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Panax quinquefolius

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Panax quinquefolius photo

Latin Name: Panax quinquefolius

Common Name: American Ginseng, Sang, Seng

Chinese Name: Xi Yang Shen

Family: Araliaceae

Energy: Slightly Cool, Moist

Taste: Sweet, Bitter

Parts Used: Root, Leaf

Habitat: American ginseng is a woodland plant, native to eastern North America. It likes the same kind of forest that grows tulip poplars, full shade with rich humus forest floor soil.

Type: Herbaceous perennial.

Size: 12"-20"

Spacing for Production: Plants seem to self-thin to about 1' apart. They do not like to touch each other.

Site and Zone: Mixed deciduous woodland forest floor, full-shade, Z4, Z5, Z6, Z7. Ginseng requires 1000 hours of winter chill below 50 degrees. It likes a North-facing or East-facing slope. Does not like conifer forests as well, although some growers have had success under pines.

Soil: Soil must be rich-soil and well-drained-soil with a high-humus-soil. Acid-soil is best with pH 5.5 to 6.5. It likes a little lime or ashes if the soil is very acid. Hates-clay.

Will it Grow in Texas?: Maybe in wooded areas of northern East Texas. But it probably would not be very good medicinally. It needs to be grown in the right ecosystem. It needs at least 100 days of winter with soils below 50 degrees to do well and at least 20" of rainfall per year. Try growing Holy Basil or Jiao Gu Lan instead for a good adaptogen that likes heat.

Propagation: Direct sow seeds on the woodland floor in the fall. Seed rate is about 15# per acre. Seed take 18 to 20 months to germinate because of the heavy seed coat and require very specific conditions, such as passage through an animal and/or rotting under a heavy layer of leaf mulch, to break down the seed coverings. The seed can be stratified to break down the outer coating by washing the seeds and then burying them in damp sand for a year before planting. Other stratification methods include washing the seeds, putting them in the freezer and then sandpapering them. Stratified seed planted in summer or fall will sprout the following spring. Ginseng can also be propagated by transplants which are grown in the nursery with close spacing for the first two years. Transplanting in the fall is best. One year old or 2-3 year old roots are available for sale. To establish a nice patch, plant out 2- to 4-dozen plants every year. The will start to produce seed after 8 to 9 years.

Bugs & Problems: Knowledgable herbalists have recently tested the mass produced supplements and found that 80% of American Ginseng sold in the US is not American Ginseng. Know your source. Ginseng cultivated outside its natural habitat under shade cloth is highly susceptible to Gingseng blight (Alternaria panax) which has resulted in heavy use of fungicides in the industry. Animals of all kinds know a good thing, so will eat your buds and roots. Some growers build steel mesh beds in which to grow their American Ginseng in the forest floor. Theft is a problem in wooded areas where Gingseng grows in eastern US.

Bloom time: Blooms in the spring and berries are ripe and red in mid-September.

Landscaping: Wild American Ginseng is an endangered plant.

Collection: Folklore says the older the root, the more valuable medicinally. Should not be harvested before at least 7 years. Harvest in mid-September. The active ingredients tend to disappear by late fall.

Storage: Dry the roots slowly over two weeks. Store whole. Powders lose potency quickly.

Websites for photos and more info:
Medical Herb Production Guide by Greenfield and Davis
An excellent source is Richo Cech's book Growing At-Risk Medicinal Herbs, but it's out of print and more expensive these days.
Producing and Marketing Wild Simulated Ginseng in Forest and Agroforestry Systems
American Ginseng Production in Woodlots

Other Notes:

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