Questions About Ginseng

Caring For, Finding, Growing, Digging and Selling Ginseng – These are Wild Ozark’s most often asked questions about ginseng.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ginseng

1. Why can’t I find ginseng?

  • you’re looking in the wrong places
  • it isn’t there
  • someone hid it
  • For a more in depth response to this question, click here.

2. Can I dig in one state and sell in another?

At least in Arkansas, not without a dealer’s license. Here’s a quote from the Arkansas State Plant Board ginseng regulations:

1. Any person, business, or corporation who buys wild or artificially propagated American Ginseng for sale across state lines shall be termed a dealer by intent of Act 774 of 1985, and shall obtain a Ginseng Dealer License and a Certificate of Legal Taking from the Arkansas State Plant Board.

3. When should you plant ginseng?

In late fall, before the ground begins to freeze. Out here (northwest Arkansas) the ground never freezes solid long, so I’d also plant during winter on days that aren’t too cold.

4. Where do I sell my ginseng?

Check around September on the windows of stores in the small towns of your area. Buyers will often post notices to say when they’ll be coming to town. You can also check the classifieds of your electric coop magazine (if you get those out there). Fur buyers will often buy ginseng or know of ginseng buyers in the area. I’ve seen notices posted in the classified section of our local newspaper before, too.

5. Finding ginseng

You can find ginseng in deep forests on north, west, or east facing slopes. It helps a lot to know the companion plants that grow in the same areas ginseng grows: black cohosh, bloodroot, doll’s eyes, maidenhair fern, Christmas fern, pawpaw, wild ginger. These plants are easier to spot than the ginseng itself. If you’re trying to find a suitable site for growing your own, it’s good to plant in places these plants grow if the site has sufficient shade.

6. Ginseng seed

To buy seed, I suggest you get it from as local a source as possible. We get ours from Ozark Mountain Ginseng in Thayer, MO. We’re not in the same state, but we are both located in the Ozarks, at least. Seeds and plants produced locally are adapted to your local conditions and will more easily thrive. I’ve heard that Wisconsin seeds do thrive just fine here in the Ozarks, but I am concerned about genetic pollution and try to minimize the difference between the cultivars with my introduced seeds. That’s why I try to get a genotype of ginseng that is at least similar to the wild type we have here in the Ozarks. Since it’s illegal to buy/sell/collect/trade wild ginseng seeds, this is the best I can do.

Ginseng produces a berry in summer. In the berry there are two seeds. When the berry falls to the ground it takes a full year of sitting there before it sprouts the second spring after falling. When you buy seeds they’ll be stratified (usually). This means the seed has already waited the first year (usually outside buried in a bed or bucket of sand) and will be ready to sprout the spring after you plant it.

7. Ginseng companion trees

The trees that ginseng grows best under around here is a mix of the following: oak, hickory, maple, pawpaw, dogwood, redbud, beech and poplar.

8. What happens when ginseng gets too much sunlight?

Too much sun will bleach out the leaves making them turn whitish. Eventually the plant will die in these conditions but if the problem is confined to a small area, you can put up some shade cloth until the tree canopy closes in. If this is a problem in a large area, then the site is probably not suitable for ginseng to begin with.

9. How to tell the difference between poison oak/ivy/Virginia creeper and ginseng?

To the uninitiated, ginseng looks a lot like a few other plants. It’s most often confused with poison oak/ivy during first year growth because at that time ginseng only has 3 leaves. To tell the difference between ginseng and Virginia creeper, look at the leaves. Ginseng always has 2 tiny leaves and 3 larger ones (after the first year). All of Virginia creeper’s leaves are the same size.

In my book Sustainable Ginseng I have an id key for these two in a side-by-side comparison. I also have an article about the most common look alikes with an id key to this and other plants often confused with ginseng.

10. When does ginseng come up in spring?

It comes up here in northwest Arkansas in mid-April. Sometimes a plant skips a year and will remain dormant until the following spring.

11. Does drought kill ginseng?

If the summers are too dry, even if it’s growing in deep shade, sometimes ginseng will die back and go dormant until the following year when conditions improve.

12. Does ginseng still grow wild?

Yes, although many diggers have carried seeds in their pockets and planted while digging, so it’s impossible to know which is true wild and which is virtually wild. This is most likely the case everywhere ginseng is native.

13. Does breaking the tops off of ginseng hurt it? Will it come back next year?

Short answer: Not too much, and Maybe.

Although I’m sure having the tops broken off every year may not be good for the ginseng, if it is done late in the season after the berries have matured, it has some benefits. The main reason people do this is to “hide” the root from diggers. It would be better that the plant had the extra time with leaves to help restore energy to the root, but if poachers are an issue, it’s better for the plant than being harvested.

Sometimes deer eat the tops off of ginseng , and sometimes I harvest only the leaves. But I’ve noticed that when a plant is browsed or harvested of its leaves, it has a tendency to go dormant the following year. Then it comes back the next one. I try to not harvest leaves from the same plant two years in a row just so the plant has time to fully recuperate. But if there are many poachers in the woods any given year, I would rather top them all than lose them all.

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