How Old Does Ginseng Have To Be To Harvest? (Solved!)

Different states have different requirements to harvest ginseng, ranging from 5-10 years. Most growers harvest their ginseng at around the 10 year mark.

How old does it have to be to harvest?

Usually, growers let ginseng reach the age of 9 to 10 years before they harvest it. Every year it matures, it grows in worth.

However, the longer it is alive, the longer it is susceptible to disease.

How can you tell how old ginseng is?

You can tell how old ginseng is by counting the number of leaves it has and counting the stem scars on the root neck.

If a ginseng plant has three leaves it is at least five years old.

Each year, a stem scar is developed on the root neck when the leaf stem dies in autumn. So a plant that is 6 years old will have 5 stem scars. 

Is ginseng legal to harvest?

Ginseng is legal to harvest in 19 states. Each state has different regulations.

18 of the states require ginseng to have 3 leaves, which ensures that the ginseng is at least 5 years of age. Illinois requires the ginseng to have 4 leaves and be 10 years old. 

There are also designated harvest seasons. 

It is illegal to harvest ginseng on most State land and on all National Park Service land. Some U.S. Forest Service National Forests will issue harvesting permits.

Other National Forests prohibit harvesting ginseng on the land altogether.

How do you harvest ginseng?

You can use many tools to harvest ginseng. Some tools include soil knives, mattocks, picks, and hand trowels.

If you are growing ginseng in a wild-simulated environment (we’ll get to that!) it will be much like a treasure hunt. By the time you’ve planted seeds and the roots are ready to harvest, your ginseng will have created offspring.

This means you will be digging in an environment that has plants of all different ages, so you will have to be careful to only dig out the mature plants.

What is ginseng?

American ginseng is a plant that is native to deciduous forests in the United States ranging from Maine to the Midwest, especially in the Ozark and Appalachian regions. There are ginseng plants native to Asia as well. It can also be grown on farms. 

Ginseng has been used for medicine since ancient times. It was first harvested by Native Americans and also used in Asia for its medicinal properties. 

Most of the American grown ginseng gets exported to China. 

What does ginseng look like?

Ginseng can get as tall as 15 inches. Each stalk grows three sets of leaves that branch out into clusters of leaflets.

Three to five palmately compound leaflets can be found on ginseng. They are arranged like a hand that is outspread and the leaflets attach directly to the petiole.

There are usually three large leaves and two small leaves at the base, but there are only three leaflets for the first few years of life.

The leaves have wide bases with serrated edges.

Flowers appear around ginseng’s third year. Once the flowers are pollinated the plant produces berries around the fourth or fifth year.

What are the health benefits of ginseng?

Since there are two different kinds of ginseng (Asian and American) they each have different health benefits. In traditional Chinese medicine, American ginseng is thought to be less of a stimulant than Asian ginseng.

Some other herbs are called ginseng, such as eleuthero or Siberian ginseng, but they don’t contain ginsenosides.

Here are some of the health benefits of ginseng. Not all benefits are fully studied.

  1. Ginseng builds immunity. According to the Mount Sinai health library, American ginseng can decrease colds in adults.
  2. Ginseng regulates blood sugar. Studies show that it can also lower blood sugar.
  3. Ginseng improves focus. It can give a short-term effect of boosting concentration and learning.
  4. Ginseng has been studied to treat: cancer, heart disease, fatigues, Hepatitis C, high blood pressure, and to improve mood.

What are the health risks of ginseng?

The side effects of ginseng tend to be mild. 

It can cause insomnia and nervousness. Long-term use or doses that are too high can cause stomach upset, dizziness, and headaches.

If you take medications, don’t take ginseng unless you first consult with your doctor. This especially rings true if you take medication for diabetes since ginseng can affect blood sugar levels.

It can also interact with antidepressants and warfarin. Caffeine can amplify its stimulating effects.

Its use is recommended for only 3 months.

What is wild-simulated forest farming?

One way to grow ginseng on your own is by a method known as wild-simulated cultivation, where you plant ginseng in a forest. This doesn’t require fungicide sprays or expensive costs. 

First, select your site. It should be a north or east facing slope with at least 75% shade.

The soil should be moist and drain well. Plant the seeds in the fall.

Plant in defined beds that are 50 feet long and 5 feet wide, separated by three feet of walkway space. Run them up and down the slope instead of across. 

The shape of the harvested ginseng roots will depend on if they had to avoid rocks in the soil or not.

How can you tell the difference between cultivated and wild ginseng?

Wild ginseng roots are dark tan and have a gnarled appearance. They show many growth rings and tend to be forked.

They are small and lightweight, and have long necks.

Cultivated ginseng roots are cream colored and have few growth rings. They are smooth and heavy, and tend to be shaped like a carrot.

How much does ginseng sell for?

According to West Virginia Forestry, West Virginia’s market recorded 5506 pounds of wet ginseng and 2822 pounds of dry ginseng in 2019. 

One pound of wet ginseng will dehydrate to roughly a third of a pound of dry ginseng. 

The average price in 2019-2020 was $550 per pound of dry ginseng and $160 per pound of wet ginseng.

Dry ginseng is more lucrative than wet ginseng, but many dealers prefer to buy wet ginseng and dry it on their own to ensure that the roots are not damaged while drying.