American Ginseng –
Rooted in Wisconsin
Since the early 1700’s, American ginseng (Panax
Quinquefolium) – harvested in Canada and the
United States – was collected from the wild and
exported to China. The first attempt to cultivate
ginseng in the United States was made by Abraham
Whisman of Boones Path, VA, in the 1870’s.
However, it wasn’t until the late 1880’s that ginseng
was successfully cultivated1.
The 1992 Census of Agriculture was the first census
in which ginseng production was measured apart from
other herbs because of its economic significance.
Ginseng is a high value, cash root crop that requires
4 to 5 years of growth before it is ready for harvesting.
After the ginseng roots are harvested, the growing beds
are prepared and another 5 year growing cycle begins.
Ginseng berries, from which ginseng seeds are
extracted, are not harvested until the plant is in its third
or subsequent year of growth. Ginseng seeds take an
additional 18 to 24 months of preparation before they
can be used.
The 1992 Census of Agriculture reported 824 farms
with 1,505 acres producing 1,726,487 pounds of
ginseng. Although ginseng is grown in other States
(Kentucky, Minnesota, Tennessee, Virginia, and West
Virginia), Wisconsin is the leading State for ginseng
production with 785 farms. Wisconsin’s farms
accounted for 97 percent of all ginseng produced and
about 95 percent of all acres harvested. This is largely
due to its unique soil and growing conditions.
1Foster Steven, American Ginseng, American Botanical Coun-
cil, Botanical Series No. 308, p. 5, 1975.
Census data show that of the 785 ginseng farms in
Wisconsin, 685 farms harvested 2 acres or less in 1992.
These farms accounted for 995,842 pounds harvested,
which represented about 60 percent of Wisconsin’s
Marathon County, WI, is the heart of United States
ginseng production. Based on 1992 Census of
Agriculture data, Marathon County reported 649
ginseng farms with 1,234 acres harvested producing
1,460,750 pounds of ginseng.