A lot of states have regulated the harvest of ginseng plants to specific seasons, requiring a state license to collect the plant. Like other hunting seasons, there are stipulations for what you are allowed to collect – and what you are not.
How Old is a 4-Prong Ginseng Plant?
In regulating the harvesting of ginseng, a lot of states require that you only collect correctly-identified plants that have at least 4 prongs on the plant. This means that the plant is at least four years old, as the fourth prong doesn’t grow in until year four.
How Can You Tell How Old a Ginseng Plant Is?
There are two ways to tell how old an individual ginseng plant is. The first is the number of root neck scars, which you can see by just barely uncovering the root. If you check the root neck, you should always be sure to cover the soil back over the plant so that the root is not exposed.
The easiest and safer way to check without potentially damaging the plant is to check the number of prongs, which is the cluster of leaflets on a single stem. A four-year ginseng plant will have 4 prongs, while a 2-prong plant will only be around two or three years old.
How Long Does a Ginseng Plant Live?
Unlike most herbaceous plants, ginseng is notoriously long-lived. There have been plants that have grown for over a century with the same root. Due to erratic climate conditions, human poaching, and encroaching development, the plants aren’t likely to live that long in the wild anymore. According to the NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation, the average lifespan of a wild plant is between 8 and 15 years old.
How Many Ginseng Plants Make a Pound?
Once you have ensured that these roots are of ginseng and not a lookalike, you’ll need to dry them to determine how much you have by weight. Unfortunately, this is the stage where a lot of new ginseng hunters are looking at the market prices, hoping to score big – just to find out that they didn’t harvest nearly as much as they could have.
In the case of most plants between 5 and 10 years of age, the roots are rather small and contain a lot of water. This means that it takes between 200 and 350 roots to make a full pound. When it can be difficult to find a single plant in a forest, it’s plain to see that the wild harvesting market is drying up in favor of wild-simulated cultivation.
The Reason Why Harvesting Wild Ginseng is Illegal
After a widespread rush of harvesting the root from the wild, many states have regulated the wild collection of this plant in regions where it is known to thrive natively. The reason for this is that it is difficult for ginseng to recover on the land that it was once thriving on, and it takes a long time for the plants to reach maturity.
Some states have gone as far as to inject the roots of wild ginseng with UV dye to make the root unfit for the market and make the wild collection of these plants illegal altogether. These are all necessary steps to ensure the long-term survival of American Ginseng.
Want to Learn More About Ginseng?
Enjoy more in-depth information about how to identify, grow, and harvest your own American ginseng crop in HerbSpeak's new book: How to Grow Ginseng.
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.