Botanical Name: Panax Ginseng (and other Panax varieties) Family: Araliaceae

Common name(s): Ginseng

(for this and the harvesting section, I am going to focus on American Ginseng, since that’s the variety I would grow)

  • Perennial; herbaceous | Zone 3-7 | 4-24 inches tall, depending on maturity | prongs develop from a single stalk and have 3-5 leaflets. Mature plants have up to 5 prongs. Small, nondescript flowers turn to red fruit, which grow in a bunch.
  • Moderate to Deep shade (75-80% is ideal) | Moist, well-drained soil | North/East slopes are ideal | Grows where Jack-in-the-pulpit, wild sarsparilla, wild ginger, solomon’s seal, ferns, and jewelweed (among others) grow.


Rhizomes are harvested in autumn when at least 5 years old. Rings develop at the base of the stalk and indicate age. It is illegal to harvest ginseng before the red berries ripen and set seed.


Decoction: 1/2 teaspoon powdered root per cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Powder: Use 1-2 gram doses in capsules or tablets

Note: Michael Tierra suggests using shiu chu (red ginseng) roots from China.


Constituents: Steroidal glycosides (panaxosides), sterols, essential oils, vitamin D, acetyleneic compounds

Actions: Adaptogen, alterative, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant,  stimulant, tonic

Uses: Improving mental clarity and physical performance (short term), male tonic (erectile disfunction and improving sperm count), stimulating the immune system, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels, normalizing blood pressure (specifically low blood pressure), anemia, stress and fatigue

Cautions: Take for a maximum of 6 weeks with a break of at least 2-3 weeks. Avoid while pregnant. Avoid caffeine when taking ginseng. Some varieties may cause headaches.


American ginseng is considered cool (yin), Asian ginseng is considered warm (yang).


  • Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs Peterson Field Guide, Foster & Duke
  • Herbal Remedies, Andrew Chevallier
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffmann
  • The Complete Medicinal Herbal, Penelope Ody
  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Temperate Climate Permaculture
  • photo credit: Forest Farming American Ginseng via photopin (license)

The variety indigenous to America is Panex quinquefolius. I’ll be looking for this beauty in my forest this year, but I’ve also ordered seeds which will come this fall. It is considered endangered in the wild, so I am happy to add it to the wild places on my property. 

Asian ginseng is considered more potent than American ginseng.