Ginseng is most often related to Chinese medicine. In reality, however, there are two other species of ginseng, one from the U.S. and another from Siberia. Wherever it is from, the fact of the matter is that ginseng has to grow for a long time — five to ten years — before it is harvested, and it brings top dollar for growers and, more so, for foragers.
Ginseng is highly prized for its root, which is said to resemble the human body when it (the root) is fully developed. It’s a beloved herbal medicine, known to be beneficial for diabetics, decrease blood sugar levels, boost immune systems, as well as having anti-aging chemicals. However, ginseng does have specific effects on blood pressure, which are enhanced when accompanied with caffeine, so it is important to err on the side of caution when using it.
In the U.S., for those with sharp eyes, a keen awareness of their whereabouts, and an affinity for being in the forest, it is entirely possible to forage ginseng, but it’s also incredibly important to do so responsibly.
Chinese (or Korean) ginseng and American ginseng are, by far, the better known of the three varieties, and supposedly, they provide somewhat opposite effects. The Korean version is said to be stimulating, with a warming influence, what is referred to as “yang”. American ginseng, however, is “yin” and believe to have a calming, cooling effect.
Regardless, both varieties are from the same family, Araliaceae, and they are perennial plants, meaning that — unlike many food plants — they don’t die after a season and have to be replanted. They grow in cool, temperate climates (the northeastern side of the U.S. and southeastern Canada, stretching west to Oklahoma and north to Minnesota), and unusually, ginseng prefers to grow beneath dense forest canopies.
Like most plants, ginseng has particular growing conditions, and unlike most plants, it is typically very fussy about it. Besides the shade, ginseng likes acidic soil, which is common for forests. The soil needs...