How to Find Ginseng

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How to Find Ginseng

Note: It’s illegal to dig ginseng right now. Legal season is Sept. 1 through Dec. 1. Here’s a PDF from the Arkansas State Plant Board about the rules regarding ginseng harvest and sales.

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.

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. LOTS of pictures of those plants in my “Into the Ginseng Wood” books.

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. We sell many of these companions and ginseng for helping people re-establish habitats.

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?

For lots of wild ginseng and companion plant pictures, see our “Into the Ginseng Wood” series. If you need more than pictures to help identifying the companions or ginseng habitat and pictures aren’t your thing, you’ll appreciate our short field guide devoted to companion plants and ginseng habitat called A DIY Ginseng Habitat & Site Assessment Guide.

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.

link to ginseng category

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.

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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.

Sustainable Ginseng DIY Ginseng Habitat & Site Assessment Guide Before the Unfurling cover for the unfurling of ginseng cover for forest companions

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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Summary
Article Name
How to Find Ginseng
Author
Description
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.

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16 thoughts on “How to Find Ginseng

  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?

    • 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.

    • 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!

  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

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

    • 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.

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