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© Thomas G. Barnes @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Barnes, T.G. & S.W. Francis. 2004. Wildflowers and ferns of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky.
Jail for Ginseng?
Because the population of wild American ginseng is so seriously depleted, it is now illegal to export wild plants and roots from Canada. Exporters of cultivated plants or their roots must have a permit. For more information, go to: http://www.cites.ec.gc.ca
Native North American ginseng once grew in woodlands from southern Quebec to southern Manitoba and well south into the United States.
History and traditional uses
First Nations used American ginseng to improve mental functioning and to treat a wide range of complaints including fevers, coughs, and headaches. American ginseng is closely related to Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), which has been an important plant in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
In the 1700s, Jesuit priests, who had missions in both Asia and New France, recognized American ginseng's potential value in China. Soon, ginseng roots were being dug and exported in large quantities. Continued over-harvesting, as well as habitat damage, has led to ginseng's near-disappearance across much of its former range.
Current findings and new possibilities
Although American and Asian ginseng are often marketed as if they were identical, laboratory analysis has shown that they have different chemical properties. The roots of both species are sold in many over-the-counter preparations and "health foods". Both roots are still used today in traditional Chinese medicine, but for different purposes.
Ginseng's most popular - and best documented - uses are to boost the immune system, enhance ability to function under stress, and improve mental functioning. Ginseng is also being studied for its possible ability to help control the blood sugar levels of diabetics.
In the Canadian garden
Ginseng is not usually grown as a garden plant, although those with suitable woodlands may want to try to reintroduce it. Growing ginseng is a project for the patient - it often takes 3 years just for the seeds to sprout!
Commercial growing and harvesting
Canada has become the world's largest commercial grower of American ginseng. By the year 2001, the total value of Canada's ginseng harvest reached $ 68 million. By 2003, ginseng had become the province of Ontario's 5th most valuable cash crop. For more information, go to http://www.agr.gc.ca/mad-dam/e/bulletine/v16e/v16n05_e.htm.