What is the difference between Wild and Cultivated Ginseng?

Demand for ginseng and its benefits are huge and people worldwide are taking advantage of its natural abilities to help the human body. In fact, they’re going wild, and not just for no reason.

 Wild ginseng is largely popular, especially with the Chinese who appreciate that it more closely resembles its natural potency. Cultivated ginseng is more readily available and is harvested at a much younger age than its wild counterpart.

Below we cover what wild and cultivated ginseng is, and we’ll talk about future development of farming ginseng in a more natural, yet sustainable, way.

Cultivated Ginseng

While not as valuable as wild ginseng, cultivated ginseng is more robust but has been introduced because over-harvesting and even ginseng ‘poaching’ has diminished the availability of the herb in the wild.

When it’s cultivated, it makes it much more readily available. Cultivation of this superior herb also meets the huge ‘global’ ginseng demand although some scientists want the return of more naturally farmed ginseng due to its endangered state. It’s special endangered wild state is because this amazing plant is harvested for its root so each plant is ultimately destroyed after harvesting. Thanks to its popularity over centuries with the Chinese it has succombe to hunters in its natural habitat.

Cultivated ginseng is grown in raised beds, placed in neat rows, and grows under artificial shade usually under polypropylene or a shade cloth. This ‘domesticated ginseng’ is therefore easily grown and is priced at around $15 a pound in its dried form. This makes it extremely popular and still beneficial in treating and preventing illness. The wild version can attract around $500 a pound which is why it has been decreased in availability and increased so much in value.

Wild Ginseng

Harvested and grown in its natural habitat, wild ginseng has been over-harvested because the Chinese prize it’s medicinal value but it’s caused their own wild ginseng to be very near to extinction. The Chinese people have strong beliefs that the most potent variety of ginseng is that grown wildly. It is deemed to be more potent because it is slow growing and usually harvested at an older age than commercially cultivated versions of the herb.

It grows under natural shade provided beneath a canopy of trees, and farmed agriculturally following recognised horticultural practices. But it is still victim to rich-seeking poachers. Because of its now scarce availability, scientists are looking at the potential of forest farming ginseng in America where it can be planted from cultivated seed, but then grown using natural practices and methods.

American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius)

This is a wild herbaceous perennial ginseng root. Grown in Minnesota where it once was abundant, its species is now a concern in the state and therefore not very common. This special concern means that this genus of the ginseng plant requires monitoring and needs a specific or unique habitat. As a protected endangered species this wild ginseng is covered by a 1972 international treaty in which it was introduced to Appendix II of the treaty in July 1975.. Its future survival is dependent on the farmers that can grow and harvest it and sell it locally. However, the roots cannot be exported until its survival is no longer threatened (this will be determined by the Endangered Species Scientific Authority).

Appalachia’s Wild Ginseng – Studies and Saving It

To reduce the pressure that American ginseng faces, the forest farmers and owners in the Appalachia region is where scientists think there is real potential. 

Iris Gao, biologist at Middle Tennessee State University, has studied medicinal plants and her interest in recent years has focused on American (Panax quinquefolius). She concentrates on ginseng cells and their leaves in her lab, before having them analysed for their chemical content.  To study even more of ginseng’s abilities, she stores human cells so the chemicals emitted from the ginseng plant can be tested for the combat of malignancies in the human body. This research essentially has a larger goal. Restoration of ginseng reserves can be improved and economic opportunities in certain regions can be achieved. Gao believes Appalachia is where the growth of ginseng should return to.

There are obstructions though and, primarily, that may be that the authorities lack the knowledge and resources available to realise the true value of forest farmed rather than unnaturally cultivated ginseng. Trying to face their opponents, Gao and her fellow researchers know and share that forest-farmed alternatives can be just as potent and medicinal as wild ginseng. Also, landowners need to be aware of the overharvesting that the plant has suffered.

Growing ginseng in Appalachia would mean that it is recognized as a wild plant across the region rather than an endangered crop that simply ‘grows’ there. Monitoring the land and deterring hunters whilst protecting the land would need to be put strictly into place. While Gao is concerned about the future of ginseng, there is certainly potential that needs to be investigated as well as studies to be understood and embraced. Being able to ensure that forest farmers are not targeted once forest farming is put into place, deter theft from hunters, and monitor its success is essential.

Summary

Even if it becomes readily available wild ginseng may be beyond the budget of most of us. Cultivated ginseng remains the choice of those looking for natural herbal supplements that are proven to help with physical and psychological illness.

More details relating to the protection of wild flora and fauna mentioned above can be found at the Federal Register.

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