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 essential for humans to protect the places in which wild American ginseng grows, to allow for undisturbed growth and reproduction of this species for future generations.
As a rule, different species often have different needs when it comes to conservation, and with American ginseng, we are fortunate to have a few options for preserving remaining populations as well as cultivating it. One obvious option for 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. The second helpful strategy is Conservation through Cultivation; satisfaction of demand for 'wild product' through various growing strategies.
Habitat Protection Cultivation Further Resources
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.
Alternative harvests - 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.
Further Resources on Ginseng Cultivation
Organizations and Universities
Webinars and Digital Resources
Forest Farming in Focus Webinar - ABFFC
In this webinar, Dr. Burkhart will provide some research updates on ginseng forest farming site selection, crop protection, pest/disease management, and emerging leaf harvest opportunities. He will also be joined for the second half of the webinar by forest farmer Ed Daniels (Shady Grove Botanicals, WV) and Anna Plattner and Justin Wexler (Wild Hudson Valley, NY) for a lively discussion of these topics and more.
Webinar with Dr. Eric Burkhart - Penn State University
Interested in native plants? Enjoy spending time in the woods? Looking for a way to diversify income or help cover annual forestland ownership costs? Establishing or “farming" American ginseng on forestlands is a fascinating and potentially profitable activity that can contribute to both plant and forest conservation. During Ginseng Farming: Plant Your Own Patch, participants will be introduced to one of Pennsylvania’s most valuable woodland crops, and the basics of cultivation on forestlands.