A fleshy-rooted herbaceous plant native to this country, ginseng was at one time of frequent occurrence in shady, well-drained sites in hardwood forests from Maine to Minnesota and southward to the Carolinas and Georgia.
Mature ginseng plants are between ten and 20 inches high, with five-fingered leaves and small yellow green flowers that develop over a three-year maturation cycle.
Although most claims of the medicinal properties of ginseng roots are not widely accepted in this country, the herb has become a popular item in health food stores today, and is commonly consumed in teas and as a food flavoring.
Ginseng takes its name from the Chinese word, sclzinseng, meaning man shaped. This refers to the form ginseng roots often assume. Ancient Chinese medicine regarded ginseng as tonic, stimulant and carminative.
First cultivated in America in the eighteenth century, the herb was valued as a commodity sought by Indians and Americans like. Today, the wild ginseng trade has inclined, but domestic cultivation has inert and many by-products are commonly fox gourmet shops and health food stores thin out the country.
One serious problem in cultivating ginseng is the length of time it takes to grow a marketable root. The seed may take from 18 to 24 months to germinate, even longer for the plant to mature. Gardeners who start with immature plants must often wait four to six years.
Another consideration is the quality soil required to successfully cultivate ginseng. The soil must be fairly light and well fertilized with woods earth, rotted leaves or fine bone meal, with the bone meal applied at a rate of one pound to each square yard. It is planted in spring as early as the soil can be worked to advantage. It is placed six in. apart each way in the permanent beds or by six inches in seedbeds, and the seeds are transplanted to stand six to eight in. apart when two years old. The roots of ginseng plants, especially in woodland, are some damaged by mice. Protection from rodents may be necessary. The beds should all times be kept free from weeds and the surface of the soil slightly stirred whenever it shows signs of caking. In winter it should be applied when freezing weather begins and removed early in spring.
The root should be collected only when it will be plumpest after drying. The roots are plunged into hot water, and steamed. This makes them appear semitransparent, enhancing their value for exportation.
Most people consider the Chinese claim of ginseng’s medicinal value to be mythology. In the United States, the herb is still cultivated mainly for export to China. Russians, however, are trying to verify Chinese through research and promotion of their herb, which they possesses medicinal qualities similar to ginseng, particularly as a relaxant.