Thirteen species of ginseng exist, but the two most popular and well-researched are Asian (Panax ginseng) and American (Panax quinquefolius). Ginseng can also be bought in a variety of forms, including whole root, root slices, powders, tinctures/tonics (ginseng wine), and capsules. Many people believe that using the actual root confers the greatest health benefits. However, cost can be prohibitive for those wishing to use whole root. For this reason, many people choose to grow their own ginseng. Others choose to grow ginseng for profit. Before starting this process, though, there are many factors to consider and planning that is required.
Ginseng can be grown in a pot or in natural soil, such as a forest or plot of land. Many of those who desire entire crops used the wild-simulated method of growing ginseng. This method refers to choosing an adequate site, planting, and simply letting nature take its course. If growing a crop, choosing an appropriate site is vital in successfully growing ginseng. The best sites will resemble areas where ginseng grows naturally (in the U.S., this is east of the Mississippi River, Oregon, and Washington).
This herb does best in moist, well-drained soils high in organic matter. They also thrive with greater than 75% shade and alongside deeply rooted trees, especially tulip poplar, maple, beech, hickory, and walnut. Ginseng plants are also intolerant of high temperatures. One way to assess if a site is appropriate for ginseng growth is to look for the presence of companion plants, which include ferns, trillium, cohosh, wild yam, and goldenseal. One can also take a soil sample to be tested; ideal ginseng soil has a pH between 4.5 and 5.5, approximate calcium levels of 4,000 pounds per acre, and minimum phosphorus concentrations of 95 pound per acre. If soil tests show that soil is not ideal, one can opt to fertilize and optimize the soil characteristics.
Planting the Ginseng
When buying seeds, stratified seeds, or those that have been allowed to age naturally for one to two years, are preferred. This is because seeds produced by wild ginseng plants do not sprout during their first year. Most commercially available seeds are stratified, but non-stratified, or green, seeds are also available at lower prices. And while the price may be tempting, green seeds are typically avoided since one must wait a year to be able to use them. One can also plant ginseng rootlets, or ginseng plants that are between one and three years old.
In terms of when to plant ginseng, late autumn or early winter are preferred. Seeds should be spaced 14-18 inches apart and have at least 2 inches of soil depth. After this, if one employs the wild-simulated approach, one need simply let nature take its course and wait several years until harvest (seven to ten years). One can check the crop for pests or fungi occasionally and maintain optimal soil, but otherwise, other maintenance is not required.
Wild ginseng does not typically have many pests, but is often plagued by slugs when cultivated. Proper spacing and companion plants can help to decrease the risk of fungal diseases.
Another pest to watch out for is ginseng thieves. When growing a crop, it is important to keep one’s plants hidden from others, try to avoid areas known to be scavenged by ginseng hunters, or use private land.
Harvesting the Plants
After allowing the ginseng to mature, one must be sure to dig carefully when harvesting, as the most profitable part of the plant is the root. Next, comes washing, with care not to wash too hard, as some beneficial compounds are found in the delicate root hairs. The roots can then be left to dry.
Given the high demand and potentially high cost of ginseng roots, growing your own ginseng can be very profitable. It requires a good deal of patience, though, as the roots require at least seven to ten years to matures. Despite this long period of time, though, many ginseng growers cite this as an enjoyable hobby and preferable to buying pre-processed or manufactured ginseng products.