Hillbilly Gold?

In a way, yes. American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) typically sells for several hundred dollars per pound dried, thanks to the fact that many Chinese, Koreans and others have an almost mystical belief in its medicinal properties and have created a tremendous market for its root.

Ginseng occurs over most of the eastern United States along with Quebec and Ontario in Canada.

It’s especially prevalent in the Appalachian Mountains and here in the Ozarks. Not surprising since it prefers cool, moist, heavily shaded forest, particularly on steep slopes and in ravines which is a good description of many of the north-facing hills/slopes in this area. Over-harvesting has led to it’s decline over much of it’s range, though to a somewhat lesser extent in the Ozarks if what I’ve read lately is accurate.

First year plants have a single stem with three leaflets. A second year will typically produce five leaflets, still on a single stem and in successive years the plant will begin to branch out to 2-4 stems (or prongs,) each with 3-5 leaflets.

The plant in the photo above is a 3-pronger with 5 leaflets each, indicating a fairly mature plant. I photographed it in a group of plants that my Grandpa established back in the early 1970s. These particular plants have survived having the nearby timber cut off twice with a skidder trail going right through the group during one of those logging operations.

Ginseng doesn’t necessarily grow a new top each year. The root can lie dormant beneath the soil for years, awaiting more optimum conditions and I expect that’s what happened here. The forest canopy is finally filling back in, providing the necessary shade and the plants have re-emerged and are looking vigorous and healthy.

But don’t worry, Grandpa. I won’t dig them and I’m not about to tell anyone where they are.


Ginseng: Its Cultivation, Harvesting, Marketing and Market Value
MG Kains – 1903 – Orange Judd Company

Ginseng and Other Medicinal Plants
AR Harding – 1908 – AR Harding Publishing

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