IDENTIFYING WILD GINSENG
Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a fleshy-rooted herb native to cool and shady hardwood forests from Quebec to Minnesota, south to Georgia and Oklahoma. Wild ginseng has been harvested for many years and is now quite rare. Most ginseng now comes from commercial cultivation.
People looking for wild ginseng very often confuse it with its relative, a plant that looks similar called American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa). Spikenard also grows in moist woods but is much more common than ginseng. Spikenard roots have been used by pioneers for root beer; however, the plant is of no commercial value today.
The figures below illustrate how to differentiate between ginseng and spikenard. Ginseng has five leaflets joined together at one point. Spikenard also has five leaflets, but there are three coming from one point and two more that are attached further down the stem.
Ginseng reaches a height of about one foot. Its greenish flowers bloom in midsummer. The fruit is a bright crimson berry containing one to three wrinkled seeds the size of small peas. The mature root is spindle shaped, two to four inches long, and up to one inch thick. Plants that are several years old will usually have roots that are forked. Roots reach marketable size when they are five to seven years old.
Note five leaflets joined at one point.
|Note three leaflets joined at one point, and two leaflets joined further down the stem.|