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By Dr. Walter Van Fleet


American ginseng is a fleshy-rooted herbaceous plant growing naturally on the slopes of ravines and in other shady but well-drained situations in hardwood forests in varying abundance from Maine to Minnesota and southward to the mountains of Georgia and the Carolinas. It has long been valued by the Chinese for medicinal use, though rarely credited with curative virtues by the natives of other countries. The dried roots have been exported from this country in increasing quantities since the early years of the eighteenth century, the prices rising as the wild supply diminished because of the clearing away of suitable forests, from about 40 cents a pound in the early years of its collection to more than $6.00 a pound for the best qualities during the last eight years.

The cultivation of native ginseng, stimulated by its increasing scarcity and the rising prices, began in an experimental way about 15 years ago and has attained such proportions that the output of cultivated roots is little short of that collected from the forests and in the present state of the market has nearly the same value. It is reasonable to assume that the cultivated root must eventually displace the wild article as a commodity for export, but any rapid increase of production at this juncture might depress selling prices, which arc not thought to exceed greatly the cost of growing and marketing, when the slow development of the plants and the relatively expensive equipment needed for ginseng culture are duly considered.

A negligible quantity of ginseng root is consumed by Chinese residents of North America and a trifle has been used by manufacturers of domestic medicine, leaving practically the sole outlet for this product with the Koreans and Asiatic Chinese.

As yields of dry roots from well-managed plantings appear to be at the rate of a ton to the acre, it will be realized that the product of 100 acres of mature root could very readily supply our present average exportation of 164.530 pounds. This would represent total plantings of nearly 700 acres, as it requires at least six years to grow marketable roots from seeds. Taking into consideration the growing interest in ginseng culture, the increasing output, and the probability that wild roots may continue to furnish a supply for some years, it appears best to regard the future of the industry with conservatism.

Fur, News. Fur News, January 1916.

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