How to Find Ginseng? First look for the right habitat.

Want to know how to find ginseng? Look for the right habitat. The easiest way to do that is to look for companion plants.


Feb 2017 – It’s winter now, so it’s not the best time of year to look for ginseng habitat. The ginseng is slumbering. It’s illegal to dig at this time and there’s nothing in the way of ginseng to see to photograph, either.

In the meantime you can read up on this elusive woodland plant. When spring rolls around you’ll have a better chance of knowing how to find ginseng so you can choose the best places to grow wild-simulated or steward the wild ginseng.

Notice I said “steward”. I phrased it that way because I just *know* you aren’t intending to go looking for it just to dig all you find. If you take a sustainable approach, there will be ginseng remaining for generations to come.

Before spring arrives, I’ll write a more detailed post on what it means to approach the harvest in a sustainable way. I’ve already written on this topic in my book “Sustainable Ginseng“, but that book is full of links that are probably outdated and I need to put out another updated edition.

A short version summarizing a sustainable harvest plan is farther down on this page.

Many people are asking where exactly can they find or go to dig ginseng. That answer is below, in this post, but just a note of warning. If you’re asking that question, you probably won’t like the answer.


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Please Note

Legal season for digging for ginseng is Sept. 1 through Dec. 1.  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.

How to Find Ginseng?

First look for the right habitat. Look for the kinds of places it likes to grow.

Where does ginseng grow?

Ginseng grows in moist deciduous forests of eastern North America, but only in locations that provide the perfect combination of deep shade, moist loamy soil, and the right mix of trees. It loves the north-facing slopes, but also grows on east, west, and rarely on south-facing slopes. Most often it likes the lower third of a slope, generally not the mountain tops. Here’s a map from the USDA that shows where it grows in the United States.

If you want to know if your state allows the harvest of ginseng, you can check to see if it’s on the map here. If not, then there are no regulations, which often means there is no legal way to do it. You’d have to contact the Plant Board or your local USDA office to ask more questions.

Where EXACTLY 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.

However, if:

  • 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.

Keep an eye out for my 2017 Ginseng Prices page if you want to stay abreast of current digger/dealer prices this year. You can read last year’s price watch here.

Start Broad – If you want to know how to find ginseng, first learn to 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:

  • maple
  • redbud
  • pawpaw
  • oak
  • hickory
  • poplar
  • dogwood
  • cedar

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.

Found the right forest?

Once you have the right kind of trees and good moisture that comes from the right shade, then look for companion plants.

[bctt tweet=”Where EXACTLY can I find ginseng? (You might not like the answer).”]

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 or Indicator 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.

Wild Ozark Resources

Finding the first ginseng plant

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.

image of how to find ginseng
See how the ginseng plant has a horizontal form?

 

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.

Poster available from Shop Wild Ozark. https://shop.wildozark.com/shop/posters-of-ozark-plants/
Poster available from Shop Wild Ozark. https://shop.wildozark.com/shop/posters-of-ozark-plants/

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?

link to ginseng category

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.


 

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.

Natural Setbacks

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

[bctt tweet=”♥ Ginseng has a legal harvest season. Ethical practices will help the plant to continue 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.

Why I study

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.

A Summary of Sustainable Practice for Wild-Simulated

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 only a small portion of the oldest plants. Always replant the seeds from those plants in the original area.

This harvest plan would also be what I consider to be a good way to “steward” the wild if you intend to harvest it when you find it.

Other Ginseng Posts You Might Like

ginseng with red berries

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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About the voice behind this blog, Madison Woods

I'm a creative old soul living way off the beaten path with my husband in the wild Ozark Mountains. Besides homesteading, growing plants & making crafty things and newsletters, I write books and stories. My rural fantasy fiction, written under the pen name, Ima Erthwitch, usually takes place in a much altered Ozarks.


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48 Replies to “How to Find Ginseng? First look for the right habitat.”

  1. Where can I find ginseng seed plants to grow? Is it possible to find? And is it true that this plant gives you vitality of male enhancement?

    1. Hi Enrique, we’ll have a limited quantity of plants in April next year if you’re in the northwest AR area, but in Thayer, MO Ozark Mountain Ginseng grows them for sale and also sells seeds in large quantities. As for the male enhancement qualities, my husband says that he hasn’t noticed a difference, although he doesn’t chew the root all that often. Also, there are differences between the Asian and American species and I’m not sure which is supposed to impart that effect. And I’m not sure it enhances a healthy vitality or only brings up a lacking one to healthy levels… sure hope that was a serious question, lol. Maybe some of the other male users who visit can offer more input.

