Ginseng has been used in Asia for thousands of years as a medicinal herb. Old Asian ginseng, especially Korean ginseng, is very valuable and expensive. As a result, American subspecies of ginseng are often sold as a less expensive alternative to high-end Asian and Korean products. Because ginseng roots grow over time, older, larger roots are more valuable than smaller, younger roots.
Immature ginseng seeds are planted in the summer. The warm summer soil helps the seeds mature. As the cold temperatures of winter arrive, the ginseng seeds complete the maturation process. The following spring, a small shoot grows up through the soil and mulch. As the sun strikes the new shoot, it produces three leaves that grow from a single point at the top of the stem. The shoot grows to about four inches in the first season.
During the first year, the bulk of the ginseng's resources are used to produce a sturdy root and a bud from which the second year's shoot will grow. Most of the root growth occurs in the summer and fall. In the fall, frost will kill off the shoot, leaving the root intact.
During the second year, the shoot growth process is similar to the first year. However, in the second year, the shoot produces two large leaf stalks, each with three to five leaflets. The shoots will grow to between six and eight inches tall in this second year.
Cyclical Root Growth
The cycle of the second-year growth is repeated over and over, increasing the size of the root. Three-year-old plants usually have three leaf stalks. After four years, the plant will have four leaf stalks and be full grown. In future years, only the root will increase in size. In the wild, some ginseng roots are thought to be as old as 50 years.
Plants three years old and older produce berries that contain seeds. The berries are red when ripe and ready for harvesting to plant new ginseng plants. Once harvested and planted in the summer, the ginseng growth cycle can begin again.