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Page 2 - The Sang Diggers. Perspective from early America
The Cultivation Of Ginseng
Much interest has of late been shown in ginseng. The high price the dried roots command, coupled with a never-failing demand for them,and the further fact that it is fast becoming extinct in a wild state all combine to render the question of its cultivation a practical one. Ginseng (Araliaquinquefolia) may be found in nearly every state in the Union, east of the Rocky mountains. It delights in the rich, shady soil of hardwood forests, and usually makes its appearance about the middle of spring. It develops rapidly, and, when fully expanded, forms a most beautiful plant, although there is nothing striking in its small. white inodorous flowers. A three-year-old plant is from eight to 12 inches high, according to location and soil, and has from three to five leaves rising on long foot stalks from the top of the stem. Each leaf is composed of five leaflets, the largest forming the point of the leaf. The flowerhead is on a short stem rising from the axis of the leaves, and the, bloom appears in July. The fruit, which ripens in September, is a scarlet berry one-eighth of an inch in diameter, and has imbedded in its fleshy pulp three round, hard seeds. After the first sharp frost of autumn all the plant above ground dies.
The first step toward the cultivation of ginseng is in selecting a location for the beds. As the plant cannot endure the summer sunshine, it is essential that the beds be well shaded. If they are situated in open ground, light, movable awnings may be placed over them, which should be removed at night, and during rainy or cloudy weather. The most favorable location, however, is in the forest, the natural home of the plant. A corner in an old, shady orchard would serve quite as well, and the writer has known ginseng to be grown with fair success, in boxes placed under the shelves of a florist's green house. The soil should be loamy, and enriched cacti spring with leaf mold, or other natural fertilizer. During the growing season the soil should be stirred occasionally and kept free of weeds. The amount of moisture required for the growth of this plant is greater than is needed for ordinary field plants; and if the beds are located in a garden or field, where the earth's moisture is rapidly evaporated by the sun, the deficiency of water must be supplied. As ginseng seeds are not readily obtained in our market, and, besides, require a long time to germinate, the experience of the writer, as well as of others, favors the stocking of new beds with plants gathered in the forest. This may require some laborious searching, but a better knowledge of the habits of the plant could not be gained in any other way.
The transplanting of wild ginseng may begin in the spring, as soon as the plants have fully expanded. They must be handled with extreme care during this removal, as all parts of the plant, and the roots especially, are tender, and easily injured. They should be planted ten inches apart in rows twelve inches apart, and the roots placed in the soil at least as deep as when found in the forest, which is plainly indicated on the base of the leaf stem. The plant may be transplanted at any age. The writer has transplanted them when the root was no larger than an oat grain, and again when the plant was five or six years old, and bearing four or five leaves.
The plant makes slow progress the first year, but after that it becomes thrifty under favorable circumstances, and will bear seed when three years old. A plant four or five years old should produce a root weighing two pounds, which is large enough for market. As soon as the plants begin to bear fruit, the seed should be looked after.
The time to gather seed is in the autumn, before the flesh has dried from around them. They must be placed in the soil at once, and at least two inches deep. Here they remain for eighteen months before beginning to germinate. No amount of coaxing will induce them to start sooner, although it is best to keep them through the winter in loose, rich soil in boxes, in a condition favorable to generation. In the spring they may be sown in the beds, in rows about the same distance apart as transplanting, or they may be sown more thickly, and afterwards transplanted. In the following spring the plant makes it appearance the close of the first summer the seedlings will have one small leaf of five leaflets, and, if healthy, will bear seed of its own in three years. It is difficult to state, as yet, to what extent ginseng should be grown to make it a profitable crop. A half-acre of ground would certainly be all the space desired for growing on an average scale. The half or fourth of that space would be as much as one man could well attend to as an experiment.
Although the writer has grown the plant more for studying the habits than for profit, he has demonstrated to his satisfaction that ginseng can be successfully cultivated, and with less trouble and work than is experienced with many other crops that are far less remunerative. In gathering the root for market, too much care cannot be used in renovating [sic] them from the earth. They are tender and fleshy, and should be taken out whole, and the adhering soil removed with a brush. The "Sang Diggers" usually cleanse them with water, which retards their drying, and it is claimed by exporters that this method of cleansing renders them spongy, and lessens their market value. They should be dried in the sunshine or by moderate artificial heat. The time to gather the roots is in autumn, after the fruit has matured; and each root should weigh at least two ounces before drying, as it is not profitable to prepare roots of less weight for market.
[A note from the publisher at end of article] "We don't agree with the writer. We prefer washed roots. N.W.H.&F. Co."
Booklet and article submitted by Marty Schmitz, Torrance, CA.
Reprinted from the Summer 2000 issue of Qi Journal.
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