Eleuthero or Siberian Ginseng
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Victor Taylor
Posted on: January 26, 1999

I first of all want to say thank you for coming out to the Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Conference in November (1998). Your support for and your participation in were greatly appreciated. Of all the presentations I got the most out of yours since I had been struggling that day with the news that our Echinacea angustifolia had a low level of echinacoside. So your comments that a) this is a very new industry, and b.) that these are wild plants and will likely show marked changes from one year to the next were somewhat soothing. However, I am still wondering what if anything we can do next year to get our levels up. Anyway, that is not what I wanted to ask.

I just got back from visiting Frontier Natural Products Co-op where I met with Barb Letchworth for a day and a half reviewing potential plants to add to our operations. We currently have 8.5 acres Echinacea angustifolia under cultivation. As certified organic growers we are considering several options. Barb quoted you as saying that you thought Eleuthero could grow anywhere in Canada. What I am trying to sort out is the matter of shade. Your catalogue states that shade is required. Do I take it front that and your statement to Barb as meaning any where in Canada with shade? Although our farm is located southwest of Regina we also have forested land in northern Saskatchewan in climate zone 2. So do you think Eleuthero is sufficiently hardy for zone 2?

Eleutherococcus senticosus or siberian ginseng is definitely hardy enough for your area. It is native to Siberia where the winters are at least as cold as yours.

We tried to grow it in full sun and in partial shade and found that the full sun plants did not thrive, showing leaf curl and gradual demise. We finally moved all of our plants to partially shaded locations. The plant appears to be what is called an understory shrub or tree -- that is, it is accustomed to growing under the shade of other trees.

This was a disappointing finding for us because we had hoped that it could be grown without the shade required for true ginsengs (Panax spp.). The shade requirement does not appear to be a great as that for Panax however; it seems to be okay with 40-50 % shade instead of the 70% Panax needs.

Siberian ginseng is not easy to get established. You will have to look at this as a 10 year project. First the seeds are very tempermental to germinate. We find that fresh seeds, when available, seem to germinate fairly well -- but fresh seeds are impossible to get in quantity. We are only able to get dried seeds from Chinese and Russian sources and even with stratification it takes two years to get anything and a paltry 10% germination is doing very well.

To get Siberian ginseng established as a crop you will need to work to get a foundation population of flowering plants. From these you will collect fresh seeds and experiment with cuttings to expand the plantation. After 6-7 years you should start getting a good supply of seeds annually, assuming that you succeed in establishing a decent foundation population.

What the economics is like after all the extra work is anybody’s guess at the moment. We happen to think that there is a good potential, especially for the first few successful growers because the difficulty of getting started will amount to an effective barrier to new entrants in this crop and prices should be reasonably good.

Valerian is also another possibility but I am concerned it may not be sufficiently hardy for zone 3. Any thoughts on that one?

A greater worry is an unidentified disease that is attacking valerian farms. It is a fungal disease -- that much we know -- that causes second year flowering plants to wilt and rot. Early indications are that it can be managed by aggressive culling of diseased plants.

Is valerian hardy in your area -- probably not. Though if I were you I would try a small patch to be sure.

I am also interested in Black Cohosh. The folks at Frontier said they have seen it grow in full sun. Do you know of its ability to withstand full sun?

Yes, black cohosh can be grown in full sun, although it probably does better in partial shade. No one has done any studies to compare yields of shade grown plants versus sun grown plants.

And finally we are planning to plant some dandelion. Could please advise as to how much weight in seed/acre is required?

Dandelion is slowly becoming established as a minor herb crop in North America after years of attempted eradication. We offer seeds for the wild type and for the cultivated french type. Probably the wild dandelion is better for medicinal purposes, but the cultivated form could be better for root production. Better uniformity, yield, seed availability and quality may make the french type a better choice for commercial production.

You need about 300-500 grams per acre for a heavy row sowing. If you are going to broadcast the seeds (not recommended) then you need 2-3 kilograms per acre.

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