Where in the United States Does Wild Ginseng Root Grow?

Where ginseng grows in the United States.
Where ginseng grows in the United States.

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!

Ginseng "man roots" have a thick "body" with leg-like roots extending from it.
Ginseng "man roots" have a thick "body" with leg-like roots extending from it. | Source

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! is an excellent website that explains proper ginseng harvesting "stewardship" practices as well as which states allow harvesting and exporting.

A Note on Safety

Water hemlock is poisonous and not to be mistaken for ginseng. Do your research before you go harvesting.
Water hemlock is poisonous and not to be mistaken for ginseng. Do your research before you go harvesting.

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 in Kentucky (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

Wild ginseng, which can be found in national parks.
Wild ginseng, which can be found in national parks. | Source

Here's an even better idea: Grow your own! There are many sites explaining how to do this; one of my favorites is, 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

A flowering ginseng plant.
A flowering ginseng plant. | Source

Ginseng grows best in soil that is:

  • Cool (in a shady area in a region that gets cold winters)
  • Moist
  • Well-drained
  • Calcium-rich

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:

  • Baneberry
  • Black walnut
  • Bloodroot
  • Buckeye
  • Cohosh
  • Foamflower
  • Goldenseal
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit
  • Maidenhair fern
  • Rattlesnake fern
  • Solomon's seal
  • Stinging nettle
  • Sugar maples
  • Trillium
  • 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!

Comments 46 comments

Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York

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.

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 4 years ago from Tampa, FL Author

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.

snowdrops profile image

snowdrops 4 years ago from The Second Star to the Right

Ginseng really fascinates me. I wish to grow one on my garden. Like your hub!

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 4 years ago from Tampa, FL Author

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.

Ishmael 2 years ago

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:

merej99 profile image

merej99 2 years ago

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

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 2 years ago from Tampa, FL Author

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!

Gaga 2 years ago

i have 300 pounds of ginseng I don't want it my husband left it here and leftit what do I do with

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 2 years ago from Tampa, FL Author

Hi Gaga,

Sell it on ebay of course! 1 ounce of dried ginseng roots selling for $35.00 on eBay right now.

Daveydave 2 years ago

Gaga what do you want to do with it? I'd love some,

leonard 2 years ago

does any one no if ginsing grows in arkanasas and what time of year do u look for it im new to it.

tony 2 years ago

Gaga.. have a nice harley here for ya.. its my wifes lets trade let me know..

josh 2 years ago

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 go bless you

Thomas Tobias 2 years ago

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

Abby Campbell profile image

Abby Campbell 2 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

Great article, howlermonkey! I live in NC and have been researching this to grow myself.

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 2 years ago from Tampa, FL Author

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!

allen 2 years ago

When do u hunnt it

Momma12x 2 years ago

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.

Nichole 2 years ago

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!

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 2 years ago from Tampa, FL Author

@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

jj 2 years ago

hi. does anyone know of a buyer. my grandfather passed and left behind some really old roots. 100 year plus 2 years ago

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 . 2 years ago

Where is ginseng most likely to be found in eastern ky

erorantes profile image

erorantes 2 years ago from Miami Florida

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.

Charlie 2 years ago

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

Dugar III 2 years ago

Good read. Can Ginseng grow in the Pacific Islands?

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 2 years ago from Tampa, FL Author

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 --

Thanks for stopping by!

joe 24 months ago

doe's ginseng grow in Alabama?

banned 24 months ago

Just amazing, thanks

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 24 months ago from Tampa, FL Author

Hey Joe,

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.

Hey banned,

thx for stopping by!

Rhonda 21 months ago

Liked this article.My parents always dug sang when we were growing up.Im from mississippi.i would like to dig it again

chris 21 months ago

Does ginseng grow in Pennsylvania?

esmeralda 20 months ago

Does ginseng grow in south texas

Woody 20 months ago

Does ginseng grow in the California Siearas

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 20 months ago from Tampa, FL Author

Hi Chris,

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! 20 months ago

Does it grow in north idaho? Up about 80 miles from canada? 20 months ago

How about the middle section of Idaho, there were many Chinese Mining Idaho in the 1860?

howlermunkey profile image

howlermunkey 20 months ago from Tampa, FL Author

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!

tootimae 18 months ago

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...

Ahmad 17 months ago

Hi Where does Ginseng grow and how do people poach it.

gerson 17 months ago

hi ahmad

Amy 17 months ago

What states can grow ginseng?

nbredredneck 15 months ago

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!

moonlake profile image

moonlake 9 months ago from America

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.

Pauli 7 weeks ago

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.

Danny 5 weeks ago

where can I buy the seed to get started ?

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