Siberian Ginseng

Siberian Ginseng

Siberian Ginseng Ci wu jia

Eleutherococcus senticosus

Perennial zones 3-8

Eleuthero ginseng; Ci wu jia; Eleuthero

Major Chinese medicine actions:
Tonifies Speen and Kidneys, nourishes the Heart, calms the spirit, invigorates the blood.

Species used by Russian cosmonauts and athletes to improve endurance. Possesses powerful tonic and restorative properties and was found to relieve the effects of mental and physical stress. Its action differs from that of true ginseng as it does not cause insomnia in large doses. Very hardy shrub; requires partial shade. Germination can take 1-2 years—see growing instructions below.  Patience is the key.

Don’t confuse Siberian Ginseng Ci wu jia with other types of ginseng. Siberian ginseng is not the same herb as American or Panax ginseng.

In its native habitat, Siberian Ginseng Ci wu jia grows in groups in thickets or in the low undergrowth of mountain forests. Growing 3-15 feet high, it does best in full sun to partial shade and is quite hardy and tolerant of poor soil quality as long as there is good drainage. Small star shaped flowers appear in July followed by blue-black berries. The male flowers are lavender to purple and female flowers are green.

Harvesting and Preparation

Roots should be dug in the fall or winter when the plant is dormant. The small lateral rootlets are cut off and roots washed. For medicinal use, the best quality roots are thick and hard, and a cross section of the stems will show a yellowish white surface. The herb has a light fragrance.

The root bark (Wu Jia Pi) is also used in Chinese medicine. The root bark and stem bark have been found to have similar constituents, so at present in China, the stems are more commonly used as it is easier not to dig up the root. Good quality root bark has a thick cortex and no heartwood.

To propagate, seeds can be planted in spring or fall, or cuttings made in August through September. Cuttings should be taken from branches of the previous year’s growth, in 6 to 12 inch sections. Placing them in the soil obliquely, they will root in 2 to 3 weeks and can be planted in a more permanent location the following spring or fall.

Direct seed: Sow seeds ½-¾” deep (never more than 1″ deep) and about 3″ apart (15-20 seeds per square foot). Mulch with 3-4″ of leaves or straw, and moisten the mulch to ensure that it remains in place. Stratified seeds planted in the fall will usually germinate the next spring, usually in late May. If your seedlings are slow to emerge in the spring, you may need to gently remove some of the mulch. Replace the mulch after the plants emerge. New shoots will be small when they first appear, and will look like bean sprouts with three small leaves. Keep well-weeded, but take care in weeding around young plants to avoid disturbing the roots. Once ginseng is well established, mulch will help to prevent weed growth.

Shade. Siberian ginseng grows best in its natural habitat under a hardwood canopy with at least 70% shade, comprised preferably of oak, maple, sycamore, or basswood trees. Avoid pine, spruce, hemlock, red cedar, and other conifers due to their shallow root systems (which compete with ginseng for nutrients). You can also use artificial shade if you prefer to grow the plant as a row crop. A system that works well is wood lath or slat shade frames erected over the beds and supported by a framework of strong poles tall enough to walk under. The laths or slats are nailed so that about ?-¾ of the direct sunlight is prevented from reaching the plants. In certain home garden situations, you can also plant ginseng close to the shady north side of the house.

SOIL REQUIREMENTS: ginseng prefers a light loam soil that has high humus content and a pH of 5.0-6.0. Work the beds 6″ deep, raising the center of the beds to prevent water from collecting around the plants. Amend heavy or clay soils with leaf mold (rotting hardwood tree leaves) or well-decomposed compost to lighten the soil and improve the drainage. Good drainage is critical to ensure healthy ginseng plants.

Harvest may begin at the end of the third growing season but the ginsenoside content increases dramatically between the fourth and fifth years — many growers wait until then to harvest. Roots should be dug in early fall (late August or early September) as the ginsenoside content is highest right after the tops have died down and the roots have entered dormancy. Clean thoroughly by washing, being careful not to remove any rootlets. Place roots in a single layer and dry on screens in a warm, but not hot (maximum of 100°F), ventilated place that is out of direct sunlight. Expect a drying time of about 15 to 30 days.

Pack app 50 seeds, $4.00

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