Wisconsin: A Ginseng Powerhouse
Wisconsin is known for many different agricultural commodities. Did you know that ginseng is one of them? Before beginning my adventure as our state’s 73rd Alice in Dairyland, I didn’t know much about this bittersweet root. Last October, I was able to visit the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin and learn more about how ginseng is grown and its importance here in Wisoconsin. Ginseng roots require many years of care before harvest, and the industry has a notable impact on our agricultural economy. Ginseng sets Wisconsin agriculture apart and puts our state on the map for ginseng lovers worldwide. This Wisconsin product is especially important in many Asian cultures, particularly during Chinese New Year.
Chinese New Year, also called Lunar New Year, is an annual 15-day festival celebrated in China and in many Chinese communities around the world. This event begins with the new moon. This year, Chinese New Year occurs on Friday, February 12, 2021, in many of the countries that celebrate it. Ginseng is a key ingredient used in traditional Chinese medicine and is a popular gift during the New Year celebrations. It is known as a “gift of good health” that can help support a healthy immune system and is widely used in Western cultures as a dietary supplement and botanical additive.
There are two varieties of ginseng grown in the world, Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng) and Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng). The two varieties are opposites. According to the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin, consumers sometimes take the two varieties together: American ginseng for a cooling effect and Asian ginseng for a heating effect.
American ginseng has been cultivated in Wisconsin for more than 100 years, dating back to the 1800s. Today, Wisconsin ginseng growers account for 95 percent of the total cultivated American ginseng produced in the United States. Not only do Wisconsin ginseng farmers outrank every other state for the quantity of production, but they also top the list in quality. All around the world, consumers request Wisconsin-grown ginseng. Our state’s reputation for the best quality ginseng is thanks to the highly-desired, bittersweet taste of the roots we grow.
Growing ginseng requires years of diligent observation and care. Ginseng roots begin as seeds, harvested by hand in September from existing plants. These seeds then sit in a cooler throughout the fall and winter to dry out. In the spring, the seeds are warmed up and raised beds are prepared for planting in the summer months. Planting must be done in virgin soil, where ginseng roots have never grown. For reasons that are still unknown to us today, ginseng cannot grow on the same plot of land more than once. Once the seeds are planted, they are covered with straw for insulation.
The following spring, approximately 20 months after the seeds were initially harvested, the ginseng seeds will sprout. Once above ground, ginseng plants are high maintenance. They are especially susceptible to wind, rain, sun, and frost damage. To protect the plants from sunburn, shade structures are placed above the plants. Ginseng farmers will care for a crop for three to five years before harvesting the roots. A mature, finished root will have a desired wrinkly skin, a white interior, and a bitter taste.
After harvest, ginseng roots are cooled for two to three weeks, washed to remove dirt and debris, and prepared for the drying process. When harvested, the roots are around 70 percent water! All of the roots are dried for 12-16 days at approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit to remove moisture. Roots are then graded, sorted, and processed. Once these steps are complete, the finished ginseng will be sold as roots, tea, and capsules. Ginseng can also be found as a powder, in energy drinks, and even in some lotions and chapsticks.
Learn more about Wisconsin ginseng products, health benefits, and where to shop for ginseng at https://www.ginsengboard.com.