Ginseng as a Source of Income


Harvesting wild ginseng has been a lucrative source of income for residents in the Eastern United States since the 1700’s. However, due to overharvesting and habitat destruction, wild American ginseng is now very difficult to find. In fact, wild American ginseng is so rare it is now considered a threatened species.

The Chinese market for ginseng remains strong. Ginseng has been part of Chinese tradition for thousands of years. It is believed to have strength-giving and rejuvenating powers, prolong life and even expel evil. Some even regard it as divine! Ginseng is still a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine and very revered in Chinese culture.

Because of the strong market demand and the decreasing supply, prices for the ginseng root have continued to climb. Depletion of wild plants has led to the cultivation of ginseng to meet the ever growing demand. Cultivating American ginseng can be a great way to make extra money, or even a living, in the right circumstances. It is not; however, a “get rich quick” process, and requires patience and dedication in order to be successful.

There are three basic ways to grow “Green Gold”.

1. Field-cultivated. Field-cultivated ginseng is grown in large, tilled fields under artificial shade. There are several growers who have made fortunes selling cultivated ginseng. This method requires the most time and resources, and produces the least valuable roots of the three methods described. It requires large tracts of cleared land, artificial shade construction, large equipment such as tractors, and labor. Cultivated ginseng grows faster than other methods, though, and is ready for harvest in 3-4 years. And like other row crops, large quantities can be grown using this method. The roots grown in this manner are considered low value, though, and bring significantly less at market than other roots. For instance, in 2006-2007, field-cultivated ginseng sold for $12.00-$22.00 per dried pound compared to $300.00-$600.00 per dried pound for wild roots.

2. Woods-cultivated. Woods-cultivated ginseng is grown under natural forest shade in tilled beds. The beds are tilled and planted much like a garden. Like field-cultivated, it requires a lot of time and work. Both methods require the use of pesticides and fungicides to prevent diseases and loss of plants due to dense planting. Unlike the field-cultivated technique, there is no expense for constructing artificial shade structures. Advantages include the maximum use of space/land, higher survival rates and faster growing rates than wild plants. Woods-cultivated roots are usually ready for harvest in 6-8 years. They bring a higher price than field-cultivated roots, but only 30-70% the price for wild roots. Woods-cultivated is a good method for growers who have limited land, want maximum results, and have plenty time to nurture their crop.

3. Wild-Simulated. The wild-simulated method for growing ginseng is the simplest and least expensive method. It involves planting ginseng seeds in their native environment and then letting nature take it’s course. Seeds can be poked in the ground individually, shallow furrows can be dug and seeds planted in rows, or seeds can simply be scattered on the ground. The seeds are then left to survive on their own, as in nature. Disadvantages include limited geographical habitat, low germination/survival rates, and slow growth rates. Wild-simulated roots require 7-11 years to reach harvest size. The biggest advantage to the wild-simulated method, though, is the appearance of the root, which is almost indistinguishable from wild roots. As a result, wild-simulated cultivated roots sell for the same price as wild roots.

Each of these three methods has been successfully used to produce income by growing “Green Gold”. The method chosen depends on each growers objectives, resources, and individual preferences.