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Ginseng

Many states in the east and mid-west have legally certified harvesting programs. Pennsylvania is one of these states.
Ginseng in fruit. Credits: Eric Burkhart

Ginseng in fruit. Credits: Eric Burkhart

During the 1700's markets for a botanical, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), were developed and the rush was on. Many fortunes were made by harvesting the great numbers of roots found growing wild. One notable character in history, Daniel Boone, made much of his fortune from exploiting ginseng.

Wild ginseng roots routinely sell for $500 or more per pound, depending on quality and age.

Ginseng has been so widely collected in the 200 years since its discovery, that its existence is potentially threatened in many states. For this reason, it now receives protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Each state that allows wild harvest must have an approved management plan before any legal harvesting occurs. This does not apply to cultivated roots which must have certification of cultivation. Many states in the east and mid-west have legally certified harvesting programs. Pennsylvania is one of these states.

Prior to planting any ginseng and then again prior to harvest, contact the local Department of Conservation of Natural Resources to inquire about changes in regulations and how these regulations apply to cultivated ginseng.

Because of its rarity, ginseng is a very valuable commodity. Dried roots will routinely sell for $500 or more per point, depending on quality and age. History of cultivation in Pennsylvania goes back at least 100 years, with publications on cultivation methods dating as far back as 1902. This site will present some modern information on ginseng production in Pennsylvania. Ginseng production is not a new idea for Pennsylvania, but a time tested, traditional crop. Indeed, many "wild" roots are remnants of old plantations.

Types of Ginseng

Most people have heard of ginseng, even if it is just through brand name ginseng product television advertisements. Names like Siberian ginseng, red ginseng, Asian ginseng, and American ginseng appear in the news, in advertisements, and in stores.

Ginseng
Ginseng plant, stage 2. Credits: Eric Burkhart

Siberian ginseng (Elutherococcus senticsus) is a plant discovered when researchers were attempting to find alternatives to American ginseng. It is native to northern Asia and has little value as a crop for America. Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) is the original ginseng. This plant has been used by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Commercial cultivation of roots in Asian is a huge industry. American producers, while growing this crop in some cases, have limited opportunity to successfully compete in this market. American ginseng (Panax quiquefolius) is the true wild ginseng of North America. This is the ginseng suggested for cultivation in Pennsylvania.

All of these types of ginseng are used as adaptogens. Adaptogens are herbs taken to restore your equilibrium, to use an old quote, "to fix what ails you." Because TCM focuses more on maintaining health than on curing diseases, ginseng has enjoyed a fairly good demand. Even during the recent downturn in the Asian economy, wild ginseng sold for $250 a pound. American ginseng also serves as a caffeine substitute and even a seasoning.

Markets for Cultivated Ginseng

Four market types of ginseng exist:

  • truly wild
  • wild-simulated
  • woods cultivated
  • field-grown

Again, CITES regulates the collection of truly wild ginseng. Only small amounts are actually sold each year. Field cultivated ginseng is produced in great quantities each year from farms primarily in Wisconsin and production can and does exceed market demand. Woods-cultivated, also called woods-grown, ginseng is grown across the northeastern United States as well as Michigan, and has potential for Pennsylvania producers. While both woods-cultivated and field-grown ginseng have markets, wild-simulated ginseng presents the greatest likelihood of profit for forestland owners. Wild-simulated ginseng describes roots planted in sites identical to those where wild ginseng normally occurs. In many case, the roots produced by wild-simulated ginseng are identical to wild roots. The rest of the discussion on ginseng will cover wild-simulated ginseng production.

Ginseng Roots
Woods cultivated ginseng. Credits: Eric Burkhart

Where to Buy Seeds and Roots

Catalog prices for ginseng seeds and roots vary greatly; use caution and check with several sources.

These suppliers are provided for the convenience of the reader and in no way represent an endorsement. If seed or root producer wishes to have their name included on this list, please contact Robert Hansen

  • American Ginseng Garden: 423-743-3700
  • Barney's Ginseng Patch: 314-564-2575
  • Bob Bold: 502-533-6004
  • Buckhorn Ginseng: 608-647-2244
  • Mel Buetsch: 715-443-2276
  • Tom Condon: 715-845-9489
  • Epler Fur: 717-366-1261
  • Ginseng America: 607-326-3123
  • Ginseng USA: 715-845-4361
  • Heise's Farm: 715-675-3862
  • Hickory Ridge: 301-739-4061
  • Hsu's Ginseng: 800-826-1577
  • Matt Hull: 417-883-7904
  • Madison Furs: 814-382-2501
  • Mellingers, Inc: 330-549-9861
  • Panax Q. Farm: 604-542-1816
  • Pickerell's Ginseng: 502-358-4543
  • Riehle Farms: 715-359-8355
  • Roots "O" Gold: 507-667-6310
  • Sylvan Botanicals: 607-264-8455
  • Tuskasegee Valley Ginseng: 704-293-5189

Suppliers list provided by:

  • Steve Bogash - Penn State Extension
  • Bob Beyfuss - Cornell Cooperative Extension

This publication details the cultivation, collection, and laws regarding American ginseng.

Wild-simulated ginseng presents the best opportunity to successfully cultivate and market ginseng for profit.

While many botanicals can grow in field situations, this publication addresses forest cultivation. If you have a woodlot, even a small one, many of these species might work for you. Woodlots present a unique growing condition.

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