Growing Your Own Ginseng

Ginseng can be a wonderful curative and nutritional addition to your life, but growing it takes patience, patience, patience.

Herbal and other natural remedies continue to be popular choices for the consumer who wants to stay healthy and active. Ginseng is one such option, offering reported benefits of increased energy and curative properties. Other purported benefits include aiding in digestion and metabolism and reducing feelings of stress. Panax ginseng (more commonly known as Korean or Asian ginseng) is the one that most people point to when it comes to health gains.

If you're an avid fan of natural health and organic foods, you may be thinking: I should plant some ginseng. But if you're going to try to cultivate this ancient Asian remedy yourself, you are going to have to also cultivate a Zen-like patience.

That's because ginseng takes years to mature. In fact, it can take eight to 10 years for a ginseng root to reach its full potential, and the earliest it should be harvested is five or six years after seeds are planted. (The plant isn't completely unusable during that time, though. During the growing period, the leaves can be used for teas.)

Ready to take the plunge and make the commitment? Well, let's go over the basics of growing this venerable root.

First off, understand that ginseng can be grown from seeds, seedlings or roots. You can even transplant ginseng you might find growing wild in woodland areas into prepared beds. This is good news for the more impatient growers. If you can locate or purchase seedlings and roots, you can shave several years off the process. Simply plant separate beds of seeds, 1-year-old seedlings, 2-year-old seedlings, 3-year-old seedlings and roots. You should be able to harvest your first crop (from the bed planted with roots) in two to four years after planting. Then, because of your other beds, each year after that first harvest another crop will mature.

You should plant seeds in the spring as soon as the soil can be tilled. Those seeds should be scarified or partially germinated. Plant 8 inches apart from one another. Cover the seeds with an inch or an inch-and-a-half of forest soil if you can, or possibly well-rotted hickory or basswood sawdust if you cannot. Basically, you want soil that is moist, loamy and well-drained. Soil that is high in organic matter, has a pH level of 4.5 to 5.5 and has high calcium content is also recommended by many growers. Organic humus is said to work well. If the bed will be on flat ground, a good way to maintain proper drainage is to mound the center of the bed. Also, any walkways in the planting area should be sloped so that they will drain water from the beds during heavy rains.

If you're planting seedlings, they too should be planted 8 inches apart in permanent beds during the spring.

You can plant roots anytime between October and April, after soil has been tilled, but fall is considered the best time to plant roots. Again, space them 8 inches apart, but also 2 inches below the surface of the planting bed.

Shade is essential to growing ginseng. The plants need 70 to 80 percent shade (perhaps as high as 90 or 95 percent in very hot regions).

If you live in the right place with enough land, the best way to locate your seed beds is to have them in a hardwood forest where there are tall trees that provide good shade and minimal undergrowth. If you need to grow your ginseng in a lath shed, maintain similar drainage and shade conditions that would exist in a woodland area.

Once you plant the ginseng, you don't do much else. This is a low-maintenance plant and many experts recommend that they less you do to the plant, the better the final result will be. It is said that ginseng doesn't grow well on sites that previously have grown the root.

When that magic day arrives years later for the first harvest, give the same care to uprooting the ginseng as you did to planting and cultivating it. Dig the roots with their forks intact and carefully knock away any soil clinging to them. Don't scrape or scrub them. If you plan to keep them around for your own use, you may want to consider drying the roots to keep them from going bad later.

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