Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Scoop on Driftless Area Ginseng

     Wild American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) is one of the treasures of the Driftless Area Woodlands and, as such. has been hunted to near extinction in many locales hereabouts. It can still be found and I believe proliferation of this valuable species is just around the corner.  The root price dropped precipitously this year, so the poachers were a little less enthused about stealing it from private property.

     I was taught how to hunt "Sang" by a friend of mine in his seventies who who had been hunting for the better part of his life. He has regaled me with stories of cresting a hill and looking down into a gully in the woods and seeing "berries...nothin' but berries as far as we could see up and down the gully. Once, in one of them gullies, we dug almost 60 pounds of wet root, one of our best single digs ever!"

North American Ginseng

     In those days, he was getting between $60 - $100 per pound of dried root. Just to give you an idea, it takes three pounds of wet root yo dry down to one pound of dry root.  Even at that, it was a good haul and the work was a lot of fun, difficult, but fun, with a good friend along, it was even better.

     I was over at his place one afternoon, enjoying some icy cold adult beverages, and he told he was through hunting. He had saved just over $100,000 from his sales each year. In addition, he had the kitchen redone for his wife's birthday, bought several new shotguns and LOTS of fishing gear, a boat and trailer and a couple of new pickups. 

My first season's harvest under my tutor's guidance

     I begged hym to hang with it for at least another year to teach me. An agreement was made, and he would do it! That first season, with his woods lore and friendship, and an additional two more seasons hunting with him, I learned how to do it and do it sustainably. Since that first year, the ginseng numbers have at least tripled on our hillsides due to intelligent harvesting and a lot of seeding and re-seeding. What you see above went for just about $1100 a pound. That was a nice chunk of change for the farm that year! My second season was even better!

   There were several things I learned what NOT to do by watching my tutor do them. Taking plants from places where you know you won't be able to remove the whole root because of roots, rocks, or trees. And don't harvest the young plants. Generally speaking, it takes seven years for a ginseng plant to grow to it's potential. However, the older it gets, the larger it gets, the more powerful that plant becomes. so leave the damned little ones alone! And always, always, always plant the berries from the plant you just harvested!

   I harvest sustainably here, taking only the largest and healthiest plants I find. I plant hundreds of seed berries each season. And the plants are coming back beautifully! As long as the market stays down far enough to make it too much work to harvest (by nature, poachers are lazy bastards), I don't have much to worry about with poachers.

    The last couple of years, I have learned much from a mentor on the merits of ginseng, He is from Marathon County, Wisconsin and is solely responsible for that county being number in the entire country for the production of commercial American Ginseng. He has taught me well, so well in fact, next year I am going to make, or more clearly, I'll probably cajole Mary into making his ginseng soap. He gave us a couple of bars for Christmas two or three years ago. To me soap is soap, I don't care what it is as long as it does what it's supposed to. But this ginseng soap is different. You can feel it work, actually feel it tingle as it cleans deeply. By golly, it's good soap!

Dried ginseng leaves, Numi organic green tea, our own lemon balm ready to go into tea bags

     We harvest only the ginseng we need for tinctures, extracts and teabags. The rest is allowed to grow in the environment it loves. Because of these sustainable practices, we are healthier, happier and the woods we love are even prettier. As luck would have it, we do have teabags and loose ginseng for sale. Just message us on Facebook.

     How about a few more benefits of ginseng?

Energy provider

Ginseng may help with stimulating physical and mental activity among people who are weak and tired. A Mayo Clinic study revealed that ginseng showed good results in helping cancer patients with fatigue.

Cognitive function

Ginseng may improve thinking ability and cognition. Research published in the The Cochrane Library, conducted at the Medical School of Nantong University in China, examined whether this claim holds any truth.
Lead author, JinSong Geng, M.D., said that given the results of the study "ginseng appears to have some beneficial effects on cognition, behavior and quality of life." However, the authors of the review cautioned that despite some positive findings, studies included in the systematic review did not add up to a "convincing" case for ginseng's effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer.
In commenting on the study, Richard Brown, M.D., an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, said: "It was a very careful review. But as with many Chinese herbs and treatments, while ginseng has been used by millions of people, there aren't a lot of rigorous modern studies."
Another study, published in the Journal of Dairy Science, explored whether it would be possible to incorporate American ginseng into foods. The researchers developed ginseng fortified milk with sufficient levels of ginseng to improve cognitive function.

Anti-inflammatory effects

Ginseng has seven constituents, ginsenosides, which may have immune-suppressive effects, according to results of experiments which were published in the Journal of Translational Medicine
Allan Lau, who led the study, said that "the anti-inflammatory role of ginseng may be due to the combined effects of these ginsenosides, targeting different levels of immunological activity, and so contributing to the diverse actions of ginseng in humans".

Cancer prevention

There may be substances in ginseng that have anticancer properties. A few population studies in Asia have linked the herb's consumption to a lower risk of cancer.1
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center researchers found that Ginseng improved survival and quality of life after a diagnosis of breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society said that "clinical trials are still needed to determine whether it is effective in people."

Erectile dysfunction

Men may take ginseng to treat erectile dysfunction. A 2002 Korean study revealed that 60 percent of men who took ginseng noticed an improvement in their symptoms. In addition, research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology provided "evidence for the effectiveness of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction."2

Flu and RSV

Research published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine has suggested a possible link between ginseng and the treatment and prevention of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This study was conducted in mice and found that red ginseng extract improved the survival of human lung epithelial cells infected with influenza virus.