I'm in the woods a lot during summer. Yes, I know it's hot and sweaty. There's ticks, snakes and poison ivy to contend with. Still, summer is the best time to look for great ginseng habitat and since I'm all about restoring this wonderful herb to our property, I hike the woods in summer. As of this writing it’s mid-June.
Here in the Ozarks, the ginseng plants have green fruit and some still have flowers and no fruit, some have very small fruit and are finished with flowers. The older plants have more berries than the younger ones. All of the berries at this point are still green. I’ll look for them to turn red beginning in July. I’m surprised that with all of the recent rains, there is no mold. Sometimes a white fuzzy mold grows on the stems and flower stalks, but so far not this year.
I planted seeds about six years ago beneath a cedar grove. This is a spot I didn't think it would grow well. It's an experimental colony, and a small one. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t expect to find it growing in this area because the habitat doesn’t seem as if it would be suitable. Only one or two of the companion plants grow there – a few christmas ferns and rattlesnake ferns. The tree cover is mainly cedar, with some ash and maple beginning to regain footing. Many years ago the whole area was cleared for crops or livestock. Now cedar is the predominant tree species, but that will eventually give way to a better mix.
The only things going for this spot, and the reasons why I chose it to test my theory about ginseng growing under cedars are these: the exposure is northern, the shade is dense but not complete, and the moisture level is high but not soggy. It’s on a slope of about 30*, maybe a little less, so the airflow is good.
And the plants are fairing very well. This fall I’ll plant more ginseng by spreading the seeds, and add some of the companions like black cohosh, bloodroot, and goldenseal. Over the years we’ll see what happens.
Please Protect Wild Ginseng
At my blog I share photos of ginseng and ginseng habitat in the hopes of instilling a love for the plant, not the profit to be made from digging the roots. I hope the people who come there for information are influenced by my enthusiasm, and that learning more creates a greater interest in protecting the wild and growing their own. When ginseng is planted in the way I describe, there is absolutely no way to tell the difference between a wild colony and a “virtually-wild” colony, except for genetic testing for origin of the species.
Since digging the roots will soon commence throughout the Ozarks (Sept. 1), please keep the following in mind if you’re planning to harvest wild. If you take 2 or 3 of every 10 mature plants you find, and you replant the RIPE seeds in the same vicinity as the ones you dig, there is generally minimal harm done. A common practice by old-timers is to pull the tops off of the remaining plants (and plant whatever seeds were there in the same area). This keeps anyone coming after you’ve gone from finding and digging more of the same colony. It’s not good for the plants to have this done to them year after year, but it’s better than having 70% or more of the mature plants taken from the colony.
The caveat to the above advice is this:
There are seldom more than 10 mature plants in any one colony anymore. This is why I advocate growing your own, and this is why the plant is on critical footing.
There may be more than 10 mature in an area the size of an acre or two on a hillside, but not so much in areas the size of one colony, or about 200-300 square feet.
In Arkansas, the season to dig doesn’t begin until Sept. 1. I know people dig before that, generally as soon as the berries are ripe. There’s a high penalty for being caught poaching ginseng. Please reconsider digging wild roots. If you have land of your own, you might have areas on it suitable for growing virtually-wild ginseng.
If you think you'd like to try growing your own American Ginseng, here’s a free downloadable tip-sheet for planning to plant ginseng and how to find suitable habitat: http://shop.wildozark.com/?product=planning-plant-ginseng
Here’s a PDF file of the ginseng regulations for Arkansas: http://plantboard.arkansas.gov/PlantIndustry/Documents/ginsengReg.pdf
My blog is at http://www.wildozark.com/madison-woods-blog/. I'd love to see you there if you enjoy reading about the woodland plants, homesteading, or my sometimes off-center musings. Always lots of Ozark photography going on there, too. You can also connect with me at http://www.facebook.com/wildozark and http://www.twitter.com/wildozark.