Ginseng has many “companion plants” that like to grow in similar conditions. These plants may be a sign of a nearby ginseng population, or as a sign of ideal site selection for cultivation. While solely looking for companion plants is not a foolproof way to find a suitable site for growing ginseng, it can give you a good place to start. After that, you’ll need to know how to identify ginseng, then you’re ready to start your own cultivated crop!
Below is a short list of companion plants you can expect to find in many areas where ginseng grows natively:
Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
This perennial plant has unique, hooded flowers that will make it stand out in any underbrush setting. Each plant has one or two large, glossy leaves. These leaves are then further divided into three leaflets that rise on stems anywhere from one to three feet in height.
The hooded flowers grow on their own stalk and can reach the same height as the leaves. A cluster of bright red berries, not unlike ginseng’s own berries, will begin to grow and ripen beginning in late Summer.
Trillium, or Toad shade (Trillium spp.)
Trilliums are gorgeous, broad-leafed plants that have unique, three-leaved flowers with pointed petals that can range from white, to bright red, to a deep purple.
There are a surprising number of trilliums that can be found throughout the world. 43 species are known worldwide, and these plants are known to hybridize easily, making it difficult for botanists to determine the different species despite the flowers having a simple look.
These plants are rhizomatous herbs with unbranched stems. They do not technically produce true leaves or stems above ground; what appears to be a stem is really an extension of the rhizome.
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa)
Wild Yam is an herbaceous vine that looks prim and proper with its broad leaves and palmate veins. The small stems can easily twine around nearby objects and allow the plant to climb.
The leaves at the base of the vine are whorled and sometimes opposite, otherwise they are usually alternate. They are green and can appear with a tinge of yellow, making the leaves almost shimmer in the sunlight. This plant will produce vines that carry male and female flowers up away from the base of the plant. Over time, ovoid and heart-shaped winged seed pods will replace the flowers. These seeds have three angled, membranous wings that allow it to be carried along on the wind for propagation.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
This plant is a woodland perennial that is commonly hunted and overharvested right alongside ginseng. Goldenseal earned its name because of the bright yellow underground rhizome that weeps a golden sap.
When springtime rolls around, goldenseal will produce a flowering stem with hairy, lobed leaves featuring prominent veins. The flowers are typically white, but they do not have true petals. Instead, the white stamens make up the appearance of petals.
Like ginseng, this plant produces a red berry in mid-to-late Summer, but these berries are typically much closer to the leaves.
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum)
This perennial plant features zigzag, arching stalks that can reach 5 feet in height. Nodding, yellow-green tubular flowers hang from the plant in pairs from the axils along the stem.
Bright blue berries add a splash of color to this plant in early fall, giving you the best of nature in a plant fit for a fairy garden.
This plant requires a lot of light shade absent of any direct sunlight, which makes it a perfect companion plant to look for when searching for a suitable site to grow ginseng in. If this plant can grow on the site, then you’ve found the optimal shade levels.
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
Yes, this plant is sure to throw off your vocabulary when referring to it as a companion plant. Ginger, ginseng, ginger ginseng. Say that five times fast.
This plant is not the culinary ginger that you enjoy using in your kitchen and in teas; that is Zingiber officinale.
These plants are native to many of the same places as ginseng and act as a groundcover of heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are lightly pubescent, particularly along the leaf petiole and flowers. This means these areas have fine hairs that make the plant feel soft.
The reddish-brown flowers are found underneath the leaves at the very base of the plant. They are bell-shaped with acuminate-reflexed tips. Simply put, these petal tips are pointy, spiraled, and incredibly interesting to look at.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
This is a stemless, rhizomatous plant that can reach heights of 10” tall. Over time, it can spread across the forest floor to form large colonies. Essentially, this plant, much like many other plants, wants to take over the world one rhizome at a time.
Bloodroot is comprised of a single leaf and flower that rise on separate stems. The leaf completely encloses the flower bud until early spring, when the bud begins to bloom into an unmistakable white-petaled flower with bright yellow central stamens.
These gorgeous, large flowers open in the sun and close at night, only living for one or two days at a time. After the flower blooms, the leaves can continue to grow up to widths of 9” across. The plant goes dormant in late summer.
This plant earned its name because of the vibrant reddish-orange sap that exudes from its wounds when it is cut.
Want to Learn More About Ginseng?
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In this book, you’ll learn everything you need to know about growing ginseng – specifically American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius – and how to care for this wonderful plant from seed to harvest.
Beyond that, you’ll learn why such a small root has earned such an honorable reputation, and what you can do to help keep this plant in our lives no matter what your motivation for growing ginseng is.
Your journey into the world of ginseng starts here.