It’s late fall now and the ginseng has died back. The only way to find it now is if you know exactly where to look or if the stems haven’t fallen far from the root. Here’s a picture of what ginseng looks like in November here in the ozarks. I’ve been taking photos periodically throughout this year of a single ginseng plant and posting them to my page Ginseng Through the Seasons.
If you want a general post on what a ginseng plant looks like, go here.
Legal season for digging for ginseng is Sept. 1 through Dec. 1. Here’s a PDF from the Arkansas State Plant Board about the rules regarding ginseng harvest and sales. If you have the proper habitat, I encourage you to plant wild-simulated ginseng using seeds from as local as possible a source. We usually plant our seeds in fall before it gets too cold.
The Most Frequently Asked Question
“Exactly where can I find ginseng?”
You probably won’t like the answer. No one is going to tell you where you can go to find a specific patch of ginseng. The reason why is because if someone knows the plant well enough to tell you where it is, they’ll also know it’s endangered and easily exterminated from a single site. That person usually is either digging and maintaining the patch for themselves, or is protecting/stewarding the site so it can continue to thrive.
If you don’t have property of your own with suitable habitat, or know someone else with the proper conditions, you probably won’t have anywhere to dig or grow. Some states might allow digging on public lands, but many don’t. Arkansas does not.
So if you are someone who just became interested in digging some ‘sang to make some money from the roots, you’re most likely out of luck.
- you have land (your own or a friend’s) & you want to know if ginseng is present or could be
- you’re looking to buy property and want to know if it contains good habitat
- you’re working with others to build a sanctuary
Then the rest of this post might be very helpful to you.
Start Broad – Find Habitat
Increase your odds
Check the USDA map to see if ginseng grows, or has ever grown, in the area of interest. For example, if you live in Arizona, it is highly unlikely that you will ever successfully grow this plant. If you want to try, then you’ll have to recreate the kind of habitat that supports it.
Shade and moisture
First look for mature trees. The following are present in the areas I’ve found ginseng:
It needs to NOT be all oak/hickory/cedar/pine. Ginseng will grow on any slope. North-facing is best, but it’ll grow facing any direction if the shade and moisture are right. It is most often right on north-facing slopes. There are sometimes “folds” on south-facing slopes that create mini-habitats on the north-facing inside of the fold.
Once you have the right kind of trees and good moisture that comes from the right shade, then look for companion plants.
It’s good to know the companions because ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) can be a difficult plant to spot. If you’re out looking for ginseng, you’ll know to look harder if you’ve already spotted the companions. The plant seems to show itself to some but not to others. I’ve spoken to many people who have never found it on their own even though they stood side-by-side with someone else who could point it out to them. I’m that way when it comes to hunting morel mushrooms. I cannot find them, even if I look exactly in the right kinds of spots. According to people who find them, morels have their own kinds of companion plants (and trees). During spring morel hunts, my friends come back with bags of gathered morels and I stand there empty-handed. Not so with ginseng. I can find that one!
Finding the clues: Ginseng Companion Plants
In one of my other posts about ginseng, I talked about choosing the best site to plant. Those tips can also help you find ginseng if you’re hunting it. And here’s a post that might help explain why you’re not finding it. There’s another page on this site that shows the ginseng plant as a seedling, two-prong, three- and four-prong, if you’d like to see how it looks as it gets more mature.
♥ Ginseng indicator plants, also called companion plants, are those plants, shrubs and trees that like to grow in the same sort of environment as ginseng. They keep the same company because they require the same habitat.
When I first go out to the woods, even in a place I know has ginseng, I have a difficult time spotting the first ginseng plant. They have a way of growing that makes them hard to see, but once you’ve found the first one it’s easier to find more. I think the first one somehow trains the eyes to see that form. It’s like this every time I go out. I have to find one first, then the rest become easier to see.
If you’re scouting woods for likely places to either plant or find it, here are a few of the companion plants you’ll want to keep an eye out for. They’re much easier to find than ginseng itself. Look for goldenseal, black cohosh, pawpaw trees, American spikenard, virginia snakeroot, bloodroot, blue cohosh and wild ginger.
Photos of the companions
Here’s some of the ones I see most often around here in the Ozarks:
Want More Ginseng or Companion Plant Pictures?
