“I didn’t know you had vineyards up here,” said my friend from Florida as we drove through the Marathon County countryside. “But what are those canopies over the top of the plantings?”
“Those aren’t vineyards,” I exclaimed. “It’s ginseng. We’re the largest grower and producer of ginseng in the United States!”
My friend’s ignorance is only one of the misconceptions and layers of mystery surrounding the spindly-legged root we grow here.
For example, ginseng goes back at least 5,000 years, to plants grown for medicinal purposes in China.
Ginseng blooms in June and July, producing fragrant yellow-green flowers which attract bees and syrphid flies, which in turn pollinate the plant. Pretty smart.
Birds eat ginseng’s autumn-ripening red fruit and spread the seed in the wild. Also pretty smart.
Native American tribes knew about ginseng and used it to treat fevers, headaches, and gastro-intestinal disorders.
Ginseng is susceptible to climate change (there, I used the words!) and research is being conducted on how to adapt the plant.
Of course, ginseng can be used in cooking and that’s what took place Sept. 15-16 at the Monk Botanical Gardens. As part of the International Ginseng Festival, local chefs made specialties like soup and chicken, using ginseng.
If you check computer sources you’ll find that Asian ginseng is considered “warming,” while America ginseng is considered “cooling.” Maybe we crossed the international boundaries with these cooking demonstrations. Some of the dishes were hot but the activity was very cool.