The unfurling came and went, flowering commenced in May, green berries came soon after and now late it’s late July. The plants have bright red berries and ticks still dominate the woods, and horseflies and gnats have joined them. I’ve been taking photos periodically throughout this year of ginseng and the other woodland plants and posting them to my page Ginseng Through the Seasons.
Although it’s illegal to dig ginseng right now, it’s time to look for the best places to plant and make notes of the places they’re already growing.
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.
Start Broad – Find Habitat
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 icon below to get all of the posts that mention ginseng.
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.
When you purchase the paperback from my online store, I’ll include the DVD for free. It’s not a “how to” book. It’s a nature-lover’s prose and a lot of color photographs of the plants of the ginseng habitat (including ginseng) throughout the seasons. It’ll be 8″ x 10″, 77 pages. I don’t know of any other book like this on the market with as many quality photos of the plants of this habitat.
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.
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.
If you’re also interested in learning how to use the other plants you encounter on your hikes, you might like my newest book:
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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Our latest book:American Ginseng & Companions is a photo essay with more than 70 photos of ginseng, companion plants, and Ozark mountain ginseng habitat. Anyone who buys the book from my online shop will get the slideshow on DVD free (while supplies of the DVD lasts).
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How to Find Ginseng written by Madison Woods