Richters HerbLetter

Date: 96/08/25
1. Save Money by Growing Own Ginseng
2. Coca Farmers Turn Violent

1. Save Money by Growing Own Ginseng
By John Howard

BARRIE, Ont., August 25, Toronto Star -- Although ginseng is not often grown in backyard vegetable gardens, it can be. The exotic root herb, believed by many to possess wide-ranging medicinal powers, is expensive and sometimes difficult to find. Growing it at home gives the gardener greater bang-for-the-buck than say, planting squash or turnip.

Late September is the ideal planting season so now is the time to prepare. First, let’s deal with some misunderstandings. John Arruda, of Medonte Forest Ginseng Farms in Coldwater near Orillia, says the world’s most sought-after natural ginseng is native to North American forests. He says the best mature chemical-free root is only the size of your little finger and claims the common carrot-sized pieces of ginseng most of us have seen are an inferior, less potent variety.

Arruda also warns that some commercially available root products using the ginseng name contain no trace of ginsenosides, the plant’s active ingredient, and points out that Siberian ginseng, despite its name, is not ginseng at all, merely a member of the same botanical family. The so-called American ginseng that is native to Canada and the United States is among the varieties most prized by Asians who consider it both an aphrodisiac and a healing drug. It contains higher levels of ginsenocides than most Asian varieties.

The plant can take seven years to mature from seed but the root is usually useable after three. It grows naturally in shaded woodlands and has been exported fom Canada since the early 1700s when a Jesuit priest found it in the woods near Montreal.

The ideal backyard ginseng patch would be a shaded area of rich soil with good drainage. The plant will not withstand direct sunlight. It grows well in the shade of hardwood trees such as oak or maple but should not be planted under pines. The plants also requires good airflow so don’t seed them in a walled-in corner. A plot measuring about 10 feet by 15 feet would be enough to supply the average family’s daily ginseng needs indefinitely. Plant one seed per square foot. Heavy composting will take care of nutrition but must be kept up because ginseng removes a great deal of nutrients from the soil. Check the pH of your soil. Ginseng finds acidic soil earth inhospitable. Avoid chemicals. Mulch with leaves. A straw or hay mulch might introduce disease to the plant.

And if you smoke, don’t do it near the ginseng patch. Tobacco unleashes spores that attack ginseng. Root rot is your most formidable enemy but good drainage usually leads to healthy plants. Affected plants should be pulled and destroyed to keep any such problems from spreading.

Seed from the plant’s red berries must be stratified (treated with cold) to ensure germination.... An ounce contains approximately 100 seeds.

2. Coca Farmers Turn Violent
By Christopher Torchia

FLORENCIA, Colombia, August 24 (AP) -- As teen-age soldiers with bayonets fidgeted nearby, a Catholic bishop tried to soothe a crowd of angry coca farmers -- to no avail. Tear gas, rocks, and gasoline bombs were flying in minutes.

Peasants charged through billowing tear gas on a bridge leading into Florencia, taunting soldiers in gas masks but failing to break through barbed-wire barricades.

"Don’t let me die," groaned one protester, bleeding heavily from a shoulder wound as soldiers carried him away on a stretcher. He died soon after.

Peasants in this southern coca-growing region are responding with violence to a U.S.-backed campaign to target the drug trade at its source, by wiping out the shrub whose leaves are processed into cocaine.

The government has said it intends to wipe out the more than 100,000 acres of coca plants in Colombia by 1997, but new fields are being planted so fast that the goal seems out of reach.

Protests against eradication have also taken place in recent years in neighboring Peru and Bolivia, where at least 450,000 people live off the illegal crop....

The military says the peasants have been incited by guerrillas whose drug-related activities rival those of the Cali cartel, the world’s most powerful cocaine syndicate.

But so many people in Florencia thrive on coca -- from the peasants who grow it to the bank owners, truck drivers and storeowners who do business with them -- that red, blue and yellow Colombian flags have been draped outside many of the town’s buildings in support of the protest.

Whether aerial fumigation will even work is dubious. The coca plant offers several harvests a year and harvesters make $30 a day -- more than three times the wage for picking yucca or corn.

"If they fumigate 20 hectares here, we’ll cultivate 200 hectares over there," peasant Cesar Mundaca said. "They’ll have to get rid of the whole forest."

Peasants have also developed ways of protecting their crop against the U.S.-supplied herbicide glyphosate: they douse coca bushes with a blend of water and molasses, which acts as a protective film. The government stepped up eradication under pressure from U.S. officials angered by evidence that President Ernesto Samper won office with drug money.

U.S. officials say crop eradication is the least painful method for Samper’s government to curb the drug trade. Establishing longer jail terms for drug lords and confiscating their property would be more effective....

The government does offer a $300 million crop substitution program under which about 15,000 peasants nationwide have signed up for bank credits and other aid.

But coca farmers who make cocaine base, an unrefined form of the drug, at crude kitchens on their plots can sell it for $1 per gram. "They don’t want to give it up because it’s easy money," said Wenceslao Villa of the alternative crop program, known as Plante. "Coca is a stable market."

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