Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)

ginseng blooms 1

The Cherokee name for ginseng translates the “mountain it climbs or mountain climber”.  This is because it grows in thick understory in mountainous areas.  The plant is perennial and can grow up to a foot tall and the normal blooming time is June to July.  It prefers shade to full shade with medium moisture in the soil   It likes moist, rich soils that does not dry out during the growing season.   The species is endangered today.   Each plant has three long stalks with compound leaves.  Each flower will produce a cluster of red berries.   The roots are fragrant, thick, and swollen in the middle.

ginseng berries

Ginseng was highly prized by the Cherokee and was one of only a handful of plants taken with them on the Trail of Tears to what is now Oklahoma.   A tea was made from the plant and used as a pick me up.  A poultice was made from the roots and applied to boils.  A tea was also made from the roots to treat headaches and cramps.   One way the Cherokee prepared this plant was to chew the roots and blow the material through a wooden tube onto the area of pain.   A tea was used to stimulate appetite in the elderly or with those who had the flu, a cold, or infections.   This plant was stored by the medicine men rather than collecting when needed.

ginseng roots

This is a plant I keep in my personal garden, but would not put in a public garden because it would be taken.   Just remember the Chinese variety is not the native plant we are talking about.   The American ginseng is very valuable and it is harvested and shipped to Asian markets.

Ginseng would be a “prize” in your personal garden, and each time you look at it you can remember its rich heritage with the Cherokee.    Be patient with Ginseng because it is slow growing but it will be worth your time.

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