  2. Does sang grow in Oklahoma I live next to I-40 about 20 miles or so from the OK-AR border. I have seen tons of plants like this but I thought it was poison ivy. I own a lot of wooded land was just wondering if it is possible for it to grow here.

    1. Hi Chris,

      I’ve heard there are places in OK where ginseng does or has in the past grown, but I’ve never been out that way myself to say from first-hand knowledge. Are you seeing what you think is ginseng or are you seeing lots of the companion plants? You’re welcome to take some pics and send them to me if you want a second opinion on them (madison(at)wildozark(dot)com). If you are seeing a lot of the companions, or even just a few, chances are good that you have a habitat that’ll support ginseng. Good luck!

    2. I live very near if not the same area as you do Chris. I also live in a rural area with lots of dense woods (and snakes) which I don’t like but I’ve been very interested in looking for wild ginseng, it looks like such an ideal area for it. If you find out more I would sure like to hear your findings. You can get in touch with me at [email protected].

      1. Hi Lori, same offer to you – if you find something you want help with id’ing, send me pics and I’ll be glad to help. Right now’s a good time to find places to plant it. Just watch for snakes and ticks. You can see where the undergrowth is too thick and where the woods are nice and shady. And if you do find any, you can replant the seeds from the plants you find in the same area. Time to order seeds this month for me. I get mine from Ozark Mountain Ginseng in Thayer, MO.

  3. Yes I see the fern type plants you have pictures of. I will try and get out and take a few pictures and send them to you, thank you for such a quick response.

  4. Hello, can anyone take a sec and PLEASE tell me if sang grows in central Al? Like on a map dead center of the state.. I’m not a experienced hunter by far! Fact is never found one! 🙂 just enjoy outdoors and looking… Please help me!!!!!!!
    Thanks
    Brad

    1. Hi Brad, I’m not personally familiar with Alabama’s habitats, but according to this map at USDA’s database (http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PAQU), it does or has at one time grown in some of the counties around the central part of the state. It lists Tuscaloosa, and Autauga, but not the counties between those. If you haven’t found ginseng, have you found the companion plants (bloodroot, cohosh, maidenhair fern, goldenseal, wild ginger…)? At least you might be able to grow it if those plants are able to grow there. Until late spring, it’s pretty hard to find anything except goldenseal and bloodroot – those are easy enough if you know where to look.

      Another possibility is that the plant has been over-harvested to the point of being very difficult to find out there. If you do have property with a good habitat, it would be great if you can get it re-established.

  5. I stumbled upon some plants while I was hunting in upstate NY. Some with small clusters of red berrys and one with a cluster the size of a lemon. It sure looks like ginseng to me if your interested I would love to post the picture and get a second opinion. I can’t figure out how to do it though.

  6. I stumbled upon some plants while I was hunting in upstate NY. Some with small clusters of red berrys and one with a cluster the size of a lemon. It sure looks like ginseng to me if your interested I would love to post the picture and get a second opinion. I can’t figure out how to do it though. Maybe through E-mail.

    1. Hi Doug, you can send it to me by email (madison*at*wildozark*dot*com) and I’ll post it to a Q & A page where others can see it and add opinions if I don’t recognize it. You’ve got me curious to see it.

    1. Hi Jackie,

      Each state where ginseng grows naturally has laws. I thought there were areas in OK where ginseng grows or once grew, but I don’t see OK listed in the states with published regulations. (http://www.ahpa.org/Default.aspx?tabid=154) In all of them it’s illegal to dig right now (Feb). Most of them have a season for it ranging from around Sept to Dec for the digging and selling. I don’t think Oklahoma has specific regulations, but you would have to check with the state’s USDA office and they might be able to give you more info. If you do have ginseng there growing at your land whether wild or planted, I would imagine you’ll need a dealer’s license to sell it somewhere across state lines unless you get a ginseng nursery license (if your state offers that).I’d start with this site link and ask questions until you get answers from someone with authority in OK: http://www.oda.state.ok.us/cps-nurseries.htm.

  7. Great post. I see ginseng all of the time, but have always left it to grow. Now I am interested in harvesting some for personal use. I am also interested in golden seal, but it eluded me. Thanks for the great information!

