This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
We have a question from Malaysia -- really, two questions. How is ginseng grown and harvested in the United States? And is it used as a traditional medicine by Americans or just Asian-Americans?
Some growers of American ginseng say it takes five to ten years to produce the best roots. Ginseng can be grown from seeds or roots. The seeds take two years to sprout up through the ground. Many growers like to start with two to three year old roots instead. A warning: the root must not be cut into smaller pieces. It has to be whole to grow.
Ginseng needs a place where it will not get much sunshine. It does well in areas of eighty percent shade. It especially likes to grow in forests. The soil should be full of loam, a mixture of sand, silt, clay and organic material.
American ginseng grows naturally in forests in many eastern states. But wild populations have been reduced by too much harvesting.
Growers can plant the roots during spring before they develop buds. If the roots are planted in the fall, they should be left alone until the following spring. Weeding and watering are not needed during that time. But the plants should be protected from wildlife.
The University of Maryland Cooperative Extension explains that forest landowners can grow ginseng using two different methods. With the wild-simulated method, seeds are planted thinly in the forest. They are left to grow naturally so the most desirable roots -- those most similar to wild ginseng -- are produced.
With the cultivated method, the ginseng is densely planted in raised beds. But this process is more costly and labor intensive.
Wild-simulated ginseng is planted in the fall. Seven years is the average time to harvest. Experts at the Ohio State University Extension say most people use a device with a short handle called a mattock or sang hoe. Extra care is needed not to break up the twisted, strange-looking roots; that could make them less desirable.
Asian-Americans are not the only ones who use ginseng. Some people say it increases their energy. Others say it helps their memory. Studies have shown differing results about the health benefits.
Different products may contain ginseng, but government rules limit health claims that marketers can made.
For example, one company that makes bottles of tea sells a popular green tea with ginseng and honey. Its Web site simply says: "Just the right amount of ginseng."
that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.