Most sunlight passing through the tree canopy strikes the ground as sun flecks (patches of sunlight that move as your woodlot's angle to the sun changes during the day) or as indirect rays (sunlight coming in at different angles due to reflection). These conditions are horrible for some crops like corn and most other field crops., however, these conditions are perfect for many shade-loving plants, like ginseng and goldenseal. Added benefits to growing in woodlots include reduced crop losses due to poor weather conditions (the forest reduces the intensity of many weather fluctuations) and increased use of your land holdings.
Good forest soils for growing ginseng and goldenseal are rich, moist and well-drained. The best sites are usually mid-slopes. Stands at least 30 years old with a minimum of 70% shade work well. Good overstories can include ash, sugar maple, beech and basswood. Ginseng will often grow under oaks and red maple, but these trees can tolerate poorer soils than ginseng.
Good herbaceous plant indicators of prime soil conditions for ginseng include ginseng, (if it is growing there it can grow there), Christmas fern, indicator fern, wild ginger.
Dry sites are not suited to ginseng or goldenseal production. Highly acidic. low base nutrient (Calcium, magnesium, potassium) soils are also unsuitable. It is a good idea to have a soil test done prior to investing in ginseng or goldenseal production.
Soils with 15-20 percent base saturation (determined from your soil test) AND pH between 4-6 may work for ginseng production. These are very rough guidelines and wild ginseng and goldenseal can certainly be found growing outside of these ranges.
Deer will damage ginseng plantings. While not a preferred browser species, deer will eat ginseng. Small mammals will eat the seeds. Slugs will browse the leaves. These three groups of herbivores may become a problem with ginseng plantations. While slug and small mammal control is possible, deer browsing control might be more difficult. Fences can work but not without drawing great deals of attention to your planting. Consider test plantations on your property to gauge the potential for deer damage as well as the potential for success with the crop. By contrast, very few herbivores will eat goldenseal.
So if you have a woodlot on most, rich soil and are willing to experiment, ginseng and goldenseal might provide an alternative cash income.