The ginseng market is divided between cultivated stocks, like those from central Wisconsin that are grown in raised beds under shade cloths, and wild crafted plants or plants grown in wild simulated plots within forests. The roots of the plants, though chemically similar, are difference in appearance. The gnarled roots of the wild plants that had to grow around rocks and other plant roots are sought after by buyers from Hong Kong, where essentially all of the US wild crafted harvest ends up. These buyers have no interest in the cultivated stocks, which end up as the source of ginseng as a food and beverage ingredient.
While 70% of the world’s cultivated ginseng is grown in China, North American wild sources, primarily found in the Appalachian region, are prized for traditional Chinese medicine uses. With the rising affluence of Chinese consumers, demand and prices are on the increase.
“Wild American ginseng is one of the most important of the non-timber forest products collected in the mountains of the Eastern US,” said Michael McGuffin, president of the AHPA-ERB Foundation. “There is broad interest among harvesters, consumers, nonprofit organizations and regulatory agencies to ensure the harvest of this plant is sustainable.”
Development of a national American ginseng germplasm collection is now in a preliminary planning stage under the direction of Dr Joe-Ann McCoy at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC. A germplasm collection, defined as the long-term storage of hereditary plant material (i.e. seed) does not currently exist for American ginseng in the US.
"The harvest pressure on wild American ginseng and the disappearance of more and more of its natural habitat creates a risk of the loss of the genetic diversity critical for the long-term health of the species," said Dan Ashe, director of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. “Creating a seed bank for ginseng is vital to ensure the continued sustainability of this species, which plays an important role in the economy and culture of communities throughout the US.”
The national program will entail the identification, collection, and propagation of a significant number of genetically diverse populations of Panax quinquefolius sustainably collected from multiple locations within its native range in the US. Dr. McCoy is also initiating a regional American ginseng germplasm collection for western North Carolina.
“Starting with a regional germplasm collection will provide a template for the broader project that encompasses the wide geographic range of this plant,” said Dr McCoy. “The AHPA ERB Foundation’s foresight and dedication to the long-term conservation of this precious species will help preserve the native populations for future generations.”
The American Ginseng Advisory Panel is composed of the following members:
• Eric Burkhart, Ph.D., program director, Plant Science, Pennsylvania State University
• Lyle Craker, Ph.D., professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst
• Jennifer Cruse-Sanders, Ph.D., V.P. for Science and Conservation, Atlanta Botanical Garden
• Tony Hayes, president, Ridge Runner Trading Company
• Gary Kauffman, botanist/ecologist, U.S Forest Service
• Susan Leopold, Ph.D., executive director, United Plant Savers
• Allen Lockard, president, American Botanicals
• Joe-Ann McCoy, Ph.D., director, North Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository
• James McGraw, Ph.D., professor, West Virginia University
• Michael McGuffin, president, American Herbal Products Association