The Industry
Ginseng is recognized as a high value agricultural crop and has been proven to grow well in southern Ontario for over 100 years. Ginseng has been used by the people of eastern Asia for more than 5,000 years as a general tonic and is a foundation of Chinese herbal medicine. Ginseng is a herbaceous perennial herb native to northern Manchuria and the northeastern United States. The plant is prized for its fleshy root and is the single most valuable herb in Chinese medicine.

Ginseng can be harvested in its third year but does not reach maturity until its fourth year. The plant flowers in early summer and in the fall of the third year produces a crop of red berries bearing one to three seeds each. The mature four year-old root is typically two to six inches long and up to one inch thick. A second seed crop is produced in the fourth year.

There are two species of ginseng which are commercially important, Panax ginseng and Panax Quinquefolium. Panax is a Latin noun meaning a plant with all-healing properties.

Panax ginseng is Asian ginseng originally found growing wild in northern Manchuria and now cultivated primarily in China, Korea and Japan. Wild Asian ginseng is now rare because of over-harvesting and the elimination of many of China's forested areas. To replace wild sources of ginseng, the Chinese initiated cultivation of the plant over 600 years ago.

Panax quinquefolium is customarily referred to as American ginseng. The plant was originally found wild throughout the northeastern states of the U.S. and in portions of southern Ontario and Quebec. Although some quantities are still harvested in the wild, the majority of current American ginseng production consists of cultivated product mainly from select areas of Ontario and Wisconsin. The ginseng products that are commercially harvested and marketed are the root and the seed.

Method of Production
The cultivation of ginseng was started in southeastern Manchuria and northern Korea approximately 600 years ago on a small and relatively primitive level. As ginseng became an increasingly important and valuable medicinal plant, the plantations grew larger, the production process became more sophisticated (particularly the efforts designed to accelerate seed germination) and cultivation activities extended to the areas including South Korea, Japan, Russia and North America. Today, the vast majority of commercial ginseng is cultivated rather than harvested from the wild. Ginseng is propagated from seeds or small plants. The seed is harvested between late August and early October at a time when the berries are crimson red. In North America seeds are generally stratified for one year and then planted in raised beds. The ginseng root is harvested after the third or fourth growing season.

A variety of soil and climates have been effectively utilized in ginseng production. The most effective soils are those rich in humus, ranging from silt loam to sandy loam in texture, underlain by porous subsoils and well drained. Ginseng does not appear to be highly sensitive to temperature although it is sensitive to light and consequently must be grown under shaded conditions which, in commercial farms, is provided by an artificial shade covering.

Product Forms
Ginseng is sold in a variety of different product forms including whole roots, powders, capsules, tablets, teas, liquid extracts, tonics, candy, chewing gum, face lotion, shampoo, tobacco and isolated capsulized glycosides. The whole root form is the dominant product form. It is preferred in many areas of Asia because it permits the prospective purchaser to closely examine the characteristics of the root including its size, age, species and shape before buying. Ginseng is often combined with other products such as beverages and candy. One of the more exotic combinations is royal jelly which combines ginseng with a bee secretion that is fed to a queen bee to keep her fertile and productive. Several pharmaceutical companies also manufacture capsules which combine ginseng with selected vitamins and minerals.

Over 90% of North American ginseng production is exported with approximately 86% currently being imported to or through Hong Kong. The root is typically shipped from Hong Kong to the rest of China where it is graded and resold. China is the single largest ginseng consumer in the world.
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