Plant Profile – Asian Ginseng
Panax ginseng, commonly called Asian ginseng, is a perennial herb indigenous to parts of Asia and grown commercially in China and Korea. It is a slow growing plant, reaching a maximum height of only 32 inches in its final stage of development occurring between three and five years from seeding. This herb has been harvested and used for medicinal purposes for centuries. The Asian ginseng is considered a yang stimulate or hot herb in Chinese herbal medicine. The American ginseng, in contrast, is consider a yin or cold herb; more relaxing than stimulating.
Soil and Habitat
Like American ginseng, wild Asian ginseng grows on the forest floor and depends on the forest canopy for protection from direct sunlight. Asian ginseng requires a cool, loamy soil. The root will rot when the soil is too wet. Asian ginseng propagates seed in the fall and requires a cold period of dormancy each year.
The Asian ginseng root is fleshy and light tan in color and is said to resemble the human form with branching rootlets appearing like arms and legs. The neck of the root has one wrinkle for each year’s growth. The root remains dormant through the cold season.
Asian ginseng seedlings appear as a single central stem adorned by three oval leaflets with double toothed margins. As the plant matures, additional leaves begin to branch from the stem and develop three to five leaflets per leaf. The leaves and stem are a dark green in spring but the leaves will turn to a vibrant yellow as temperatures cool and the plant begins the process of dying back.
Fruit and Flowers
After three years the Asian ginseng develops a center umbel with flowers and berries. The small white flowers develop first in the spring and are replaced by a hard green berry. Through the fall, the berry changes to a vibrant red. The berries contain the plant seeds used to produce new plants.
Mature Asian ginseng will appear as a central stem with as few as three or as many as seven leaf prongs surrounding it. Each leaf prong will have three or more leaflets.
Wild Asian ginseng is all but extinct on the Asian continent due to over harvesting and a loss of forest habitat. It is cultivated commercially in China, Japan, and Korea using an artificial shade growing method and is generally harvested at about three years of age.