of Marathon County is widely known as the region of northern-Central Wisconsin that produces over 90% of the United State's American Ginseng crop. Here, a four-season temperate climate and rich soil create the optimal conditions to supplement ginseng's tricky life cycle.
tricky to grow? That's a loaded question. Much like a deciduous tree or perennial flower, the plant must undergo a yearly reset to continue its multi-year journey, and by reset, we mean go dormant in the winter months. By the third year, the American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius) plant features full, five-leaf clusters above the soil with an emergence of the berry clusters a few inches above the leaves by late July or early August.
has only been in cultivation for just over one hundred years. A famous group of brothers from the heart of the Ginseng Belt - Hamburg, WI - were intrigued to find Wild Wisconsin Ginseng near their family farm. They studied the plant in its natural habitat for years and eventually they created a growing operation that simulated ginseng's life cycle in the forest, but in the field.
in Wild American Ginseng's life cycle is being shielded from direct sunlight. The Fromm Brothers discovered that ginseng survived in shaded areas in the forest. Ironically, too much rain can stress the plant. The structures the Fromm Brothers created to cultivate ginseng in a corn field became the predecessors of today's cultivated ginseng garden. Shade structures made of wood or cloth protect ginseng from the sun, while planting on sloped terrain creates a natural drain system.
part about growing ginseng is sustainability. It's easy to turn a ginseng field into a corn field, or a bean field. It's not easy to replant ginseng on the same plot twice. In fact, it's almost impossible. For that reason Wisconsin Ginseng farmers both big and small have to plan and manage their resources to secure their land years in advance, whether they rent or own.