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WildSimulatedForestFarmingforGinsengProduction

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Wild-Simulated Forest Farming for Ginseng Production

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AmericanGinseng(Panaxquinquefolius)isafamiliarplanttomanypeoplein
theAppalachianregion.Forseveralgenerations"diggingsang"hasbeenan
enjoyableandprofitableactivityformanymountainpeople.In1995,wilddried
rootsofginsengsoldforasmuchas$470perpound.Thatpricehastripledin
the last ten years. In 1995, quite a few pounds of cultivated dried ginseng
rootssoldfor$20perpound.Thatpricehasbeenreducedbyhalfinthelast
tenyears.
Why should there be such a difference in the prices paid for wild and
cultivatedginseng?Nearlyalloftheginseng,grownorgatheredfromthewild
in the United States, is exported to oriental countries for sale. Ginseng
growers and gatherers in the US. and Canada produced about four million

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pounds of ginseng for export to the Orient in 1994. Apparently the Chinese
ByAndyHankins

peoplepreferwildginsengovercultivatedbecauseitmorecloselyresembles
thereveredwildOrientalGinseng(Panaxginseng).TheChinesebelievethat
the slowergrowing wild roots, which are harvested at an older age, absorb

morecurativepowerfromtheforestfloor.
Anyonewhoknowsginsengcaneasilytellthedifferencebetweenwildandcultivatedroots.Thewildrootsaredarktan
incolor,gnarledinappearanceandshowmanyconcentricgrowthrings.Wildrootsaregenerallysmallinsizeandlight
inweight.Thecultivatedrootsarecreamcolored,smoothandfat,andexhibitfewconcentricgrowthrings.Cultivated
rootsareoftenlargeandheavy.TheOrientalbuyershavequiteanelaborategradingsystemforthedriedrootsthey
purchase.

Intensive Cultivation
Approximately 3,800 acres of ginseng are grown in intense cultivation under artificial shade in Wisconsin. Under
intense cultivation the roots grow quickly to a harvestable size. Four year old roots are very commonly harvested.
Yieldsashighas2,500poundsofdriedrootperacrehavebeenreported.Establishmentcostsforoneacreofginseng
beds,underwoodlathshadeorunderpolypropyleneshadecloth,variesfrom$20,000to$30,000dependinguponthe
currentpricesofmaterialsneeded.
Thegreatestproblemassociatedwithintenselycultivatedginsengisdisease,includingalternariablight,dampingoff
andphytophthora.Anydiseaseoutbreaksseverelythreatenginsengunderintensecultivationbecausetheplantsare
so close together that the disease can spread quickly through the entire bed. This intense fungus disease pressure
forcesartificialshadegrowerstouseavigorousfungicidesprayscheduletopreventlosses.

Wild-Simulated
A method called wildsimulated cultivation can be used to grow ginseng without fungicide sprays and expensive
establishment costs. The prices paid for ginseng grown under wildsimulated cultivation are normally the same as
pricespaidforwildginsengroots.Whileginsenggrowingisveryrisky,wildsimulatedginsengcultivationcanpotentially
providesupplementalincomeforpersonswhohavepatience,perseveranceanddiscretion.
To grow wildsimulated ginseng, the first step is site selection. The most favorable temperature and soil moisture
conditionsgenerallyareassociatedwithnorthoreastfacingslopeswithatleasta75percentshadecanopy.Thebest
shade is provided by deep rooted, deciduous trees such as poplars and oaks. Ginseng grows best in a moist, well

