I have several “pet” ginseng plants. I know where they grow and I’m not telling anyone. I like to check on them to see how they’re doing and when they produce their red seed pods around this time of year, I plant them to spur future growth. Seeds need 18+ months to germinate so if ‘m lucky, this year’s seeds will sprout in the spring of 2022.
Ginseng is not for those in a hurry.
The native plant is prized for all kinds of curative properties from preventing the flu to acting as an aphrodisiac. In the Orient, the fact that the root is often shaped like a man with a body, arms, and legs, makes folks believe it has all sorts of body-related benefits. Another name for it is manroot. It’s relatively common in Appalachia, although the fact that you can get $500 or more for a pound of the dried root has caused over-harvesting.
Enter sang hunters.
There are lots of regulations around how and when the roots can be harvested. Plants should be five years old or older before they’re harvested. If you plan to export the root, it has to be 10 or more years old. How do you know how old a plant is? The first year, there will be just one, compound leaf typically with three leaflets. After about five years, the plant should be at least a foot tall and will have four or more leaves each with five leaflets. The plant pictured above with three leaves, each bearing five leaflets is probably three or four years old. Not ready for harvesting.
If you look closely, you’ll see a wee crown right in the center. That’s where tiny flowers gave way to red berries with two seeds each inside. They’ve been planted now.
Ginseng found its way into my latest story. Even in the 1930s digging it was a way to raise some extra cash. And it’s ripe with story potential–poaching, stealing, the solitary act of hunting through the woods, the art of digging the plant so as to keep the root undamaged and intact . . . it’s an art and a mystery.
Just the sort of thing I love to write about.