How To Find Ginseng – Companion Plants

Start Broad – Find Habitat

One of the easiest ways to find ginseng is to first look for the kinds of places it likes to grow. Those plants that grow in the same habitat as ginseng are known as indicator plants, or ginseng 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.

Indicator plants, also called companion plants, are those plants, shrubs and trees that like to grow in the same sort of environment as another plant. 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.

american ginseng

See how the leaves are arranged on a horizontal plane? Train your eyes to look for that.


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.

Photos of a few of the companions

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If you need help identifying the companions or ginseng habitat, you’ll appreciate our short field guide devoted to companion plants and ginseng habitat called A DIY Ginseng Habitat & Site Assessment Guide.

Lots of photos in there, but there’s also lots of photos on this blog if you’d like to just browse around a bit. Click on the icon below to get all of the posts that mention ginseng.

Blog posts at Wild Ozark by Madison Woods: American ginseng

Category: American ginseng

Before I could finish this article, I had to hike out to one of my favorite spots to get a few more photos. And before I could download the photos I had to take a shower with dishwashing liquid because I encountered poison ivy. I’m not terribly reactive to it, but when I go out for photos, I am often right down on the ground so I can get close up shots of things that are also close to the ground. There’s a lot of poison ivy  on the ground in my favorite spot. And ticks too. Since many confuse this plant with ginseng, I wrote a short article and made a poster about the ginseng look alikes. It’s a downloadable item: Ginseng Look Alikes ID Guide, $1.50.

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. And such was the case with my favorite spot until recently. However, it wasn’t always like that. 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. In the meantime, the ginseng suffered but it didn’t die except in the spots where a tree 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. When I find wild ginseng, 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. 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, 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.

ripe fruit on a 5-yr old American ginseng plant

ripe fruit on virtually-wild 5-yr old American ginseng plant

A Wild Ozark Nature Journal book banner

If you love looking at the plants that grow in the wild Ozarks you’ll enjoy my new Wild Ozark Nature Journal photo-books for Kindle. “Into the Ginseng Wood” is the first series, with “Before the Unfurling” and “The Unfurling” as the first two releases of that series. The banner link takes you to the listing of my books at Amazon.


The rest of the photos are arranged in a slide show. If you have questions about one, leave a comment. This post is drawing to a close but if you’ve enjoyed it, please share by posting the link to Facebook, Twitter or your favorite social center. If you want to be notified when the next Cornerstone post is live, or when one of my stories have been published or to get in on workshops and herb walks in the future, sign up for my notification list by putting your email address in the box above the header of this post. Next year I’ll start doing slide show presentations around the area and those will be announced through the list as well. You will not receive my regular blog posts through this announcement list.

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Article Name
How to Find Ginseng - The Companion Plants
If you want to find ginseng find the right habitat first. Look for the plants that grow where ginseng likes to grow. These are called companion plants. It's easier to spot the companions than it is to spot ginseng.
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Madison Woods

Head Creative at Wild Ozark
When Madison isn't in the woods looking for plants to photograph, look for her behind the keyboard where she's either writing stories or compiling books from the photos, or she's somewhere outside working on the Wild Ozark homestead with her husband. ***More***

12 thoughts on “How To Find Ginseng – Companion Plants

  1. Pingback: Woodland photos: #Ginseng habitat in the #Ozarks | Madison Woods

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  5. slingshotbaby69

    Love your write up! I too dig searching for herbs, and really enjoyed your blog!

    1. Madison Woods Post author

      Thanks for the feedback slingshotbaby69. Searching for herbs is loads of fun, relaxing and productive all at the same time. Glad to see you here!

  6. Charles Hunt


    1. Madison Woods Post author

      Hi Charles, thanks for reading! Sorry, no info regarding truffles, lol, but if I knew where and how to find them I would! Love the morels in spring, though, those are pretty good but I’m no good at seeing them.

  7. dwain

    Retired love the woods, would like to get involved so I can special more time and knowledge learning about plants

    1. Madison Woods Post author

      That would be a wonderful way to spend retirement, Dwain. I could spend all day in the woods taking photos, drawing, or just generally enjoying the wilds.

  8. christy

    i have a home in nc mountains neat the gem mines and mount mitchel I’m wondering if there’s ginseng in that region?

    1. Madison Woods Post author

      If you have forest that hasn’t been logged, or logged recently, it’s very likely you can grow it if there isn’t any already there. Have you seen any of the companions?


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