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When you’re first learning how to identify ginseng, you’ll hear a lot about ‘prongs,’ It may leave you wondering whether ginseng has thorns or not. Furthermore, there is confusion about a plant that commonly goes by the name ‘Siberian Ginseng’ that does indeed have thorns.

Does Ginseng Have Thorns?

No, neither American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) nor Panax ginseng have thorns. It does have what is referred to as ‘prongs’.

If you find a plant that looks like ginseng but has thorns, you are not looking at ginseng. Commonly misconstrued from the naming convention, there is a plant called ‘Siberian ginseng’ which is covered in thorns. This plant, Eleutherococcus senticosus, is not native to the United States, but it is similar in description to our ginseng. The biggest difference in its description as a lookalike is that it does have thorns along the stem.

What are Prongs on Ginseng?

Fortunately, prongs are not referring to any kind of thorns on the ginseng plant. Instead, a ‘prong’ is a grouping of leaves on the ginseng plant. The plant is made up of several prongs, and each prong has 1-4 leaves. Individual leaves are grouped as leaflets in a palm shape. Typically, there can be up to four prongs per plant.

Looking at the number of prongs is a standard way to tell how old the plant is without digging up the root. Digging the root is illegal or regulated in many states due to the plant’s fragile conservation status.

What Does Natural Ginseng Look Like?

It’s not always easy to recognize ginseng in the forest. Unless you’ve specifically planted rows of ginseng, you’ll find that it can camouflage into the background with ease.

To learn more about what ginseng looks like in nature, check out this page on how to identify ginseng.

For a brief description, you’ll find that it’s a medium-sized herbaceous plant with multiple broad leaves. Each grouping of leaves contains five leaves in the shape of an outstretched hand. These leaves join at a single stem that travels into the ground. This single stem also supports a flower stalk, which is a single stalk that develops a white umbel of flowers, later turning into red berries.

Uncover Ginseng’s Hidden Past

Ginseng used to be so abundant in the American forest that you could not go far without seeing a thriving population. Today, its very existence is at risk in the wild. What changed?

Settlers of Colonial America discovered this plant and its similarity to the renowned Panax ginseng of Chinese medicine and lore. Exploiting this lucrative opportunity, the budding country continued to seek ginseng well into the 19th century, when ‘seng hunting’ became a way of life for families living in the mountainous regions of the United States. Today

Uncover ginseng’s hidden past in this revised edition of HerbSpeak’s book. You’ll follow along with the author as she delves into the history and lore around ginseng and discovers why it has captured the imagination of humans for centuries.

Pre-orders open soon, so join the email list for updates here.

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About Destynnie K. Berard
I am a lifelong naturalist who believes a good sense of humor is essential to staying happy. ★ After traveling for years, I settled in New England, falling in love with the diverse landscape the Northeast has to offer, and began pursuing conservation in earnest. ★ My career background is in enterprise marketing and communications, which provides me with a unique perspective of ecological relationships.

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