How to Determine the Age of Ginseng Plants

 

ginseng-root-diagram

Credit: Dr. Sara Souther

Ginseng plants can be aged before they are harvested by two simple methods:

  • Count the number of leaves (also known as prongs) a plant has.
  • Count the number of stem scars on the rhizome (also known as root neck) of the plant.

Ginseng plants typically have 1-4 palmately compound leaves, each with 3 to 5 leaflets.  That is a single leaf is comprised of 3-5 leaflets. The 18 approved States with wild ginseng harvest programs have regulations in place that prohibit the harvest of plants with fewer than 3 leaves (3 prongs). Ginseng plants with 3 leaves are at least 5 years old. One State (Illinois) requires wild ginseng plants to have 4 leaves and to be 10 years old.

 

 

 

 

 


ginseng-aerial-scars

Credit: USDA-APHIS

The age of a ginseng plant can be determined by counting the number of stem scars on the rhizome.  Each year of plant growth adds a stem scar to the rhizome when the leaf stem dies back in the autumn.  Ginseng roots can be aged before removing them from the ground by simply removing the soil around the area where the plant's rhizome joins the root.  Once the soil is removed, count the stem scars on the rhizome.  A 5 year old plant will have 4 stem scars on the rhizome.  If there are fewer than 4 stem scars, carefully cover the below ground portion of plant with soil. 

The photos on this page show the rhizome with stem scars.

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