Ginseng is an herb highly prized for its fleshy root. It is a stimulant believed to have medicinal properties.
The plant grows about a foot tall and blooms in midsummer. Plants can be grown from seed or from the root. Ginseng takes about five to seven years for the roots to reach marketable size. Small roots can be replanted for a future crop.
Choose a shady site with moist, loamy soil and good drainage. The best site to grow ginseng is a hardwood forest with dense foliage that provides plenty of shade.
Dig a bed 4 feet wide and 12 inches deep for root planting and 8 inches deep for seeds or seedling planting. Create a slope by mounding the center of the bed to ensure good drainage.
Plant scarified or partially germinated ginseng seeds 8 inches apart in the bed. Cover with an inch of soil, leaf mold or mulch. Keep the soil moist. It may take up to 18 months for the seeds to germinate.
Plant ginseng roots in the fall. Place the roots 2 inches deep in the prepared bed. Space the roots at least 8 inches apart.
Keep the beds free of weeds and grass. Rake the soil lightly to prevent hardening.
Protect plants with a 4- or 5-inch layer of organic mulch before the first frost. Remove most of the mulch in the spring, leaving a light layer to help retain soil moisture.
Water ginseng as needed to keep the soil moist during dry periods. Ginseng grown on rich soil from the forest floor does not need fertilizer. Fertilizer can harm ginseng and is best avoided. Apply one pound of bone meal per square yard and provide plenty of organic mulch.
Harvest ginseng roots in mid-October after the fifth year. Roots are ready for harvest at about 4 inches long and an inch thick, weighing about an ounce. Carefully dig the roots up and shake them free of soil.
Dry the roots in a warm, well ventilated room. Spread the roots out on lattice or screening. Begin drying at 60 to 80 degrees F, increasing the temperature to 90 degrees after a few days. Alternately, begin drying at 100 to 110 degrees until the roots wilt, then lower the temperature to 90 degrees F. Turn the roots carefully to encourage even drying. Commercial growers dry ginseng roots in a heated room for this purpose. You can dry them at home in a food dehydrator or you can place the roots on screens in a hot, dry place.