How to Harvest Ginseng
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Marcia L. Saipe
Posted on: March 17, 2001

First, let me tell you I found your web site in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper in a column called Choice seeds by Susan Semenak.

My question: I am now the proud owner of some country land just outside of Ottawa, and there has been ginseng planted. Quite profusely, I am told. Can you tell me about harvesting this, the best way to go about this, and also, suggest what I do with freshly harvested ginseng? Will I be able to tell what kind it is? I certainly appreciate any information that you deem helpful.

The first thing you should do is to establish if you really have ginseng. There is a woodland plant common to Eastern Canada that closely resembles ginseng, with much the same leaves and same height (30 cm or 1 ft.). It is the wild sarsparilla, or Aralia nudicaulis. It belongs to the same family as ginseng but, unfortunately, it does not have the same commercial or medicinal value as ginseng.

It is easy to tell the difference. Ginseng has a thick root that grows downward, like a carrot. Wild sarsaparilla has long, thin, sinewy roots that run along the surface of the soil. The leaflets, five or more to the leaf, join to a point in ginseng, while they don’t all join to the same point in sarsaparilla. If you are unsure, the Peterson guide, "Field Guide to Wildflowers" has drawings of the two plants.

If, indeed, you have the right plant, then you dig and dry the roots in fall, as the leaves turn yellow. The roots can be dried with heat. The book, "American Ginseng: Green Gold" explains the equipment need to dig and dry large quantities of roots.

You don’t say if your land is forested, but if it is then you may have a product that could fetch a premium. That is because "wood-grown" ginseng is considered better than roots grown under artificial shade (as much of North America’s crop is grown) and generally gets a higher price.

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