Thousands of years ago the ancients knew the value of herbs. There were no doctors or dentists, yet people thrived on the preventative medicinal value of plants – the Druids in England, the Chinese in Asia. Indeed, aboriginal peoples all over the world had a knowledge based on phyto nutrients (the preventative medicinal value of plants)… and we are just re-discovering these benefits to our health.
The benefits of ginseng have been known to the people of China for thousands of years and perhaps just as long to the North American Aboriginals. There are two main types of ginseng, Asian ginseng (“Panax ginseng” C.A. Meyer) and North American ginseng (“Panax quinquefolius“). Asian ginseng is native to the areas of Northern China and South Korea.
In 1716, North American ginseng was introduced by the Iroquois Indians to French Jesuits in the area of Lower Canada now known as the province of Quebec. The “discovery” of this root was documented and the root was given its original name (Aurelius canadensis). Shortly after, the root was also discovered in the province of Ontario, Canada and the North-Eastern part of the United States. Often referred to as “Canadian” ginseng or “American” ginseng, both are the same species of plant, more properly called Panax quinquefolius or North American ginseng.
Siberian ginseng (Eleutheroccocus senticosus), which is not strictly related to the two main types of ginseng, is believed by some to posses properties similar to Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius. Siberian ginseng is regarded as the “poor man’s ginseng”.
Additionally some people incorrectly consider Korean red ginseng as a separate type of ginseng. This is definitely not the case. Red ginseng is the result of the processing method used in drying the ginseng root and is responsible for the colouring. More information on ginseng types follows.
Types of ginseng
Korean and Chinese ginseng – Asian ginseng, including Korean, Manchurian, Vietnamese, and Chinese ginseng, is referred to by the scientific name Panax ginseng or “Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer”, after the Russian botanist Carl Anton Meyer who catalogued ginseng in 1843. Asian ginseng is considered to be very “yang”, or warm, and is often used for relatively limited periods of time. It contains roughly half the number of active ginsenocides found in American ginseng, which is considered to be cooler, or more “yin”, and better suited for long term usage. For this reason American ginseng has become very prized in Asia, and most American ginseng is imported to Asian markets.
North American ginseng is known by the scientific name Panax quinquefolius, after the five-leaf formation common to the species. It contains almost twice as many ginsenocides as Asian ginseng, and is highly valued in the orient. Ginseng is native to North America, and has been in use by Native Americans for thousands of years. European settlers have used it since the early 1700s; Daniel Boone use to pick wild ginseng and sell it in colonial NY. By the early 1800s tons of ginseng were already being exported to Asia each year.
Siberian ginseng is not really ginseng at all, but rather it is a distantly-related member of the ivy family. Siberian ginseng, Panax ginseng and Ginseng quinquefolius are all members of the araliaceae family, Siberian ginseng Eleutheroccocus senticosus however belongs to an other genus than “true” ginsengs (Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolius). The active principles in Siberian ginseng, called eleutherosides, are aromatic alcohol aglycones, the ginsenocides in Panax ginseng have triterpenoid aglycones. They appear to have a similar function on the human body, thus making Eleutheroccocus a cheaper substitute for real ginseng.
Ginseng in Australia
American ginseng Panax quinquefolius has been successfully cultivated in Australia since 1984. The first known private commercial growers are Fred and Charlene Hosemans, located at Gembrook, Victoria (since 1984). Tasmania and New Zealand have also run trials in various locations for the last 6 to 8 years. The result of these experiences was the conclusion that ginseng can be grown successfully in the Southern Hemisphere. Today, American ginseng is grown in every Australian state except the Northern Territory. Korean, or Oriental ginseng Panax ginseng is also cultivated. Both species of ginseng are used in Oriental medicine for conditions ranging from fatigue and stress, to stimulation of the auto immune system.
The normal range of wild ginseng is under hardwood forests in mountain regions of North America and Asia. General growing conditions required by ginseng include:
- 65% to 85% sun protection either from trees or artificially provided
- Moist well-drained soil, most soil types from sandy to heavy loam.
- Distinct 4-season climate. Ginseng must have a cold winter to stimulate seeds and roots in order to break dormancy and sprout in the spring.
- 7 to 8 years to mature if grown in a bush environment under natural shade.
- 4 to 5 years to mature if totally under artificial shade.
American ginseng growing in Australia
The Australian ginseng industry requires many more growers to ensure a constant, reliable supply of premium grade ginseng for export to Asian or European markets. Export opportunities exist for fresh and dried ginseng root and value added products manufactured from high quality ginseng. The current price range for artificial shade-grown roots is about $50 to $200 per kilogram, dried. Wild simulated or forest-grown roots can range from $200 to $1800 kg dried. Older roots which resemble wild roots fit into the higher price brackets.
