Ginseng has been revered in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Today, millions of people around the world value this humble perennial plant for use in herbal remedies, dietary supplements and teas. But did you know that Wisconsin farmers produce over 95 percent of America’s ginseng crop? Or that Wisconsin-grown American ginseng is celebrated as the highest-quality variety of its kind in the world?
Thanks to the efforts of the Wisconsin Ginseng Board, the Wisconsin ginseng seal is known around the world as the gold standard for ginseng. Every ounce of ginseng sold under the seal undergoes a rigorous approval process, including inspections by the USDA for pests and diseases. Before the plant’s valuable roots can be harvested, however, it must be cultivated.
“Our crop takes a minimum of three years to raise before we harvest it,” says Butch Weege, international marketing director of the Wisconsin Ginseng Board. “The seed has to go through two winter cycles before it will start to grow, and then tack 36 months on top of that 18 months. Afarmer has a lot of time and expense invested in this crop before it ever makes it to harvest.”
Today, approximately 145 ginseng farmers cultivate 1,500 acres of Wisconsin farmland, producing 600,000 pounds of dried ginseng root annually.
“As an industry, 85 percent of what we grow is exported to Asia, with China as the largest user,” Weege says.
The Wisconsin ginseng brand is licensed in the United States, China, Japan, Singapore and other countries, but only a few select distributors are licensed to sell Wisconsin ginseng worldwide. Recently, Tong Ren Tang (TRT), one of the oldest traditional pharmaceutical companies in China, renewed its contract with the Ginseng & Herb Cooperative, which could potentially produce $150 million to $200 million in sales for the Wisconsin ginseng industry.
“TRT is a very solid partner for us,” Weege says. “They date back to 1649 and provided medicine to royalty in China. That’s the kind of reputation they have maintained.”
The renewed ten-year contract with TRT includes escalating purchase provisions for Wisconsin-grown American ginseng, ensuring significant returns for the Wisconsin rural economy for years to come.