Chapter 3. Cultivation of Wild Plants.
The leading botanical roots in demand by the drug trade are the following: Ginseng (Aralia Quinquefolium), Golden Seal, (Hydrastis Canadensis), Senega Snake Root (Polygala Senega), Virginia Snake Root, also called Serpentaria (Aristolochia Serpentaria), Canada Snake Root or Wild Ginger (Asarum Canadense), Mandrake or May Apple (Podophyllum Peltatum) Pink Root (Spigelia Marilandica), Blood Root (Sanguinaria Canadensis), Lady Slipper (Cypripedium), Poke Root (Phytolacca Decandra); of the common farm and garden weeds, the root of the Dandelion and the Narrow Leaf Dock are in the greatest demand. Most of these plants, except the two last named, grow in more or less shade, several of them in dense woods. These plants were originally found in abundance in their natural habitat but from the constant digging of the roots and also from clearing off of the forest lands some of these plants are becoming scarce.
The price paid for most of the wild roots used for medicine is still too low to make it an object for people to gather, wash, dry and market them, much less to be to the expense of cultivating, especially as most of them must be grown under shade.
There are a few medicinal roots, however, that have become so scarce that cultivation must be resorted to or the Physician or Druggist will have to go without them. If our people were willing to work for the low wages paid in foreign lands, several other roots could be either cultivated or gathered wild. Out of the many tons of Dandelion roots used yearly in this country almost none of them are gathered here on account of the high cost of labor. Golden Seal, Ginseng, Senega Root Serpentaria, Wild Ginger and the Lady Slippers have advanced in price to a point where they can be very profitably grown and people are becoming interested in their several natures, manner of growth, natural habitat methods of propagation, cultivation, etc.
This opens up a new industry to persons having the natural aptitude for such work. Of course, the soil and environment must be congenial to the plant grown. A field adapted to growing winter wheat would not be well adapted to growing Peppermint as the soil would be too hard and too dry.
It would also be too-dry for growing the Lady Slippers, but Ginseng and Golden Seal will do very well where good heavy crops of corn and winter wheat can be grown. In fact, these two plants will thrive in any good garden soil where well drained. As we shall show later on, these plants can be grown on good soil and under proper climatic conditions, with a profit that the corn and wheat grower never dreamed of. In fact, a half acre of either is equal in profit to a large farm under the most favorable conditions of stock or grain farming.
The writer began the cultivation of Ginseng in 1899 or fourteen years ago. I have had a very wide range for observations along the line of cultivation, propagation, and marketing of this valuable root. Besides visiting hundreds of gardens, I have had separate beds of wild roots in my garden arranged side by side, each bed containing roots from some one state only. At one time we had one such bed for each state where Ginseng grows wild. A comparison of these beds was very interesting, but more of this later.
It is the history of nearly all wild plants when brought under cultivation to develop a weakness and liability to disease. Ginseng has been no exception. This has been brought about in part by a change of environment, but of all the causes that have brought disease to the Ginseng plant, I think the greatest single element has been too high feeding. Naturally this plant grew among the roots of trees and other large and strong plants. These sapped the fertility from the soil and Ginseng was fed sparingly and made a very slow growth. Taking the plant from this condition and giving it rich garden soil with nothing to steal the fertility from the soil and then covering the beds every fall with from one to three inches of manure proved too much and so enfeebled the constitution that for a time it looked as if the plant would succumb to disease but for two or three years now the growers have been getting the upper hand again and I believe soon everything will be moving along smooth again.
Whether this disease will attack Golden Seal or not I do not know, but I expect it will, as I said before; that is the history of wild plants same as it is of wild people. Take a tribe of Indians from their wild life and educate them and civilize them, giving them the big city to live in and you will kill ninety per cent of them. Spread the transition from wild to civilized life over a half dozen generations and the Indians will not suffer by the change. So we reason if the growers of Golden Seal will "go slow" they may escape the troubles Ginseng growers have had.
I began growing seal in 1902 and so far as I know was the first to grow it to any extent in the garden. There may have been others ahead of me that I do not know of. In this FOREWORD I might say that from actual measured plots of ground at the end of four years I harvested four square rods of seal, washed and dried the roots and sold them at market price and the plot brought at the rate of over $20,000.00 per acre. This plot was set with small wild roots, six by eight inches. This present fall what Golden Seal I harvested was only three years from planting and yielded at market price slightly over $12,000.00 per acre.
While this does not begin to reach what has been done with Ginseng, yet it is a good showing and sufficient to interest anyone adapted to this kind of work. On small plots of Ginseng at six years from planting I have reached as high as 50,000.00 per acre. These two roots are the largest money makers of the list. None of the others will at present bring a price much over fifty cents per pound, and no fabulous amounts need be expected from cultivating small plots until the wild supply is more nearly exhausted than at present. That time will surely come and the drug farmer will do well to, grow some of all kinds to become acquainted and ready to take advantage of his knowledge when the time comes.
This work of growing medicinal roots and such other of nature's products as is to be desired by man and has not yet been cultivated, gives a wide and very fascinating study. Not only that but it can be made very profitable. I think the time has come when the Ginseng and Golden Seal of commerce and medicine will practically all come from the gardens of the cultivators of these plants. I do not see any danger of overproduction. The demand is great and is increasing year by year. Of course, like the rising of a river, the price may ebb and flow, somewhat, but it is constantly going up.
The information contained in the following pages about the habits, range, description and price of scores of root drugs will help hundreds to distinguish the valuable plants from the worthless. In most instances a good photo of the plant and root is given. As Ginseng and Golden Seal are the most valuable, instructions for the cultivation and marketing of same is given in detail. Any root can be successfully grown if the would-be grower will only give close attention to the kind of soil, shade, etc., under which the plant flourishes in its native state.
Detailed methods of growing Ginseng and Golden Seal are given from which it will be learned that the most successful ones are those who are cultivating these plants under conditions as near those as possible which the plants enjoy when growing wild in the forests. Note carefully the nature of the soil, how much sunlight gets to the plants, how much leaf mould and other mulch at the various seasons of the year.
It has been proven that Ginseng and Golden Seal do best when cultivated as near to nature as possible. It is therefore reasonable to assume that all other roots which grow wild and have a cash value, for medicinal and other purposes, will do best when "cultivated" or handled as near as possible under conditions which they thrived when wild in the forests.
Many "root drugs" which at this time are not very valuable—bringing only a few cents a pound—will advance in price and those who wish to engage in the medicinal root growing business can do so with reasonable assurance that prices will advance, for the supply growing wild is dwindling smaller and smaller each year. Look at the prices paid for Ginseng and Golden Seal in 1908 and compare with ten years prior or 1898. Who knows but that in the near future an advance of hundreds of per cent. will have been scored on wild turnip, lady's slipper, crawley root, Canada snakeroot, serpentaria (known also as Virginia and Texas snakeroot), yellow dock, black cohosh, Oregon grape, blue cohosh, twinleaf, mayapple, Canada moonseed, blood-root, hydrangea, crane's bill, seneca snakeroot, wild sarsaparilla, pinkroot, black Indian hemp, pleurisy-root, culver's root, dandelion, etc., etc.?
Of course it will be best to grow only the more valuable roots, but at the same time a small patch of one or more of those mentioned above may prove a profitable investment. None of these are apt to command the high price of Ginseng, but the grower must remember that it takes Ginseng some years to produce roots of marketable size, while many other plants will produce marketable roots in a year.
There are thousands of land owners in all parts of America that can make money by gathering the roots, plants and barks now growing on their premises. If care is taken to only dig and collect the best specimens an income for years can be had.