cover image Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant

Ginseng Dreams: The Secret World of America's Most Valuable Plant

Kristin Johannsen, Author . Univ. Press of Kentucky $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8131-2384-4

Though the ginseng root is a mainstay of Chinese medicine, it's as American as apple pie: in fact, for over 300 years, Americans have exported ginseng to China. Today an acre of ginseng can bring a farmer $100,000. Travel and environmental writer Johannsen (Ecotourism in Appalachia: Marketing the Mountains ) takes readers into America's ginseng fields and forests. Ginseng is one of the most devilish plants to cultivate, taking up to a decade to be ready for market and growing in only the most specific conditions. Despite the root's persistent popularity, the difficulty of farming ginseng, the constant threat of poachers and the dwindling number of wild ginseng plants has rendered its future uncertain. Instead of focusing on the medicinal powers of ginseng to those who can afford it, Johannsen paints a picture of the poor in Appalachia who still rely on wild ginseng to provide some cash in lean times. Unfortunately, she lapses into long descriptions of ginseng farming that would bore all but the most devoted horticulturalist. For many, ginseng holds the promise of perfect health and miracle cures. Johannsen shows that, for just as many, ginseng holds an even more American dream—that of instant riches. (Mar.)