The medicinal benefits of Panax ginseng have been known in the East for thousands of years. And with modern science beginning to discover just how powerful this humble root truly is, it should come as no surprise that high quality ginseng can still fetch hundreds of dollars per pound on the open market. Whether you wish to grow ginseng for your own personal use, or for commercial sale, a patient grower can follow the steps below to learn how to grow ginseng and to cultivate their own ginseng garden.
How to Grow Ginseng - Location
1. Wild Cultivation Vs. Field Cultivation the most practical ginseng growing method is a “wild-simulated” garden. Using this method, you will work to replicate ginsengs natural growing environment as closely as possible. Now, this method of cultivation will take some time, as wild-growing ginseng can take up to 7 years or more to reach maturity. But unlike the commercial “field-growing” method of cultivation, where plants reach maturity in as little as 4 years, wild-grown ginseng is a much heartier plant, with richer concentrations of beneficial compounds, and a much more appealing appearance.
2. Will ginseng grow in your environment? Wild-grown ginseng thrives in cool, temperate climates with an average annual rainfall between 20-40 inches. If you live in North America, the ideal climate for ginseng growth can be found in the Cascadia region of the Pacific Northwest, and the mountainous regions of the South, such as the Appalachian foothills.
3. Get the necessary licenses and permits to legally establish your ginseng garden. The laws regarding growing and selling ginseng vary from state to state. Contact your local department of agriculture and commerce department to ensure that you have all the necessary licenses and permits to start your garden. In some states there are laws establishing at what age ginseng can be legally harvested. For example, in Illinois a ginseng plant cannot be harvested until it has reached 10 years of age, and has sprouted 4 leaves.
If you wish to sell the ginseng you harvest, it may be worth getting your garden get certified as organic, as this will increase your ginseng’s market value.
4. Setting up your Garden Your ginseng garden needs to be well shaded by deep rooted, hardwood trees. Oak, Sugar Maple, and tulip poplar are ideal trees to grow your ginseng under. You might assume that any large trees or bushes will provide adequate shade, but areas with thick undergrowth and shallow roots will “choke out” your ginseng plants, depriving them of the moisture and nutrients needed for healthy growth.
There are a number of other plants that thrive in similar conditions to ginseng. If you see any of the following plants growing in your prospective cultivation site, it’s a good indicator that the area is well suited for your ginseng garden: Solomon’s seal, jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium, goldenseal, wild ginger, cohosh, rattlesnake ferns, and wild yam.
The soil in your ginseng garden should be moist and quick draining. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze. Does it stick to your fingers and form a ball? If so, this is a sign that the soil contains too much water or clay and is thus not well suited for ginseng growth.
Ginseng grows best in acidic soil with a pH value between 4.5 and 5.5. You can have a professional analyze the suitability of your garden’s soil by collecting and submitting samples from around your garden site. You’ll also want to make sure that the soil contains .035 kg of calcium per square meter and .01 kg of phosphorus per square meter. Fortunately, the chemistry of your garden’s soil is not set in stone. Fertilizers such as gypsum can be added to increase the soil’s pH, and calcium carbonate can be added to increase the amount of calcium. If you wish to keep with the wild-simulated method of cultivation, no fertilizers can be mixed in with the soil, but by spacing out the ginseng plants, you can naturally increase the amount of soil nutrient available to each plant.
How To Grow Ginseng - Prepping Seeds
1. Obtaining your seeds Because harvesting wild ginseng may be prohibited in your area, you may have to obtain Panax ginseng seeds from a vender. Check with local growers to see if they can sell you seeds, and if that option is unavailable, you can purchase the seeds online. The more expensive option is to purchase cold stratified seeds, which will be ready to plant immediately. However, if you would rather start from scratch, you can purchase “green” seeds, which will take months of preparation before they can go in the ground.
One thing to keep in mind is that the highest quality seeds will sell out fast when planting time comes, so make sure to purchase your seeds during the summer months.
2. Storing your seeds The seeds of the Panax ginseng plant are delicate, and must be kept moist while you wait for planting season. If you bought pre-stratified seeds in advance, store them in your refrigerator in either a glass container or a plastic bag and mist them with pure water weekly until you are ready to plant.
3. Stratifying your seeds If you harvested your ginseng seeds from wild plants, or if you purchased “green” seeds, you will need to perform a process known as stratification. Stratification occurs when the seeds strip themselves of their fleshy outer-berry in anticipation of sprouting.
There are two recommended methods of stratification you can choose, depending on the number of seeds you wish to prepare.
