anyone know of a buyer. my grandfather passed and left behind some really old roots. 100 year plus
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on July 12, 2014:
@nichole, awesome! I'm comin down, I'll help ya look :) . 198 acres of land? that's awesome! Have fun and let me know if ya find some
Nichole on July 10, 2014:
Loved your article! I live in south eastern kentucky. I live on 198 acres on land my family owns. There is wild ginseng growing in the woods. After reading this im gonna go look. Thank you for giving me an adventure!
Momma12x on May 18, 2014:
I have a natural ginseng patch that sprang up Next to my quiet place in the wooded part of my property. I treasure it.
Pick the roots, bury the seed refers to stratification of the seeds. They won't grow for two springs so u make a small screen box line with sand and spread seeds there and cover With More sand then bury the screen box about teo inches below ground in good growing area. Leave it that winter and recover it the following fall for planting.
allen on April 13, 2014:
When do u hunnt it
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on February 23, 2014:
Hey Abby :) , I spent my summers in Bryson City. have very fond memories of Cherokee, Gatlinburg, Tubing down deep creek, and of course the Smoky Mountain National Forest. In all of my years spent there I never heard of or have seen anything about Ginseng, and was fascinated to hear that it was actually growing in the wild there. I too would like to grow my own someday, along with tomatoes, chives, potatoes....someday soon I hope....... Thanks for stopping by!
Dr Abby Campbell from Charlotte, North Carolina on February 23, 2014:
Great article, howlermonkey! I live in NC and have been researching this to grow myself.
Thomas Tobias on February 14, 2014:
Add Your Comment..Gaga: I want you to contact me about your 300 pounds of genseng...Call Tom Tobias at 251-709-1278 thanx Tom
josh on February 13, 2014:
Please help me gaga,ginseng is a miracle for my family and that is enough to last us a lifetime of health.please respond my e mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. go bless you
tony on February 12, 2014:
Gaga.. have a nice harley here for ya.. its my wifes lets trade email@example.com let me know..
leonard on February 11, 2014:
does any one no if ginsing grows in arkanasas and what time of year do u look for it im new to it.
Daveydave on February 10, 2014:
Gaga what do you want to do with it? I'd love some,
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on February 08, 2014:
Sell it on ebay of course! 1 ounce of dried ginseng roots selling for $35.00 on eBay right now.
Gaga on February 08, 2014:
i have 300 pounds of ginseng I don't want it my husband left it here and leftit what do I do with
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on February 07, 2014:
Hi merej99 , you actually grew up with ginseng everywhere? Funny how times change ey? I remember growing up with orange trees everywhere, never appreciated orange juice as much as I do now, now that I live in the new arctic circle (aka New Hampshire) :) . Yes, growing my own ginseng sounds awesome, and its def on the todo list. Tomatoes as well. Thanks so much for the kind comments and for stopping by!
Meredith Loughran from Florida on February 06, 2014:
Very interesting and informative! I never understood why people were so fascinated by ginseng. Then again, my father was stationed in Korea when I was little and ginseng was EVERYWHERE. Taking the time to create one's own ginseng garden sounds great. Wish I had a green thumb. I kill cactus! LOL
Ishmael on January 24, 2014:
Very interesting article - it never ceases to amaze me what people will do to try to and make a buck. Sadly, however, this is another situation where our national parks suffer.
So I just read this article by this master ginseng grower, Steve Rose, former head of the New York State Ginseng Growers Association. In the article, it says that the seeds of the ginseng plant (each fruit contains 2 seeds) need to stay dormant for 1 year before being planted). But, he also says that the motto of Ginseng pickers is to "Pick the root, bury the fruit.:"
This confuses me - because I am not sure if he is saying that the fruit should not be planted immediately - as is suggested above in your article -- OR -- if the seeds are, for whatever reason, removed from the fruit, then those seeds must be kept in a cool dark place for at least one year before you can successfully sprout them, without having the benefit of the kick-start that comes with burying the seeds with its own fruit - they way that nature intended its seeds to be receive their first meals.
The entire article is here: http://legacyprojectshawaii.com/2007/2007-09-13.ph...
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on June 23, 2012:
Thanks again snowdrops :). Yep, I read online that sometimes over-the-counter ginseng may actually be siberian ginseng, which doesn't contain any ginsenosides. Its like anything else I suppose, grow your own and it'll be the best.
snowdrops from The Second Star to the Right on June 23, 2012:
Ginseng really fascinates me. I wish to grow one on my garden. Like your hub!
Jeff Boettner (author) from Tampa, FL on June 22, 2012:
Thanks Lipnancy. I was thinking of growing my own too, even thought about hydroponics, which apparently can yield adult ginseng plants in two years instead of 4, but the process looks involved, a few months in and out of the freezer etc, and I just don't have time. I would like to spot a few in the woods however, just for fun.
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on June 22, 2012:
Great article. At one point my parents were looking into growing Gingseng for their own personal use. Hope more people read your hub and start growing their own.