The History Of American Ginseng
American Ginseng, while fairly new and unknown in modern culture, has been used by almost
every Indian tribe where it grows wild. The really astonishing fact is that Indian tribes of North
America used wild American Ginseng in much the same manner as the Chinese used Asian Ginseng.
They used it as a preventative. For instance, the Cherokee used American Ginseng for colic,
convulsions, dysentry, and headache, and described it as "the little man". Other tribes used it for an
aid to digestion, and appetite and a help for cramps and menstrual problems. Other uses were for
exhaustion, breathlessness, croup, and as an aid to keep the wounded alive.
It would seem that there must be something to the legend of Ginseng when two such different
groups of people, who never had any contact with each other, independently started to use a very
similar plant for the same pupose. While modern medical research has substantiated very few of
their claims, it seems probable that there must be some substance to these beliefs. No one seems to
know for how many years the Indians have used Ginseng, but we can be fairly certain that it was in
use for hundreds of years.
In the year 1702, a French Jesuit priest, by the name of Father Jartoux, was in Manchuria, a
province of China when he observed the Chinese use of Ginseng. In his writings he described the
wonder plant in sufficient detail to fascinate another Jesuit priest, by the name of Father Lafitau.
Father Lafitau, working among the Indians in Canada, deduced that since the climate in Canada was
similar to Manchuria, that he might be able to find the same plant growing there. In 1716, after
months of searching he was rewarded by the discovery of Panax Quinquefolius - American
French fur traders quickly realized there were enormous profits to be made selling American
Ginseng to the Chinese. They reportedly paid 25 cents per pound to the diggers and then sold the
Ginseng for $5 per pound in China. by 1752 the French Canadian traders were selling $100,000
worth of Ginseng. Unfortunately, in their haste to make profits they gathered poorer and poorer
roots and then dried them to quickly in ovens, completely destroying their value. Trade fell to
$6,500 in 1754.
Around the same time, the American colonies discovered Ginseng. One of the early Ginseng
traders in the U.S. was John Jacob Astor, in the late 1700's. Mr. Astor, of the American fur
company, reportedly made a profit of $55,000, all in silver, on one of his first expeditions. The
equivalent of many millions of dollars today.
Daniel Boone, of Kentucky, made his fortune trading Ginseng, although he is remembered as a fur
trader. Fur just didn't pay as much as Ginseng. Daniel Boone also has the dubious distinction of
having one of the first Ginseng disasters. In 1788, he accumulated twelve tons of Ginseng but lost it
all when his boat overturned in the Ohio River on it's way to Philadelphia. The next year, he had
better luck and the Boone family fortune was made. And of course, Daniel Boone himself became a
Ginseng cultivation began sometime around the 1880's as wild Ginseng was already becoming
scarce. There is much discussion about who was the first successful cultivator of Ginseng, but by
1895, there were a few successes. Today, in 1999, Ginseng is still difficult to cultivate, requiring
almost constant attention during the growing season and considerable effort in the spring and fall to
attend to Ginseng's need for shade.