If you plan on using a small number of seeds for your garden, simply place the seeds in a lightweight pouch made of thin wire mesh. Tie the pouch with metal wire and burry it 5 inches deep in loose soil that is well shaded. Cover your pouch with fine mulch and lightly mist with water. This process should be completed during the fall, giving the seeds a years’ time to mature.
If you plan on stratifying a large number of seeds at one time, build a large wooden box with the top and bottom made of fine wire mesh. The exact dimensions are not important, but 12 inches in depth is a good benchmark. In the box, apply alternating layers of damp sand and seeds. Next, burry the wooden box 2 inches below the soil and cover with mulch. Water the area around the box if the soil ever appears to dry out, and plant a landmark so you don’t lose track of your seed box.
4. Check on your seeds during the spring During the spring, dig up your stratification box and see if any of the seeds have begun to sprout. Sprouting seeds should be planted immediately. To do this, follow the steps below in the planting your seeds section.
Most of your seeds should still be in the middle of the stratification process, so place them back in your wooden box and rebury it until fall.
5. Prepare your un-sprouted seeds for planting In the beginning of fall, you’ll dig up your wooden stratification box for the last time. After you remove all of the remaining seeds, you may notice that not all of them have begun sprouting. Take all of the un-sprouted seeds and soak them in a mixture made of 1-part bleach to 9-parts water. 10 minutes of soaking time should be plenty to kill any unwanted pathogens. Any floating seeds are dead and should be thrown away. After a quick water rinse your seeds are ready for planting
How to Grow Ginseng - Planting and Caring for Your Garden
1. Putting the seeds in the ground. Before planting your ginseng seeds, clear your garden area of any dead leaves and remove any nearby fern plants.
After the garden is prepared, plant each seed approximately 8 inches apart. As the ginseng plants grow, you don’t want them to crowd in on each other and compete for vital nutrients. Planting seeds at this distance is also a protective measure against the spread of disease between plants. Instead of burying your ginseng seeds in the soil, after placing them on the surface of the soil simply spread a 1-2 inch layer of fine mulch over the seeds. Double the amount of mulch during the winter if your area is prone to frequent frosting, as this will protect the seeds from the cold air.
2. Mark your spot (with discretion) Your ginseng plants will take up to 7 years to reach full maturity, so you’ll need to remember where your garden is. Either add a landmark that only you will recognize, or apply a precise GPS coordinate for your records. Be subtle, and don’t make your garden obvious, as ginseng poachers would love to cash in on the fruits of your labor.
3. Managing your garden As your ginseng plants grow, they may begin to crowd each other for space. By the second year of growth, you should have no more than 2 ginseng plants per square foot of soil.
If any plants look to be growing at a much slower rate than the other, you may want to simply discard them. If, however, you have healthy plants that are just growing a bit too close, delicately transfer one of the plants to a different spot in the garden.
Wait to perform this process until the middle or end of spring. During the fall, the part of the plant that grows above the surface will die back, but the roots are still very much alive and growing. Check on your garden periodically to make sure your plants are healthy, and that they are covered in a thin layer of either mulch or fallen leaves. Using the wild-simulated approach to ginseng cultivation takes patience, but the major benefit is that it is very low maintenance, and should not require the use of pesticides.
How to Grow Ginseng - Harvesting Your Crop
1. Pulling the ginseng from your garden. After the 7-year mark, if all went well your ginseng is ready for harvest! Remember, the longer you leave the ginseng in the ground, the larger the roots will grow. But after so many years of waiting you’ll probably want to harvest your bounty as soon as possible!
Take a needle-nose spade and carefully excavate the dirt around the base of the ginseng plant. Keep in mind that ginseng tends to grow diagonally in the soil, not straight up and down. Move too quickly, or with too much force and you risk damaging the prized root structures.
2. Cleaning and drying the roots After collecting the roots, run them under gently flowing room-temperature water to remove any excess soil. Then, place the cleaned roots on a wooden rack in a well ventilated space. This space should be heated to between 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit and have low humidity. Don’t allow any of the roots to make direct contact with each other during the drying process, as this can encourage the growth of mold and fungus.
Let your roots sit in this room until they are fully dried and ready to consume or sell. A quick way to tell if the roots are fully dried is by bending them. When a root snaps cleanly when bent, it is fully dried. While thin roots may take only a day or two to dry, thicker roots can require up to several weeks. It may be tempting to speed up this process by exposing the roots to head or direct sunlight, but this can damage both the ginsengs financial and medicinal value.