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shade is provided by deep rooted, deciduous trees such as poplars and oaks. Ginseng grows best in a moist, well
drainedsoil.
SuccessfulgrowthofginsengmostoftenoccursinsiteswhereherbaceouswoodlandplantssuchasJackinthepulpit,
bloodroot,Solomon'ssealandfernsaregrowing.Ifnoherbaceousplantsaregrowingontheforestdoor,ginsengwill
probablynotgrowthere.Excellentsoildrainageisessential.
In the wildsimulated method, stratified ginseng seed is planted in the fall when the trees lose their leaves. In some
locations,clearingofundergrowthwillbenecessary.Ifthesiteissufficientlyshaded,thereshouldnotbeagreatdeal
ofcompetitiveweedgrowth.Thisisanextensive(asopposedtointensive)plantingmethod.Ifdensepatchesofweeds
exist on the site, simply avoid them and plant in other areas. It is desirable to disturb the site as little as possible to
reducethespreadoffungusdiseases.
Theonlytoolsneededtoplantwildsimulatedginsengarearakeandagardenhoe.Itisagoodideatoplantseedsin
definedbedsthatare5feetwideand50feetlong.Thebedsshouldbeseparatedbythreefootwidewalkways.The
bedsshouldrunupanddownthesloperatherthanacrosstheslopeforbetterairdrainagearoundtheplants.Rake
theleavesontheforestfloorawayfromthebedrightdowntothetopsoil.Usingthehoe,makethreenarrowfurrows
13inchesapart,allthewaydownthelengthofthebed.
Plantginsengseeds,byhand,threeinchesapartineachfurrowAboutoneounceor500seedswillbeneededtoplant
threefurrowsatthisspacinginabedthatis5feetwideand50feetlong.Covertheseedswith3/4inchofsoil.After
planting,carefullystepdowneachrowtofirmthesoilaroundtheseeds.Tofinishtheplanting,rakeoneinchofleaves
back over the bed as a mulch. After a couple of rain storms, no one will be able to detect that any planting has
occurred.Thesitewilllookcompletelynatural.
The stratified seed will germinate the next spring. The plants will look like three small strawberry leaves on a stem
aboutoneinchtall.Someoftheginsengseedswillnotgerminateandsomewillbeeatenbyrodents.Overthenext
sevenyears,theplantpopulationineachbedwillbereducedeveryyearbyvariousnaturalforces.Thefinalstandwill
beathin,healthypopulationofwildginsengplants.
Inthewildsimulatedmethod,afterplanting,nomoreworkisrequireduntiltheginsengrootsaredugsixtotenyears
later.Theginsengplantsarelefttothevagariesofnature.Weedsontheforestdoorwillcompetewiththeplantsfor
waterandnutrients.Insectsandrodentswillattackcertainplants.Fungusdiseasesinfectginsengplantsfromtimeto
time.Severeweathermayreduceplantgrowth.Allofthesestressfulconditionsresultinawildappearanceoftheroots
that are eventually harvested. Digging the roots will be difficult work because they often become entwined with the
rootsofotherwoodlandplants.Theharvestedrootsshouldbeairdriedintheshade.

Investment
The investment in a half acre of wildsimulated ginseng is $800.00 for 10 pounds of stratified seeds and 20 days of
labor.Ahalfacrewillproduceanywherefrom0to200poundsofdriedrootsinsixtotenyears.Thenaturalfertilityof
theparticularplantingsitewilldetermineboththequantityandthequalityoftheginsengthatcanbegrownthere.
Thegreatestthreattothecropistheft.Ginsengshouldnotbeplantedinareaswherepeoplegotodigwildginseng.In
someregions,ginsenghunterscombthemountainseveryfalllookingforwildginseng.Thesehunterswillcertainlybe
excitediftheycomeacrossadensepopulationofplants.Somehowcultivatedginsengplantsareoftenconsidered"fair
game"bywildgatherers.Finesforstealingginsengarenegligible.Thewildsimulatedmethodofgrowingginsengis
bestpracticedonlandswhereaccessiscontrolled.Itishighlyrecommendedthatanyoneattemptingtogrowginseng
thisway,keepquietabouttheenterprise.
Idealgrowingconditionsforginsengaremoredifficulttofindinlowlyingregionsthantheyareinthemountains.The
forestfloorinmostwoodlandareasistoohotanddryduringthesummerforginsengtosurvive.Microenvironments
maybefound,however,thataregood,ifnotperfect,placesforginsengtogrow.Smallpocketsofcoolersoilmaybe
foundveryoftenonanorthfacinghillsideaboveastreamorriver.ManyVirginialandownersaresuccessfullygrowing
ginsengwelloutofthemountains.

Marketing
Forseveraldecades,nativesoftheSouthernAppalachianregionhaveharvestednaturalplantmaterialsfromthewild
forsaletothemanymedicinalherbbuyersintheregion.Veryoftenthesebuyersoperatesmallgrocerystores.There
isatleastonebuyerineverytowninsouthwestVirginia.Productsmostcommonlytradedareginseng,blackcohosh,
bloodroot,goldenseal,ladyslipper,mayappleandslipperyelm.
The local person, who buys the roots, bark, leaves or seeds from medicinal plants, often also buys furs and hides.
Thesesmallbuyers,inturn,selltheplantmaterialstheypurchasetoregionalbrokerswhoeitherexportthematerials
totheOrientorsellthemdirectlytopharmaceuticalcompaniesintheUnitedStates.
Asnativewildpopulationsofthesemedicinalplantsdisappearduetooverharvesting,potentialincreasesforprofitable
sale of cultivated woodland medicinal plants. Indeed, many small landowners throughout the region have already

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sale of cultivated woodland medicinal plants. Indeed, many small landowners throughout the region have already
successfully grown and sold these plants. There is never any problem marketing the products they grow. Prices
fluctuate, of course, but the market channels developed years ago for sale of wild harvested plant materials can
reliablybeusedforsaleofanycultivatedmedicinalherbsincurrentdemand.
WrittenbyAndyHankins,VirginiaStateUniversity
ParentCategory:1997Vol.5
Category:Vol.5No.1January1997
Published:12March2014
forestfarming economics

nontimberforestproducts establishment marketing

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