    1. Here in Arkansas our elevations where I find the ginseng are usually less than 2000 feet, but I it grows on some of the higher areas too. Just depends on the shade and trees and soil of that spot. Our tallest hills/mtns are only around 2800 feet. The places where I see the best plants are on the lower end of the hills, just before it reaches the level of the valley. North-facing sides are best, but we have it on east and west sides too, and in the rare south sides where there is a fold in the hill that gives deeper shade and a break from the summer heat.

          1. ok thanks! I have some areas I think it would grow, sandy loamy soil that’s very shaded, might give it a try

          2. Good luck to you! I have some growing in areas it’s not supposed to enjoy growing and it seems to be doing fine. And if you find yourself up here in northwest AR on a Tuesday or Saturday morning, come by the farmer’s market in Huntsville to see about some companion plants to go with your ginseng 😉 Market opens April 21.

  8. Hi Madison, My wife and I have been doing some spring hunting for Ginseng. We have located an area that has what we think is Ginseng, but would like verification. Could I send you a couple of photos to see what you think?

    1. Hi Eric, the latest Atlas of Vascular Plants of Arkansas shows that it has been documented in that county. I don’t personally know the county well, but if you have property with mixed forest (not just oak and hickory, but a mix of those and maple and other trees) where the shade is deep you may have a good chance of finding it or growing it.

  9. Is there a certain side of the hill ginseng grows? I’ve heard the north face. I found your website very helpful as a beginner digger! Thanks!! 🙂

    1. Hi Chris, the north-facing side is generally going to have the deepest shade and the nice moist soil, so it’s got top scores for best place. However, we have some western-facing and eastern-facing and even some southern-facing slopes that grow good ginseng too. It just depends on whether all the factors are there – at least 80% shade, moist soil, a mix of deciduous trees, and low pH (if there’s high calcium AND low pH, extra points). Tall shade is best because then there won’t be much ground clutter from low-growing shrubs which block air flow and encourage mildew/mold.

      Good luck and thanks for dropping by!

  10. I’ve never gone ginseng picking before but recently really interested. Can’t find any lol! I have property in Sullivan county, Catskills of NY. Any idea if there is some there? :/

    1. Hi Tracy, it can be very difficult to spot sometimes. The plant is also not so plentiful anymore in many areas. The USDA map does show that Sullivan county has ginseng, though, so if it’s not there on your land now perhaps you have the right kind of habitat to grow it. Out here the pockets of good habitat are here and there, not large spots on a mountain, but just little pockets. Here’s the map that shows the counties. You have to enlarge it to see the individual counties: http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PAQU&mapType=nativity.

  11. My name is Lisa Alcorn and my step father would like me to email you some pictures of ginseng root to be sure it is ginseng. Can you please provide me an email to send these pictures from Pennsylvania. Thank you for your time.

    1. Sure- but it’s easier to tell something *isn’t* ginseng than it is to tell if it is. Without seeing the plant to go with it, I can’t guarantee it’s ginseng but I’ll be happy to take a look. You’ll have to take out the words and make it a real email addy. If I put it in there like a normal address, the spammers fill my inbox.

      madison(at)wildozark(dot)com

  12. I live in southern Indiana this is my first fall hunting ginseng so i was wondering since its middle of october and calling for are first frost saturday if the plants still have berries or not and can you still find ginseng after it frost?? Ive always heard that you want to dig what your going to before first frost so any help is appreciated.

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      Our first frost is set for in a few days, too. At least here the berries have all fallen. Some of the plants have drooped and the young ones already withered. The plants that haven’t fallen and been covered with leaves are yellowed now, which makes them a bit easier to see, but sometimes the two small leaves fall so they don’t look exactly like they did earlier. If you’ve never seen or found ginseng it’s a pretty hard time to spot it now, though. It’s best to scout earlier so you know where they are, but I’d never heard about not digging after a frost. I’d imagine because it’s hard to find without the tops, which would die back completely after a frost. Good luck, and be a good steward if you find some and don’t harvest all of any you find.

    1. Sorry to take so long posting this approval. I didn’t realize I had a comment on the page and just thought it was an email. Hopefully you’ll find some seeds soon or one of my contacts will get in touch! I’ve forwarded them your request.

    1. Not that I know of, although I know of someone trying to grow it in E. TX. I’m not real familiar with the terrain there, except for southern TX which I know won’t work, but I imagine it’s hard to find the cool, dark, moist woods that ginseng likes, and the right mix of trees.

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