23 Jan, 2014
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Hello! One of our native plants, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has been the talk of the internet lately. With the release of a new television series called “Appalachian Outlaws”, there’s been a huge flux of interest in ginseng and I’ve been getting a lot of visits to my website because of it. The ginseng in Arkansas (where we’re located) and everywhere else it grows native is already endangered and poaching has always been a prime threat. Because of this television program, I worry that people will only see the plant as potential cash and not realize that indiscriminate digging of it hurts the odds of its survival. With some information, many might also become interested in becoming good stewards to ginseng. My passion for many years has been Ozark medicinal plants and ginseng is one of my favorites. I have been collecting information and photos. I wrote a small book called “Sustainable Ginseng” because I want to encourage people to grow and harvest it in a way that enables and encourages the plant’s survival, and to discourage people from seeing it as merely a means to a profit. There is much opportunity at this time to make a positive impact and also enjoy the profits of a lucrative (if very long-term) vocation in growing this woodland herb. American ginseng is one of my favorite medicinal plants and I know on our own land it’ll survive. I’d really like to encourage and teach others how to help it survive on their own properties too. IF grown as suggested in my book, the roots will be “virtually wild” and indistinguishable from true wild when it comes time to harvest and sell. AND the plants will thrive in a sustainable, everlasting colony. Sincerely, Madison Woods
When it was first discovered in North America in the 1700’s, ginseng was abundant and grew in huge colonies, carpeting the forest floor in some places. Today ginseng is listed as “At Risk” by United Plant Savers and is a CITES regulated trade good, which means that the plant is currently in decline and under regulation by the federal government to insure that export causes no further harm. Sustainable Ginseng is about how to be good stewards to the amazing and endangered American Ginseng. It is written from the perspective of my experience of growing and observing it in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas. It covers topics like “how to find ginseng in the woods”, “what kind of woods ginseng likes”, “how to identify ginseng” as well as “how to grow it” – in a way that yields a root indistinguishable from wild. Temptation is strong to forget about the future when it comes to harvesting ginseng during a year when the going price is nearly $1000/pound. I hope to convince you to exercise restraint and practice true ginseng stewardship by encouraging this plant to take up residence in your forest and give it time and space to grow as nature intended it to grow. You’ll still be able to earn income from your efforts. This small book is packed with color photos of ginseng and the companion plants. It’s chocked full of specific information. Purchase of this book is like having a free pass for Q & A – I’ll be happy to answer questions from readers via email (email address is on the back page of the book and it’s also on the blog). The paperback version has spaces to take notes. It’s meant to be carried out to the woods with you, so you can write down your observations and questions. Here’s what readers are saying about Sustainable Ginseng (click the photo to enlarge for easier reading):
ISBN: Paperback – 1495294358, ASIN Kindle – B00HW50LQ4
Buy the print version from Amazon, get the Kindle version FREE!
Q & A and Comments from Readers (of book and blog)
Q: We live in northwest Arkansas and think we might have good slopes for ginseng. How can we tell?
A: It depends. If your slopes are facing north, east, or sometimes west and your forests are not recently logged, then probably. If the ground is hard and dry, then probably not. We have a mix of clay on some of our slopes, and on the ones that ginseng likes there is a lot of leaf litter from the trees and the soil under the dead leaves is always moist. If it’s only oak and hickory, then it probably won’t grow there, but if you have a mix of trees (oak, hickory, maple, beech, poplar, dogwood, redbud and pawpaw) then probably it does. Have you looked during spring and summer to see if the companion plants are there? That’s the best way to know.
In spring, summer and fall I do habitat consultations for $100 in the northwest Arkansas region (that’s where we live too). If you haven’t been able to figure out whether your land is good for it by reading and looking for the companions, let me know. The book I just published has pictures of the companion plants (https://www.createspace.com/4632409 for the paperback ($14.99) and the Kindle version which is $2.99 has color if your reader is the kind that shows color http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HW50LQ4 ), and there are other field guides that give more thorough descriptions of them that can help you, too. The one I use most often is Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants, and there’s also the USDA Plant Database where you can search by common names for plants and they often have pictures and distribution maps (http://plants.usda.gov/java/ )
Hope that helps, and Good Luck!
