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Article reprinted from "Hunters and Trappers Guide" (ninth edition) by W.J. Burnett, Minneapolis, Minnesota, circa 1901. This gives us a historical perspective of the "Sang" hunters and the value of ginseng from early America. Note that the original English text and expressions are reproduced in original form.
The plant was discovered in North America near Montreal, by Father Lofitau, a Jesuit Missionary to the Iroquois Indians in 1716, and in 1751 it was discovered in Central New York and Vermont. Since then the export trade to China has been steady and continuous with but slight interruption. The supply was first obtained from Canada, but as it became exhausted there the "Sang" diggers pushed on until in almost 2000 years they have located every piece of woods in North America in which ginseng grows, and have practically exterminated the wild plant. In the early days of its exportation the price paid was very low. being only 52 cents per pound in 1858, while in 1901 dry roots were worth $7.00 per pound and cultivated roots, $9.00.
There are many reports as to what the Chinese do with it, which are given as strictly reliable, the most common report being that they use it for medicine, it being considered by them a cure-all for every disease that human flesh is heir to. It is credited in this country with but little medicinal value, and that the Chinese faith rests largely on fanciful grounds is evident from their preferring roots that resemble the human form. Such roots sell for fabulous prices. The roots that resemble the human form are rare, but are sometimes found.
Description Of The Plant
The wild ginseng plant is easily recognized. The main stem rises from 8 to 14 inches above the ground and then divides into three branches, but sometimes four, and in the cultivated roots five branches are not uncommon, Each perfect branch has five thin leaves, two on each side of the branch and one at the end.
The first pair of leaves is from 1 to 2 inches long. The others 3 to 4 inches. They are egg-shaped with the broad end away from the stem sharply pointed, and the edges are notched like a saw. The stem continues above the branches in a flower stalk 2 to 4 inches long, that bears a cluster of small yellowish-green flowers in July. This is followed by the berries, which are a bright green at first, gradually turning red and then scarlet when it is fully ripe. The berries are edible and have the taste of the root. The top dies down soon after the seeds are ripe.
The root is composed of two parts, the root stalk and the root. The root is from .25 to 1.5 inches in diameter and 2 to 10 inches long. The stalk is from .5 inch on a young root to 2 inches on an old root. The bud for next year's growth starts in August by the side of the stem that is growing. When the stalk dies down it leaves a scar, so that the age of a ginseng root can be easily told by counting the scars.
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