Chapter 14. Ginseng—Government Description, Etc.

Fig. 43. Panax (Aralia) quinquefolium. The following is from a bulletin issued by the U. S. Department of Agriculture—Bureau of Plant Industry—and edited by Alice Henkel:

Panax Quinquefolium

OTHER COMMON NAMES—American Ginseng, sang, redberry, five-fingers.

HABITAT AND RANGE—Ginseng is a native of this country, its favorite haunts being the rich, moist soil in hardwood forests from Maine to Minnesota southward to the mountains of northern Georgia and Arkansas. For some years Ginseng has been cultivated in small areas from central New York to Missouri.

DESCRIPTION OF PLANT—Ginseng is an erect perennial plant growing from 8 to 15 inches in height and bearing three leaves at the summit, each leaf consisting of five thin, stalked ovate leaflets, long pointed at the apex, rounded or narrow at the base, the margins toothed; the three upper leaflets are largest and the two lower ones smaller. From 6 to 20 greenish yellow flowers are produced in a cluster during July and August, followed later in the season by bright crimson berries. It belongs to the Ginseng family (Araliaceae.)

DESCRIPTION OF ROOT—Ginseng has a thick, spindle-shaped root, 2 to 3 inches long or more, and about one-half to 1 inch in thickness, often branched, the outside prominently marked with circles or wrinkles. The spindle-shaped root is simple at first, but after the second year it usually becomes forked or branched, and it is the branched root, especially if it resembles the human form, that finds particular favor in the eyes of the Chinese, who are the principal consumers of this root.

Ginseng root has a thick, pale yellow white or brownish yellow bark, prominently marked with transverse wrinkles, the whole root fleshy and somewhat flexible. If properly dried, it is solid and firm. Ginseng has a slight aromatic odor, and the taste is sweetish and mucilaginous.

COLLECTION AND USES—The proper time for digging Ginseng root is in autumn, and it should be carefully washed, sorted and dried. If collected at any other season of the year, it will shrink more and not have the fine, plump appearance of the fall dug root.

The National Dispensatory contains an interesting item concerning the collection of the root by the Indians. They gather the root only after the fruit has ripened, and it is said that they bend down the stem of ripened fruit before digging the root, covering the fruit with earth, and thus providing for future propagation. The Indians claim that a large percentage of the seeds treated in this way will germinate.

Altho once official in the United States Pharmacopoeia, from 1840 to 1880, it is but little used medicinally in this country except by the Chinese residents, most of the Ginseng produced in this country being exported to China. The Chinese regard Ginseng root as a panacea. It is on account of its commercial prominence that it is included in this paper.

CULTIVATION—There is probably no plant that has become better known, at least by name, during the past ten years or more than Ginseng. It has been heralded from north to south and east to west as a money-making crop. The prospective Ginseng grower must not fail to bear in mind, however, that financial returns are by no means immediate. Special conditions and unusual care are required in Ginseng cultivation, diseases must be contended with, and a long period of waiting is in store for him before he can realize on his crop.

Either roots or seeds may be planted, and the best success with Ginseng is obtained by following as closely as possible the conditions of its native habitat. Ginseng needs a deep, rich soil, and being a plant accustomed to the shade of forest trees, will require shade, which can be supplied by the erection of lath sheds over the beds. A heavy mulch of leaves or similar well rotted vegetable material should be applied to the beds in autumn.

If roots are planted, they are set in rows about 8 inches apart and 8 inches apart in the row. In this way a marketable product will be obtained sooner than if grown from seed. The seed is sown in spring or autumn in drills 6 inches apart and about 2 inches apart in the row. The plants remain in the seed bed for two years and are then transplanted, being set about 8 by 8 inches apart. It requires from five to seven years to obtain a marketable crop from the seed. Seed intended for sowing should not be allowed to dry out, as this is supposed to destroy its vitality.

PRICE—The price of wild Ginseng roots ranges from $5.00 a pound upward. The cultivated root generally brings a lower price than the wild root, and southern Ginseng roots are worth less than those from northern localities.

EXPORTS—The exports of Ginseng for the year ended June 30, 1906, amounted to 160,949 pounds, valued at $1,175,844.

Ginseng and Other Medicinal Plants, 1936, was written by A. R. Harding.