Ginseng root is a prized herbal remedy that is used medicinally in many cultures, particularly in Asia. Ginseng grows naturally in dense, woody parts of the United States and should be harvested with care to avoid decimating the presence of ginseng. Understanding the locations where ginseng grows and its differences from similar plants is key to finding and identifying the plant that yields ginseng root.
Ginseng grows about a foot tall with light greenish-white flowers and bright red berries. A mature ginseng root is about 4 inches long with forked ends. The shape of a ginseng root is often compared with the shape of a human being, since older ginseng can appear to have arms and legs.
Ginseng root is a popular herb that is commonly used in many products, including soda pop, herbal tea, toothpaste and candy. According to Purdue University, most of the ginseng in products in the United States is imported from Korea.
Ginseng grows naturally in the northeast United States and in southeast Canada. It grows south into Oklahoma and as far west as Minnesota.
Because it is an expensive root, foraging for wild ginseng has significantly reduced its numbers in some areas of the United States. To keep numbers from declining, some states restrict the collection of wild ginseng to mature plants at least 5 years old. When berries are not present, you can identify mature ginseng by its leaves, which have a minimum of 3 prongs. Some states require that ginseng plants have five prongs before harvesting. Foraging only mature plants ensures that wild ginseng has a chance to seed before it is harvested.
In the wild, ginseng looks very similar to American spikenard, a related plant that was historically used to make root beer. Though both grow greenish-white flowers, American spikenard grows much taller than ginseng, and can be up to 5 feet tall. Spikenard berries are darker in color than ginseng berries, a deep reddish brown.
Many states require a permit to forage for wild ginseng if you intend to sell it.