How Can You Tell Ginseng from Other Plants? (Solved!)

Ginseng is most noticeably identified by its distinctive red berries.

Ginseng has 3 or 5 pronged leaves that are oval in shape. They sit low to the ground and can help them to camouflage among the forest foliage, making them difficult to locate.

However, once Ginseng matures, they produce red berries that sit atop the plant, signaling to Ginseng hunters that the plant is fully grown and ready for harvest.

What Plants Look Like Ginseng?

There are quite a few other plant species that look a lot like Ginseng. These other plants do not have the distinctive red berries upon ripening, however during the stages of infancy and youth, the following plants look nearly identical to Ginseng:

  • Virginia Creeper
  • Wild Strawberry
  • Poison Ivy
  • Buckeye

Of course, if you pull the plants mentioned above they will not have the humanoid-shaped roots that the Ginseng plant is most known for. 

To truly tell a Ginseng apart, check the roots if possible. Ginseng roots are fleshy and thick and appear to have ‘arms’ or ‘legs’ attached to a central core. If the plant you pulled has regular roots then it is likely one of the variants above.

What Else Looks Like Ginseng Root?

Mandrake roots are commonly mistaken for Ginseng. The two plants produce nearly identical shaped roots that confuse many into believing they are from the same plant.

Mandrake is a poisonous plant, belonging to the Nightshade family of natural poisons. However not all Nightshade plants are poisonous, potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants are also Nightshades.

While Ginseng is an effective healer, Mandrake is a strong hallucinogenic that can be fatal for those who eat it. However, Mandrake can be extracted and used for healing, but only by experts who know what they are doing.

Mandrake extract, in very small quantities, has been used to heal stomach ulcers, constipation, colic, and even asthma and hay fever. However, even under guided therapeutic use, it can cause sleepiness and vomiting.

How Do Tell Ginseng from a Virginia Creeper?

Although Ginseng has full and abundant leaves, they grow close to the ground. Ginseng leaves do not branch, but their prongs remain upright.

Virginia Creepers, on the other hand, have similar leaves to the Ginseng but they tend to branch off. True to its name, a Virginia Creeper will climb a nearby surface and gain height. This is the main physical difference between the two plant species.

How Do You Tell Wild Strawberry from Wild Ginseng?

Wild Strawberry looks very much like Ginseng in its youth. Older and matured Ginseng have small red berries atop the plant, whereas Wild Strawberrys fruit strawberries.

However, to tell the species apart before they have begun fruiting can be difficult. Mostly those how are unsure leave the plant to mature before they can determine the species exactly.

How To Tell Ginseng from Poison Ivy?

Ginseng plant leaves remain the same color throughout their growth period and throughout the seasons.

Whereas Poison Ivy changes its color depending on its age and the time of year.

In fall the leaves of a Poison Ivy plant turn bright yellow, and seep into a warmer, rusty-red color throughout winter and into spring. Whereas Ginsing leaves are always a pale yellowy-green and remain that way throughout their life.

How To Tell Ginseng from Buckeye?

Buckeye leaves appear to have a shiny, veneered texture and a stronger definition than the softer leaves of the Ginseng plant.

Also, Buckeye has a thick woody stem. Ginseng stems are much finer and are not woody in texture or thickness. Ginseng stems are also less rigid than Buckeye stems.

How Many Leaves Does a Ginseng Plant Have?

How many leaves a Ginseng plant has depends on its age.

In its youth, the Ginseng plant has 3 leaves and looks very much like Wild Strawberry leaves. During its second or third year, additional shoots appear across 2 or 4 branches. Each branch or ‘shoot’ can number up to 5 leaves.

After this, the plant continues its growth underground and does not sprout any more leaves. Most states and countries forbid the harvest of Ginseng with 3 leaves or less.

What Part of The Ginseng Plant Should Be Harvested?

The root is the most valuable part of the Ginseng plant.

Before harvesting, you should check that the plant has fully matured. If harvested too early, the Ginseng roots will not have fully developed the compounds that are essential for their medicinal effects to occur.

You can tell if the plant is ready by counting the rings around the next of the plant. Ginseng produces one ring for every year of life, and 4 or more rings mean that the plant is mature.

Additionally, if the plant has produced small berry-like fruits at the top of its leaves, then it is old enough to be harvested.

Which Part of the Ginseng Plant is Edible?

Although the root is the most highly prized part of the Ginseng plant, and the part that is most potent for healing and can be consumed, but also the leaves are also consumable – technically speaking.

Ginseng leaves are traditionally dried a served as a tea. Herbal Ginseng tea leaves are commonly sold in health food stores and some major supermarkets. Ginseng leaves also feature as a spice in some Asian food recipes and are a favorite when combined with pork or ginger.

Are Ginseng Leaves Poisonous?

Ginseng leaves are not poisonous for humans but they are poisonous for pets. Both cats and dogs have a sensitivity towards Ginseng and should not consume the plant.

Therefore, if you purchase any part of the Ginseng plant and store it within your home, make sure to keep it well out of your pets reach. 

The leaves appear to be more poisonous for pets than the root, but to be safe it is best to keep your pet away from all aspects of the Ginseng plant and do not burn any Ginseng scented oils or incense in your home if you own a cat or dog.