By William T. Hathaway

Ginseng (Panax quinquefolia)

During my photographing of plants throughout Pittsylvania County, certain individuals have been curious about my work. An inevitable question about “sang-root” comes up. Even after 30 years of random plant photography, I must confess that I have seen only two sites where the plant exists in the wilds within our county. One site was along the Pigg River and the other site was along the Banister River within the White Oak Mountain Wildlife Management Area. The small white flowers are inconspicuous and the red berries are concealed by green leaves.

It is well understood that ginseng was almost wiped out in the eastern states due to its demand as a natural energizer. Native Americans valued ginseng long before white settlers popularized it.

The botanical name of ginseng is Panax quinquefolia. The genus Panax is derived from the Greek word for “panacea” and quinquefolia refers to the five or so leaflets. Ginseng has the reputation of being a helpful agent in the treatment of many human ailments, and there is some scientific evidence that it could play a part in the regulation of human metabolic functions. Ginseng is best harvested from three- to five-year old plants in the fall. Several county residents have cultivated this plant with modest success.