There’s lots of photos on this blog if you’d like to just browse around a bit. Click on the “Ginseng Blog Posts” icon to get all of the posts that mention ginseng. These are all free and most are in the book mentioned next.
Want a convenient collection of photos all in one spot? There are at least 70 color pictures of ginseng and companion plants in my book “American Ginseng & Companions“, including some of ginseng unfurling in early spring. Available in paperback and Kindle.
If you purchase the paperback from my online store, I’ll include the DVD for free. I don’t know of any other book like this on the market with as many quality photos of the plants of this habitat.
Wild Ozark has a new sister site at WildOzarkNatureJournal.com. If you love nature and art, you’ll enjoy it. I have all the sketches so far compiled into an ebook that displays beautifully on the full sized color readers (not so much on phones or b/w readers). You can get it now from Amazon! Free until Nov. 20.
There are a lot of plants that look like ginseng. Since many confuse a few of the other plants more often than others, I wrote a short article and made a page-sized poster about the ginseng look alikes. It’s a downloadable item: Ginseng Look Alikes ID Guide, $0.99. Newsletter subscribers get it free.
A Note about Poison Ivy
Poison ivy is NOT an indicator plant. In fact, if you see too much of it, it’s an indicator that there is probably too much sunlight in that location.
Poison ivy recently moved in and choked out a good ginseng habitat on our property. Before the ice storm of 2009, there was dense shade in that little holler. During the ice storm many of the trees fell and tops were snapped off, which then let in much more sunlight than had been there prior. And that’s what allowed the poison ivy to grow so densely there. It has taken nearly five years for the forest to recover to a point where the shade has returned to proper density.
The ginseng suffered and much of it died or went dormant because lost trees opened a gap to direct sunlight for too many hours per day. Most of the ginseng companion plants can tolerate more sunlight than ginseng.
Maidenhair and Christmas ferns can tolerate more shade than can ginseng. But the ivy can also tolerate shade and thus it is still there even as the tree’s limbs have stretched to fill in the canopy.
If we avoid more ice storms, it’ll eventually fade back toward the brighter areas and leave the deep shade alone. With a little help from the companions, you’ll be able to find suitable habitat for one of our greatest natural treasures, wild American Ginseng. The knowledge you gain will help you become a better conservationist if you choose to grow your own “virtually wild” ginseng rather than dig the wild.
Practice Ethical Hunting and Harvesting, and Consider Growing Your Own
♥ Ginseng has a specific season when it’s legal to harvest, and specific practices that will help ensure the plant continues to exist in the wild.
Please follow the laws of your state regarding how and when to harvest. For the state of Arkansas, those rules are here (it’s a PDF file). I also go over specific practices to help the plant survive in my book Sustainable Ginseng. You might wonder why someone who conserves the wild ginseng wants to hunt it.
Except when our personal stash is low, when I find wild ginseng (in season), I don’t dig it. I record where I found it and observe the habitat, photograph the plants and environment.
Then I use the information I gather to become more successful at growing it and I share what I’ve learned with my blog and book readers. From the plants I’ve seeded on our property, I also plant the ripe berries and redistribute them to places I want to establish new colonies. (Never gather all of the seeds of a plant, and never dig without planting the seeds.)
To know where to plant, it helps to know the preferred habitat of ginseng. My hope is that you’ll become interested in growing wild-simulated ginseng, and for that you’ll need to know the kinds of places ginseng likes to grow.
♥ Wild-simulated, or virtually wild ginseng, is simply the practice of planting seeds and allowing them to grow naturally.
No tilling, no fertilizing, no weeding (except perhaps in the beginning to clear out underbrush). Then in 7-10 years, begin a sustainable plan for harvesting. That plan would include taking no more than 50% of the seed-bearing plants from each colony, and always replanting the seeds from those plants in the original area.
The new Wild Ozark Musings zine-letter is a free PDF for newsletter subscribers or $2.99 for Kindle:
Other Ginseng Posts You Might Like
- 5 Ways to Tell if You Can Grow Ginseng in Your Backyard
- Can’t Find Ginseng?
- First Year Ginseng Looks Like Wild Strawberry
- More Ginseng Posts
If you have questions, please leave a comment or use the Contact link in the menu to get in touch. I’m always happy to help if I can.
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How to Find Ginseng written by Madison Woods