Growing ginseng is not a get rich quick scheme, but with time, patience and experience you can earn a good return from a small area of land. For example, from one acre (0.4ha) you can raise and harvest half a ton (500kg) and if the roots are forest grown, organic, and over 7 years old you could expect $300 per kilogram, for dried roots on the export market. This equates to about $100,000 from one acre after establishment and maintenance costs have been deducted, depending on growing methods and your own circumstances.
It is best to start small (1/10th hectare), attend a growers’ seminar, join a growers’ group, and become a member of the Australian Ginseng Growers Association Inc.
Frequently Asked Questions
Benifits of ginseng:
Opening the mind, strengthening the body, improving memory, increasing vitality, extending endurance, cleansing the body of stress, fighting fatigue, resisting disease, bolstering immunity, balancing metabolism, preventing headaches, treating sleep disorders and overcoming insomnia. Ginseng has had beneficial effects on women suffering post-menopausal symptoms. Ginseng has also demonstrated clinical improvements in virility among men, and effected improvements in conditions of sexual dysfunction for both sexes.
Q1: What is ginseng?
Ginseng is a deciduous perennial native to northern hemisphere countries, highly sought after for its medicinal qualities. There are several species but only two are commercially (and medicinally) significant – Korean ginseng from Asia, and American ginseng from North America and Canada.
Q2: How is ginseng used?
There is much mystery around ginseng, and stories abound in the literature, but its medicinal use and properties have never been a secret. Ginseng is one of the most frequently studied medicinal herbs, with many hundreds of literature references in existence. The earliest records concerning its pharmacological action come from Shen Nung’s Materia Medica, dated around 196 A.D. Korean Ginseng is still used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and while American Ginseng is a relative newcomer, it has for the last 200 years also been recognised in <acronym title=”Traditional Chinese Medicine”>TCM</acronym>. The two species are known to have exceptional medicinal properties and so have the greatest value over other species.
Q3: What does ginseng look like?
A. Ginseng is an branchless perennial, 300 – 600mm tall, bearing a single long stemmed flower cluster. Flowers are greenish-white. Berries are bright red. Leaves are usually 3, borne in a whorl, palmately compound. The leaflets are usually 5 (3 – 7), oblong-ovate to ovate, sharply toothed, petioled. It grows in rich woods. Flowers in December/January. Berries are ripe in March.
Q4: Why grow ginseng?
Ginseng enjoys great demand for export and for domestic consumption.
Q5: Does Ginseng reproduce by seed or by root division?
Ginseng reproduces only by seed, not by root division. The only part of the plant which can grow from the root is that part with an intact “bud”. Other parts broken off will not grow without this bud.
Q6: What type of site does ginseng need?
Ginseng grows best in rich forest environments with about 80% or 85% “tall” shade, on a southern or south-eastern exposure, and on a slope of 3% or greater. It will not tolerate wet soils, but it does need regular moisture.
Q7: Does ginseng grow wild?
Yes, in the USA and Canada, where it is a ‘not so common’ native plant, but not in Australia.
Q8: What is wild ginseng?
“Wild ginseng” means ginseng growing or grown in an uncultivated state or harvested from its natural habitat. Wild ginseng includes ginseng that was introduced to or propagated in its natural habitat by sowing ginseng seed or transplanting ginseng plants from other areas and performing no other standard ginseng horticultural practices.
Q9: Can ginseng be cultivated?
Absolutely. Ginseng has been cultivated in China, Korea and the USA for many years. In recent times (the last 10 years) ginseng has been cultivated in the southern states of Australia with varying degrees of success. The requirement for a cool climate and an abundance of shade are limiting factors for the cultivation of ginseng.
Q10: What is “Woods-grown” ginseng?
“Woods-grown” ginseng means ginseng growing or grown in managed beds under natural shade.
Q11: What’s the difference between cultivated and wild ginseng?
It’s the same species, American ginseng, whose scientific name is Panax quinquefolius. Woods-grown ginseng takes about seven to ten years to mature. Cultivated ginseng is much faster growing and is harvestable at three years. The wild kind is more sought after by the Chinese, however cultivated ginseng is in demand as well.
Q12: Where is it marketed?
Australian ginseng can be sold into the Asian markets or for local consumption. The increasing awareness and use of traditional remedies and a growing Asian community within Australia are increasing the demand for a quality locally-grown product.
Q13: Where can I get more information about growing ginseng in Australia?
You may like to download some of our fact sheets from our members’ downloads page.