From Riches to Rarity
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has a rich history in North America. Native Americans used the roots medicinally for years, and European colonists quickly revered the roots as well. American ginseng was one of the earliest American exports to China. Entrepreneurs such as John Jacob Astor bought and sold roots to amass their fortunes. Even today, American ginseng is prized for its medicinal qualities and is still harvested and sold internationally. In the early days of the American ginseng trade, ginseng was abundant throughout much of the deciduous forests in the eastern United States. Unfortunately, it has dramatically declined throughout much of its range.
Description and Range
American ginseng is a slow growing, long lived understory plant found within eastern deciduous forests of North America. Ginseng begins its lifecycle as a seedling with a single compound leaf (also known as a prong). As the plant ages, it typically forms more prongs. Juvenile plants tend to have two prongs while adult plants tend to have 3 to 4 prongs. Rarely, adult ginseng plants can have 5 or more prongs.
American ginseng seedling (left), juvenile (middle) and adult (right)
A single cluster of American Ginseng flowers. aka unbrelGinseng generally takes 3 to 8 years to reach sexual maturity. Sexually mature (or reproductive) plants will produce a single cluster of flowers, also known as an umbel, in early spring. The flowers on the outside of the umbel open first while