American Ginseng – Panax quinquefolius

Overall At-Risk Score: 63

Latin name:

Panax quinquefolius

Common Name:

Ginseng, American Ginseng

Family:

Araliaceae (Spikenard family)

Lifespan:

Perennial

Reproduction:

Panax quinquefolius blooms in mid-summer and is pollinated primarily by sweat bees (Dialictus spp.) and syrphid hover-flies (Toxomerus geminatus), but plants are also capable of self-pollinating if necessary. They produce small red berries that are dispersed largely by birds, with the primary species interested in the fruit being various thrushes. The seeds inside the berries are covered in a thin shell-like skin that protects the embryo from being broken down in the bird’s stomach to give it a better chance of being viable once expelled.

Geographic Region:

Ginseng can be found in most of the eastern U.S. and grows in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. It’s also found in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Habitat:

American ginseng grows primarily in cool, moist, deciduous forests, and can survive in most light conditions.

Ability to Withstand Disturbance and Overharvest:

Ginseng, while capable on an individual level of surviving extremely minor harvesting is, as a species, wholly incapable of withstanding the level of overharvesting caused by the large international demand for this plant.

Status of Endangered/Threatened(by state):

Panax quinquefolius is listed as being “Commercially Exploited” in Tennessee and of “Special Concern” in Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Tennessee. It’s “Vulnerable” in Pennsylvania, “Exploitably Vulnerable” in New York, “Threatened” in Michigan and New Hampshire, and “Endangered” in Maine and Rhode Island.

Panax quinquefolius has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

Ginseng has been used historically as a bit of a cure-all, but was especially common as a treatment for fevers, nausea and vomiting, as a treatment for asthma and other lung complications, rheumatism, tapeworms, as well as a general tonic to invigorate a patient and promote a faster recovery.

Demand:

Ginseng is considered one of the highest-selling medicinal herbs in the U.S., with most of the supply being shipped to China and other Asian countries, which were forced to turn to American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) after depleting much of their own native ginseng species, Panax ginseng and Panax notoginseng. In recent years, however, the international market has seen a slow decrease in demand for U.S. grown American ginseng, as farmers in several provinces along the northeast border of China have taken up buying large batches of seeds and cultivating their own crops of American ginseng.

Recommendations For Industrial and Home Use:

Local, state, and federal laws regarding the conservation and sustainable harvest of ginseng must be followed at all times, and efforts should be made to ensure that any ginseng purchased comes from a sustainable source. Please talk to your doctor before using ginseng or any other medicinal supplements to ensure safe use, particularly if you are already taking medications, which may have adverse effects when used in conjunction with American ginseng.

If you have wild ginseng on your land, consider joining our Botanical Sanctuary Network for the conservation of native medicinal plants.

Articles of Interest

  • United Plant Savers was a sponsor of the 2013 Ginseng Expo and wrote an article about the expo in our 2013 Journal of Medicinal Plant Conservation.
  • UpS supports the efforts for state forests to co-manage for non-timber forest products, such as medicinal plants. Here is a link to an article, Understanding the relationships between American ginseng harvest and hardwood forests inventory and timber harvest to improve co-management of the forests of eastern United States. Author(s): Chamberlain, James L.; Prisley, Stephen; McGuffin, Michael, Date: 2013, Source: Journal of Sustainable Forestry (PDF), on the potential for ginseng to be co-managed with hardwood forests.
  • UpS helped publish, along with the American Herbal Products Association, The Good Stewardship of Harvesting Wild American Ginseng, that highlights sustainable harvesting of wild medicinal plants.
  • Smoky Mountains National Park a hotbed for ginseng poaching by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Zucchino for the LA Times, on Aug. 10, 2013.
  • Comprehensive website with access to research on wild American Ginseng from Dept of Biology, West Virginia University.

Citations:

  • Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey, (1975),. Cherokee Plants and Their Uses — A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co., page 36.
  • Herrick, James William, (1977). Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis, page 395.
  • Hruska A. M., Mcgraw J. B., Souther S., (2014). Songbird dispersal of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Écoscience, 21:1, 46-55, DOI: 10.2980/21-1-3679.
  • Jia, L., & Zhao, Y. (2009). Current Evaluation of the Millennium Phytomedicine- Ginseng (I): Etymology, Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry, Market and Regulations. Current Medicinal Chemistry, 16(19), 2475–2484. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2174/092986709788682146.
    Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, (2019, March 6). Plant Database: Ulmus rubra. Retrieved September 13, 2019, from https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ulru
  • Penskar, M.R. and P.J. Higman, (1996). Special plant abstract for Panax quinquefolius (ginseng). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI, 3 pp
  • Speck, Frank G., (1941). A List of Plant Curatives Obtained From the Houma Indians of Louisiana. Primitive Man 14:49-75, page 61.
  • Tantaquidgeon, Gladys, (1972), Folk Medicine of the Delaware and Related Algonkian Indians, Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Historical Commission Anthropological Papers #3, page 32.
  • Taylor, Linda Averill, (1940), Plants Used As Curatives by Certain Southeastern Tribes, Cambridge, MA. Botanical Museum of Harvard University, page 44.
    USDA, (n.d.), Plants Profile for Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng), Retrieved September 13, 2019, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PAQU
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