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Conserving Wild American Ginseng

Science has helped to paint a broader picture of wild American ginseng's intricate biology, slow growth and specialized habitat. Further research has shown that American ginseng is a "slow opportunist" in its somewhat delayed responses to changes in environment and habitat. While limited to the speed of its own slow growth and adaptations, it's possible for humans to protect the places in which wild American ginseng grows, to allow for undisturbed growth and reproduction of this species. 

As a rule, different species have different needs when it comes to conservation, and with ginseng, we are fortunate to have a few options for preserving remaining populations as well as cultivating it. One obvious option for conservation is Conservation through Protection. With this method of conservation, it's important to identify where wild American ginseng populations currently exists and preserve those places for it's own sake, as well as the sake of wild American ginseng.

A second helpful strategy available for ginseng is Conservation through Cultivation; satisfaction of demand for 'wild product' through various forest growing strategies.

Conservation through Habitat Protection

Years of research has revealed many key aspects of basic ginseng ecology and biology, along with identifying some of the human-caused stressors that push populations toward extirpation.  Even if direct effects of harvest are removed from this set of threats, other indirect effects of human activities continues to depress population growth.

One key approach to reducing human impacts on ginseng and other understory plants is to set aside spaces that are managed to benefit the plants, animals, and indeed, the whole ecosystem, so they may function in a healthy, diverse, self-sustaining forest.  These nature preserves, whether they are national or state parks, national or state forests, or private preserves, must be managed to minimize direct and indirect human impacts in order to mitigate identified threats.  Conservation theory demonstrates that the larger these preserves are, and the more connected they are to neighboring preserves, the more effective they can be as conservation tools, not just for ginseng, but for the rich biodiversity of the forest, more generally.

Conservation through Cultivation

Conservation through cultivation is a key strategy for preservation of wild American ginseng. Difficult to grow because of its specialized habitat and slow growth, American ginseng cultivation has been done for hundreds of years in North America, and continues to produce most of the American ginseng exported from this continent.

Right now, research is being done on many methods and practices of cultivating American ginseng, and at this time, there are a few time tested methods of successful growing. 

Shade grown - American ginseng farmed under shade cloth in a traditional agricultural setting, with machinery and mitigation used. Harvested after a short 3 - 6 years, these cultivated roots can be highly robust, and popular for personal consumption, gift giving and herbal preparations, like slices, teas and formulas.

Forest grown - Grown in the forest using intensive agriculture practices that are adapted to growing ginseng under a canopy of existing trees. Commercial seed stock is usually purchased for large-scale forest grown operations, and harvest typically occurs at a range of ages, depending on many factors. Read this HerbalGram article about Forest Grown.

Wild-simulated - This method of growing American ginseng simulates the naturally occurring conditions in which ginseng would typically grow in the wild. Commercial seeds stock is usually purchased for large scale wild simulated operations, and after 8 - 10+ years, growers typically get a near-wild price for their harvested roots.

Wild-harvested/wildcrafted/ethical harvest - see Stewardship Page

Alternative harvest - American ginseng leaf harvest as an alternative to root harvest, more sustainable. We are still learning about the effects that leaf harvest has on cultivated and wild American ginseng. 

For resources regarding American ginseng cultivation: see the links below.

MTSU/IGI

UPS & FGC

ABFFC

PSU Webinars

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