American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is an herbaceous perennial that's a member of the ivy family. It's native to Eastern North America, especially the Ozark and Appalachian regions of the United States. American Ginseng was once common, but is now rare in the wild due to its value in herbal medicine. It's also commercially cultivated, especially in the United States and China.
Look at the stem of the American Ginseng. It grows vertically and may be up to two feet tall. The stem doesn't have hairs or branches, and has approximately three leaves on the end.
Observe the leaves of the American Ginseng. Each compound leaf consists of five leaflets that are widely spread apart. These leaflets are 2 1/2 to 6 inches long and up to 2 1/2 inches across. They are hairless with finely serrated teeth along the edges. The two outside leaflets are significantly smaller than the three leaflets in the middle.
Examine the American Ginseng's umbels. An umbel is a cluster of flowers on short stalks of equal length. The American Ginseng has a single umbel at the end of the central stem. Each umbel may be up to 3/4 inch across and contains 10 to 20 individual flowers.
Study the flowers of the American Ginseng. The flowers are no more than 1/8 inch across and have five spreading petals. They are greenish white and bloom for about two weeks in early summer.
Inspect the berries of the American Ginseng. They're bright red and about 3/4 inch across. They're round or oval, and usually contain two seeds. The berries of the American Ginseng replace its flowers in the fall.
Locate a patch of woodland where you know ginseng grows wild. Your county extension office can help you identify where these areas may be located, and tell you about any regulations concerning wild ginseng harvesting.
Dig up the mature ginseng roots. These are plants with at least three prongs or five leaves.
Select a site that is appropriate for growing ginseng. The plants have specific needs. Find an area that is wooded and has approximately 80 percent shade from deciduous trees. Alternatively, build an area with artificial shade for young plants. Plant on a north- or east-facing slope that has good drainage. Choose a site that will be secure from poachers. Ginseng is a high-value crop and plants can easily be stolen and resold by others.
Soak ginseng roots for about 15 minutes before placing them in the ground in a solution of captan and water to encourage growth and prevent shock.
Rake back the leaves over a small spot where you'd like to plant one rootlet. Dig a 1-inch hole and place the rootlet in the hole. Fill the hole with earth and recover with a light layer of leaves.
Place the rootlets in a random pattern on the slope for a natural-looking plot, allowing adequate spacing for air flow. A good guide is to allow 7 to 9 inches between plants on all sides to ensure proper room to grow, allow each plant room to absorb enough moisture and nutrients, and prevent the spread of disease.
Water your plants daily to prevent them from drying out.
Look for ginseng plants in their natural growing environs: moist hardwood and mixed forest floors in the northernmost regions of the state, where average ambient temperatures hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and where plants are mostly shaded from the sun.
Seek out ginseng plants by their green foliage that reaches roughly 1 to 2 feet tall with three groups of five egg-shaped and serrated leaflets arranged in a circle on each straight stem, according to Purdue University.
Recognize ginseng flowers, visible on the plants in the middle of summer, by their greenish-yellow hue, umbrella-like form and placement in the center of the circle of the five leaves at the tip of the stem.
Identify ginseng berries on the plants in late summer and fall by their ruby hue, wrinkled skin and just two seeds held within the berry flesh.
Late April marks the beginning of the growing period for ginseng. Flowers appear shortly thereafter, in late spring.
Ginseng plants bloom and produce seeds beginning in the third year. Before this time plants spend time and energy on foliage growth and root development.
Avoid this three-year waiting period by purchasing 3-year-old rootlets for planting, suggests Ohio State University Extension. Proper growing conditions, including shade at least 75 percent of the time and a moist environment, help ginseng thrive and reach developmental stages as soon as possible.
Stratified ginseng seeds should be planted in the fall before any ground freeze takes place. Plant ginseng seeds at least 1/2-inch deep, spaced 1 to 6 inches apart, in well-draining, nutrient-rich soil and cover with 1 to 2 inches of mulch. Allow 6 to 9 inches of space between rows.