American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius, L.) is a perennial herb and grows wild in deciduous forests of the eastern United States. American ginseng is an erect plant that reaches a height of 0.3 to 0.7 meters and has fusiform roots, greenish-white flowers and red berries. The roots and rhizomes are often branched or forked, and they bring a premium price if they resemble a human form. Wild ginseng once thrived along most of the nation’s eastern seaboard, from Maine to Alabama and west to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. American ginseng, (panax quinquefolium) was at one time plentiful in all mountainous regions of the United States. However, it was over-harvested in the mid-1970s, and was subsequently defined as an endangered species. Now, only licensed ginseng harvesters are allowed to dig for the wild ginseng root.
Ginseng was one of the earliest marketable herbs harvested in the United States. Wild ginseng was one of Minnesota’s first major exports. In 1860, more than 120 tons of dried ginseng roots were shipped from the Minnesota to China. American ginseng is similar to Asian ginseng, Panax ginseng, L. that grows wild in Northern Manchuria and has been harvested there for thousands of years. Currently, 18 states issue licenses to export it. In Wisconsin and several other states where ginseng is cultivated, a permit is not required to export artificially propagated ginseng.
American ginseng is also commonly cultivated. It is relatively easy to grow. The root takes approximately 5 years to reach harvesting maturity. American ginseng plants are generally started from seeds. Seedlings or roots for transplanting are available commercially but used infrequently. Seeds are planted in the fall and germinate in the spring.
American Ginseng is not a drug and should not be taken as such. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified it as a “generally recognized safe food” (GRAS).