How to Identify American Ginseng

American Ginseng is a member of the ivy family. It is now rare in the wild due to harvesting but is native to Eastern North American.  American Ginseng originated in the Ozark and Appalachian regions of the United States.  It is now cultivated primarily in China and the USA for use as herbal medicine.  American Ginseng grows in moist but well drained soil. It will grow amidst the trees and woodlands of the American Eastern North forests.  American Ginseng plants are suitable for harvesting when about 5 years old but are better if harvested at 10 years of age.  It is very difficult to find American Ginseng in the wild of that age.

To identify American Ginseng seedlings:

1.The American Ginseng seedling has 3 leaflets or a trifoliate.

2. The plant will continue to have this formation for approximately the next 5 years.

3. American Ginseng is not ready for harvesting until it is 5 to 10 years of age.

To identify 5 year old American Ginseng follow the steps below:

1. Look at the leaves of plants.  American Ginseng has hairless leaves with serrated edges. Each leaf grouping which is called a compound leaf consists of 5 leaves that are separated widely. The leaves will measure about 2 ½ inches to 6 inches long and 2 ½ inches wide. The 2 outside leaves in the grouping or compound will be much small than the middle 3 leaves.

2. For further identification look at the stem of the plant. American Ginseng grows vertically straight and grows to a limit of about 2 feet tall. This stem has no hairs or branches but 3 leaves will grow at the top.

3. American Ginseng also has flowers. The flowers are tiny only about 1/8th of an inch in width with 5 spreading petals. The color of the flowers is greenish white but only bloom for 2 weeks in early summer. These flowers grow in umbels or clusters at the end of the major stem of the plant.  The umbel measures about ¾ inches across and contains approximately 15 flowers.

4. In the fall the flowers completely disappear and are replaced by berries. The berries are bright red and measure ¾ inches in diameter. The berries may be round or oval and usually contain only 2 seeds. When the berries become dark red the plant is ready for its roots to be harvested for herbal medicine. It is recommended that the 2 seeds from the berries be replanted to ensure new regrowth of the American Ginseng plant.

 5. The roots of the plant will 3 to 8 inches long and be ¼ to1 inch thick and will weigh about 1 ounce.  As the American Ginseng plant gets older the roots will become heavier and more valuable. The roots are the part of the plant used to make herbal medicine.