American Ginseng
Panix quinquefolia, Syn: Aralia quinquefolia
Araliaceae (Ginseng) Family

Photo courtesy Donna Bell, Flomaton, AL

April 14, 2007

American Ginseng is also known as Five Fingers, Tartar Root, Red Berry and Man's Health.

Ginseng plants are distinguished as Asiatic or Chinese Ginseng, a native of Manchuria, Chinese Tartary and other parts of eastern Asia, where the plant is largely cultivated, as well as in Korea and Japan. This perennial herb is very slow growing, and is grown primarily for its root system that may be no more than 2 or 3 inches long. Its preferred habitat is rich woods. Distribution is occasional to rare in the Escambia region.

The three leaves are five to twelve inches long, each divided into five toothed leaflets atop a straight stalk. The color is bright green.

The flowers are an umbel of small greenish-white or yellow-green blossoms that arise from the center of the leaves. Each flower has five petals and are scented similar to Lily-of-the-Valley. Flowers occur in the summer.

Fruit is a cluster of bright red berries.

The root of this species is highly prized as an alleged aphrodisiac and heart stimulant. It is also in demand as a tonic, which has resulted in over-collection. thus, the plant is now considered rare. It is classified as a threatened species in 31 states. It is estimated that the acreage of Ginseng cultivated in the United States is about 150 acres. To supply the plant root according to worldwide demand would require at least 1,000 acres to be grown annually for five years before a profitable harvest would be realized. The economics is such that it was far better to let it grow naturally in native woods, and to harvest from the wild; thus the decline in population.

Panax, the generic name, is derived from the Greek Panakos (a panacea), in reference to the miraculous virtue ascribed to it by the Chinese, who consider it a sovereign remedy in almost all diseases. The common name is a corruption of the Chinese Jin-chen (Man-like), referring to the forked trouser-shaped fleshy root.

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