How to Grow and Care for Ginseng

American ginseng in woodland setting, with red berries

tim / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In This Article

Ginseng is a plant notable for its healing properties and has long been associated with some of the world's most ancient healing traditions. There are two varieties of ginseng that are the most commonly used: Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), which is native to Manchuria and Korea, and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), which grows throughout the United States and parts of Canada. Both are used in traditional medicine, but the bulk of the crop is dried and exported to Hong Kong, where it is processed into a spice used throughout Southeast Asia.

Common Name American ginseng, Asain ginseng
Botanical Name Panax quinquefolius
Plant Type Deciduous perennial
Size 8–24 in. tall, 8–12 in. wide
Sun Exposure Partial shade, shade
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Greenish white
Hardiness Zones 3–7 (USDA)
Native Area North America, Asia
Ginseng plants in the wild along a rock wall in woodland setting
This patch of American ginseng is growing alongside a hiking trail.  EastTennesseeDude / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

How to Plant Ginseng

Due to its value in the world marketplace, there are strict laws in the United States about harvesting ginseng where it grows in the wild. Because of this, native ginseng is now fairly rare to encounter in the wild, but it can be successfully cultivated in a woodland setting with the right care and adherence to guidelines.

When to Plant

Growing ginseng at home—whether in the ground or in containers—will take a great deal of patience, primarily due to the fact that the plant should not be harvested before the plants are at least three years old. Ginseng seeds in fall to early winter—you'll want to acquire stratified seeds that have already shed their outer layer, which will speed up their germination process drastically.

Selecting a Planting Site

Because ginseng is happier to grow naturally, as opposed to cultivation, it's important to learn how it mimics its native habitat and conditions if you want to grow it successfully. You'll want to select a shady, low-traffic area—preferably one at the forest's edge, if possible. The soil should be rich, well-draining, and full of organic matter, with an acidic pH level.

Spacing, Depth, and Support

Ginseng plants should be sowed about 1 inch deep into rich soil and spaced about 15–20 inches apart. While planting, remove anything in the surrounding area that may impede the root growth of the ginseng, such as large tree stumps or rocks.

Ginseng Plant Care

Light

Ginseng grows best in partial to full shade, under a woodland canopy. Too much sunlight can increase competition from other plants. For this reason, longer-lived tree species (such as sugar maple, black walnut, and tulip poplar) that have fuller leaf canopies make for better ginseng habitat than short-lived species. A forest or woodland site with seventy-five percent shade is recommended.

Soil

Ginseng grows best in soil that is moist and well-drained, with plenty of organic matter and calcium (the trees mentioned above release calcium into the soil). The site should not be too wet, so flat sites that have a history of flooding are not suitable. Leaf litter is a good natural mulch and nutrient for ginseng so choose to plant where leaf litter is plentiful. Ginseng will not grow in heavy compacted or clay soil.

Water

Ginseng likes moist soil and its preference for shady sites means it receives adequate moisture from its surroundings. It's important when planting to choose a spot that mimics ginseng's preferred native locations. Adding a bit of peat moss and leaf litter compost can help create good drainage and moisture retention. Ginseng will not usually require extra watering except in drought conditions.

Temperature and Humidity

Ginseng doesn't like hot temperatures and should not be grown in zones higher than 7. Humidity in woodland settings remains fairly consistent, and ginseng should not be planted in sites that stay too damp or that are subject to standing water or flooding in the rainy season.

Fertilizer

If you choose a sit with good rich soil, fertilizer should not be necessary for ginseng plants, and may in fact overburden them and affect their healthy growth.

FAQ
  • Is ginseng easy to grow?

    Ginseng is an especially difficult plant to grow and doing so takes a lot of patience and care. For this reason, many people choose to get their fresh ginseng from expert growers rather than cultivate it themselves.

  • Can you grow ginseng indoors?

    Ginseng is difficult to grow in general, so your best bet is always to grow it outdoors in its natural environment. Generally, ginseng does not do well indoors and will not become established.

  • How long does it take to grow ginseng?

    After a lengthy planting preparation (which can take up to 18 months), ginseng can take between three and four years to reach maturity and be official ready to harvest.