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American Ginseng

American ginseng plant

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a native perennial herb and an important forest crop. It grows on well-drained, rich soils under northern hardwoods. The root lives for many years, even though the stem and foliage die back to ground level at the end of each growing season. Much of New York State has the potential for growing ginseng, and it can be an important source of income for many New Yorkers.

Ginseng today is found in two forms, Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolium. These are two cousin plants which vary primarily due to climatic and growing conditions. They both contain active ingredients called ginsenosides.

Protection Status

American ginseng is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement between countries to ensure that international trade in certain plants and animals does not threaten their survival in the wild. American ginseng was listed in CITES Appendix II in 1975 due to concerns of the species being overharvested as a consequence of international trade. Appendix II allows trade that biologically sustainable and legal, and includes species that, although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade controls. In order to ensure that American ginseng roots are legally and sustainably harvested, CITES permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are required to export American ginseng. For more information about CITES and American ginseng, please see the links in the right column.

Ginseng Program

New York's ginseng program exists to ensure the survival of the species in the wild, compliance with all Federal and International laws and regulations, and the viability of New York ginseng as a valuable forest product.

American ginseng plant with berries

In 1987 regulations were adopted that established practices for the harvest and sale of American ginseng in New York State (6 NYCRR 193.4-193.8) (leaves DEC website). These regulations established conservation practices including a ginseng harvest season and requirements for harvesting only mature plants. They also created a dealer permitting system and certification procedures. A year later, the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approved the New York State American Ginseng Program and lifted a ban on the export of New York grown ginseng. The program is reviewed annually to ensure that it meets all the federal requirements under CITES.

No ginseng may be harvested from any State Lands or from Finger Lakes National Forest. Ginseng diggers must obtain written permission from the landowner before harvesting on private property. Only mature plants may be harvested and the berries must be replanted immediately.

Ginseng Forms, Lists and Regulations

New York State American Ginseng Regulations (the bulleted links leave DEC website)

New York State Ginseng Dealer List (PDF)

New York State Ginseng Dealer Permit Application (PDF)

New York State Ginseng Dealer Information Release Form (PDF)

New York State Ginseng Dealer Record & Report Form (PDF)

New York State Ginseng Inspectors
Region Contact Address Phone Fax E-mail
0 Jason Denham NYS DEC, Division of Lands & Forests
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-4253
518-402-9425 518-402-9028
1 John Wernet NYS DEC, SUNY at Stony Brook
50 Circle Road
Stony Brook, NY 11790-2356
631-444-0285 631-444-0272
2 Tim Wenskus NYS DEC
47-40 21st Street
Long Island City, NY 11101-5401
718-482-4942 718-482-4502
3 George Profous NYS DEC
21 South Putt Corners Road
New Paltz, NY 12561-1696
845-256-3000 845-255-4659
4 Donald Guest NYS DEC
65561 State Highway 10, Suite 1 (Jefferson Road)
Stamford, NY 12167
607-602-3607 607-652-2342
5 Rich McDermott NYS DEC
232 Golf Course Road
Warrensburg, NY 12885
518-623-1200 518-623-3603
6 Andrea Mercurio NYS DEC
7327 State Route 812
Lowville, NY 13367
315-376-3521 315-376-8059
7 John Graham NYS DEC
1285 Fisher Avenue
Cortland, NY 13045-1090
607-753-3095 607-753-8532
8 Cody Lafler NYS DEC
7291 Coon Road
Bath, NY 14810-9728
607-622-8262 607-776-4392
9 Chris Enser NYS DEC
182 East Union Street, Suite 3
Allegany, NY 14706-1328
716-372-0645 716-372-2113

Ginseng Varieties and Glossary

Oriental ginseng (Panax ginseng): native to eastern Asia, primarily China and Korea. It was found in the wild abundantly centuries ago. Because of its popularity, it was dug almost to extinction. Today it is commonly available as a cultivated plant.

Wild Oriental ginseng: the stuff that has set emperors and dynasties against each other. In the year 221 BC the emperor Shoangte sent more than 3,000 foot soldiers to find and bring back ginseng. It is not practical to consider it as a modern medicinal herb due to its rarity and cost (as much as $20,000 per ounce when available).

Cultivated Oriental ginseng: the most common type of ginseng found. Almost all of the Oriental ginseng exported to America is cultivated. It is relatively inexpensive and is grown using intensive cultivation.

White ginseng: the name given to the natural ginseng root which has not undergone any processing. It is the natural color of the ginseng root when harvested and thoroughly washed. The root, when dried, takes on a tan color.

Red ginseng: ginseng that has been processed using steam and heat to preserve it. The roots that are thus processed turn a red color. In order to withstand the heat, superior and older roots must be used, hence the claim of red ginseng being more potent than white.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium): the botanical cousin to Panax ginseng and is indigenous primarily to the Appalachian mountain region of North America. It can be found growing wild in forests and cultivated in plantations in the U.S. and Canada.

Wild American ginseng: the ginseng plant in its natural form. Wild American ginseng grows generally in shaded hardwood forests and can live to be almost a century old, although the average plant grows to be about 8-15 years old. The plant is listed as a threatened species. The wild plant is regularly harvested by "shang diggers" under controls set forth by the various state and provincial governments.

Woods-grown American ginseng: grown in the forest where the soil has been mounded up to increase the yield of the crop. Most woods-grown ginseng is grown organically, and reaches 6-8 years old.

Cultivated American ginseng: the most common type of American ginseng found. It is grown under artificial shade in fields and yields a crop in approximately 3-4 years. Wisconsin and Canada are the leading growers of cultivated ginseng, where it is a large cash crop which uses modern farming technology.

Other Species That Are Called "Ginseng"

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticocus): is often labeled as ginseng for marketing purposes. It is not a true ginseng, but is a related plant also with adaptogenic properties. Siberian ginseng has more of the stimulating qualities of ginseng without ginseng's balancing and tonic effects. It is also relatively inexpensive compared to real ginseng.

Wild red American (desert) ginseng: is another impostor. It is a native American plant called Canaigre or Rumex that can be toxic and dangerous when used improperly.

Other Ginseng Terms

Adaptogen: a term that applies to herbs that maintain health by increasing the body's ability to adapt to environmental and internal stress. Adaptogens generally work by strengthening the immune system, nervous system and/or glandular systems.

Ginsenosides: the active ingredients of the ginseng plant. They are dammarane-type triterpenoidal glycosides, which have been identified as the main substance that gives ginseng its unique properties. According to modern research, ginsenosides are found in different proportions depending on where and how the ginseng is grown and the quality of the ginseng in the ginseng products. Some tend to be stimulating (Yang according to the Chinese), and some relaxing or cooling (Yin). This supports many traditions that certain types of ginseng are better than others for different segments of the population with different imbalances and needs. Oriental cultivated ginseng tends to contain higher proportions of the heating (Yang) ginsenosides, preferred by those seeking stimulation for performance. Wild American ginseng contains all known ginsenosides, preferred by athletes and older men for stimulation of the hormonal system. American woods-grown or cultivated ginseng tends to contain higher proportions of the cooling (Yin) ginsenosides, preferred for stress related use in general and for hormonal balance by women.