While it is currently illegal to pick, grow, or harvest ginseng in its native or wild form, there is nothing to prevent botanical or nature enthusiasts from learning how to identify this delightful naturally occurring herb, known both as ginseng and by its formal botanical name of Panax quinquefolius.
Wild ginseng can commonly be found farther north from Quebec, Canada to Minnesota, and then further south in Oklahoma, Georgia, and other southern states. The ban on picking or harvesting ginseng found growing wildly comes due to the depletion of naturally occurring ginseng from just these practices. Now, ginseng available commercially for sale is cultivated professionally. Some states will allow wild ginseng to be harvested upon approval of a permit application filed for this purpose. Other states will not allow harvesting of wild ginseng under any conditions.
Wild ginseng is often confused with another similar plant found growing in similar natural conditions. This plant, the American Spikenard, or Aralia racemosa. While the leaves and berries grow in a similar pattern, there are some striking differences that can be found when examining how many leaves are joined at the stem base and the number and shape of the berries. While American Spikenard roots were made into root beer in earlier decades, today they are not used for any purpose.
Wild ginseng appears with five leaf pieces, or leaflets, that are growing in a diamond formation and are joined together at a central stem. Wild ginseng rarely grows beyond one foot in height, and is greenish in color. In summer it will bloom with green flowers. It forms bright red berries with one to three small seeds per berry. Its root, which will not be visible above the surface, is brown and resembles a very narrow tuber.