Comment from Ray – The Discovery channel had a program on about Ginseng.. The two men were in Tenn. Harvesting 75 lbs for some Japan buyers. 75lbs was close to 1 million. They showed the plants. All were dug. Single spike even…They cleaned out all the ginseng in the area a couple miles around..Never left some to grow back…..Money is all they were after. But close to a millions i can see. Found a lib or so myself a few years ago… It is getting harder to find. To much money to be made. But love to hunt it in the spring….Fall is the best,can leave the berries to be planted back
Hi Ray, I’ve heard a lot about that show. CDMitchell1964 sent me a link to watch an episode, so I’ll soon see for myself what it’s all about, lol. But from what discussions I’ve seen in forums, it has a lot of people stirred up about the cash potential. I worry about people coming out to the Ozarks with that same mindset, so I published my book “Sustainable Ginseng” when I started getting a lot of new traffic to my website. I wanted to try to make people aware of the endangered status of the plant and teach a method for being able to harvest without destroying the possibility of future harvests. I think once the show quits airing, things will die back down to normal. And once people try to find enough to make those millions, they’ll see it’s not so easy as the show makes it out to be. Thank you for being a good ginseng steward Planting seeds back and leaving some of the seed-bearing plants behind is the best way. I can see it being wiped out of public lands if the mindset doesn’t change, though. That would be sad.
By “hunting it in spring”, you mean just to find it right? It’s illegal to dig the roots for harvest outside of Sept. 1 – Dec. 1… although I do dig and transplant rootlets in spring on our property (probably can’t do that on public lands, though). And when I sell plants and rootlets I sometimes sell them in spring.
Q: From Anonymous – What are the ginseng companion trees?
A: Here in the Ozarks, ginseng like to grow under a mixture of oak, hickory, maple, beech, dogwood, redbud, pawpaw and tulip poplar. It won’t grow in a forest that’s only hickory and oak. And I’ve seen it said that it won’t grow under cedar, but I have some growing under cedar. Our very best spot has a lot of pawpaw trees.
Q: Where to find ginseng in Arkansas?
A: If you’re looking for ginseng so you can dig it, there’s a few things you should know. First, it has a legal season (Sept 1 – Dec 1). Not all National Forests are open to digging ginseng every season so you’d need to check with your local USDA office to find out the rules. Third, there really isn’t a lot of truly “wild” ginseng growing around in the forests anymore so I don’t recommend looking for it to dig at all. If you’ve been watching Appalachian Outlaws and think you’ll be able to go out digging a few times and make a ton of money, it just isn’t so.
However, if you have your own property and want to see if you already have some growing (read my book “Sustainable Ginseng” to learn how many plants should be in a colony for optimum long-term survival before digging, please), or if you are wanting to just find it to observe and admire the plant, there are clues to tell you if you’re looking in the right places. Find the companion plants. I have photos of most of them in full color for Kindle in “Wild Ozark Herbs” and “Sustainable Ginseng”. Look for black cohosh, doll’s eyes, maidenhair fern, pawpaw trees, wild ginger, bloodroot, goldenseal, and christmas fern. If you’re seeing a few of those plants, then you might see or have luck growing ginseng there. These plants like lots of shade, moist soil, and each other’s company. You can often find them on western, eastern and northern facing slopes, but rarely on southern. They like the lower parts of the mountain more than the tops because the shade and moisture is likely to be better there.
“Sustainable Ginseng” is a book I’ve written to share information about growing wild-simulated, or virtually-wild, ginseng. I also have a picture book available for Kindle that shows many of ginseng’s companion plants. It’s called “Wild Ozark Herbs”. Click either cover to view the book at Amazon.