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Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals

Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals, 2nd ed., by Jeanine Davis and W. Scott Persons. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers; 2014. Softcover, 508 pages. ISBN: 978-0-86571-766-4. $39.95.

If there was one book that people who are interested in growing American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius, Araliaceae) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, Ranunculaceae) should have, this is it. Jeanine Davis, PhD, and Scott Persons, PhD, have improved upon what was the seminal book regarding the growing and marketing of valuable Native American medicinal forest plants. The first edition was a must-have for people wanting to grow ginseng and goldenseal. This revised, updated edition will replace the first edition as the go-to source of information for growers.

The new edition is chock-full of useful information. Its contents reflect the authors’ more than 60 years of combined experience working with and cultivating medicinal plants of eastern American forests. Dr. Persons shares his valuable knowledge based on his hands-on experience in Part Two, “A Ginseng Grower’s Manual.” Chapters in this section provide all the information that an interested entrepreneur needs to grow, harvest, process, and market American ginseng. Dr. Davis builds on, and complements, that section with chapters on goldenseal, ramps (Allium tricoccum, Amaryllidaceae), and many other forest herbs. Dr. Davis also provides details on growing forest herbs in home gardens as well as advice on sustainable wild harvesting.

Part One, “American Ginseng,” sets the stage for later chapters, although it has some challenges. The section on the life cycle of ginseng is important for comprehension of how the plant grows. Although I know the definition of “prong,” I was unable to find a clear explanation of the term in these pages. For someone new to ginseng, this could present a challenge in understanding the plant’s life cycle, though not significantly. I found the distribution map of wild American ginseng wanting. It may have represented a historical perspective of American ginseng, but I question if wild ginseng is found in southern Mississippi or if it would grow in that environment. A current map would be very helpful. The section on government regulation, particularly the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), could be improved as well. CITES is such a contentious matter among people involved with wild-harvested ginseng that presenting current and accurate information is critical for people interested in growing this valuable medicinal herb. There are 19 states approved to export wild American ginseng, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

I really enjoyed the chapter on the history of ginseng trade, which begins with a synopsis of ginseng’s value in China and progresses through modernity. By doing so, the reader is provided with a sense of the link between American ginseng (both cultivated and wild) and the product’s final destination in Asia. I have heard much about the grading of ginseng and would have enjoyed more on that subject. The one image of “octopus” or “spider” roots illustrates low-quality ginseng, although the reader would benefit from seeing images of other grades, too. Additionally, I would have preferred a list of average annual prices for ginseng rather than a range of prices, as the tendency is to concentrate on the highest price.

The “Ginseng Grower’s Manual” provides sound advice on three ways to grow the plant: artificial shade, wild simulated, and woods cultivated. Obviously, the author has a wealth of knowledge on the subject. The information provided in these chapters is sufficient for an entrepreneur to get started in growing “green gold.” The production budgets, which are very important considerations for people to get a sense of costs and benefits of growing, are improved from the previous edition. One concern I have with the budgets is that while projected income has increased since the previous edition, expenses have not. In the nine years since the first edition was published, the hourly labor rate has doubled.

The chapter on wild-simulated growing methods provides an approach that Dr. Persons has refined over the years to cultivate ginseng roots in a forest environment. At the end of the chapter, the authors present “alternative wild-simulated planting methods,” which I find problematic. My understanding of wild-simulated planting is that minimal site disturbance is essential. However, the description of the alternative wild-simulated method includes using a tiller or “small tractors to disc seeds into the ground.” This may be a valid approach to growing ginseng; perhaps it just needs to be presented as an alternative planting method and not as wild-simulated.

After an excellent introduction to growing ginseng, Dr. Davis does an admirable job presenting a similar story of growing goldenseal and ramps. As she states, the science of growing these forest herbs is not well developed. But Dr. Davis blends personal experience with research results to provide the reader with sound advice and counsel on growing valuable forest herbs. Similar challenges are perceived with the production budgets; this may be the nature of the budgets.

Part Four of the book provides short and informative summaries of 11 other forest herbs. These include economically significant forest herbs such as bethroot (Trillium erectum, Liliaceae), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, syn. Cimicifuga racemosa, Ranunculaceae), blood root (Sanguinaria canadensis, Papaveraceae), and false unicorn (Chamaelirium luteum, Liliaceae). The short summaries cover the plants’ description and range, uses, growing instructions, and market and economic data. Like the other sections of the book, Part Four is a treasure trove of information that provides a good starting point for interested growers.

For the forest landowner who wants to have a woodland garden, this book is an excellent resource. In order to promote conservation of these plants, it is essential to encourage forest landowners to grow them in gardens. These refugia will help to ensure the long-term sustainability of the genetic resources. The reader also is presented with some simple products that can be created from the herbs they grow — completing the chain of beneficial plant cultivation from growth to use.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in growing forest herbs and anyone interested in becoming more educated about these plants. It is full of tables, charts, images, and figures that will be of immense assistance in learning more about the cultivation of valuable medicinal forest plants. The book has a prominent place on my shelves, next to the dog-eared first edition. I’m sure with time, the second edition will exhibit the same evidence of frequent use.

—Jim Chamberlain, PhD Forest Products Technologist, USDA Forest Service Blacksburg, Virginia