Archive for the ‘Herbalism’ Category

American Ginseng Improves Working Memory in Middle-Aged Adults

Ginseng is widely used in herbal medicine as an ‘adaptogen,’ which is a plant that ameliorates the effects of stress. In particular, ginseng has been recognized as having substantial effects on the central nervous system, but there are few well-designed clinical trials evaluating the effects of American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius L.) on human neurological performance.

In a recent study, Ossoukhova et al [1] studied the effects of a single dose of a standardized extract of P. Quinquefolius on the performance of middle-aged (40-60 years old) healthy individuals on a battery of standardized cognitive tests. This same research group had previously studied the effects of single-dose P. Quinquefolius cognitive performance in younger adults [2]. Their hypothesis was that similar cognitive improvement would be observed in an older population, given the normal decline in CNS performance due to aging.

The study was a placebo-controlled, double-blinded, single center, crossover design. A total of 52 subjects were enrolled, and were assessed on 2 days a week apart after informed consent. Subjects were given either placebo or a 200 mg dose of a standardized ginseng extract. All subjects were given the Cognitive Drug Research Battery and the Computerized Mental Performance Assessment System to evaluate cognitive function at 1, 3 and 6 hours after treatment.

The 200 mg dose of ginseng was found to acutely improve overall working memory and spatial working memory at 3 hours after the dose. This study has several limitations; first is the ‘crossover’ design in which all subjects take the treatment (ginseng) and the placebo at some point in the trial. Effects due to the order of treatment (placebo or ginseng) may be present. Second, subjects may exhibit a ‘learning effect,’ in that they become more familiar with the cognitive test battery due to practice.

In summary, this study by Ossoukhova et al suggests that P. Quinquefolius may acutely improve some measures of cognitive performance in middle-aged adults.





1. Ossoukhova, A., et al., Improved working memory performance following administration of a single dose of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) to healthy middle-age adults. Hum Psychopharmacol, 2015. 30(2): p. 108-22.

2. Scholey, A., et al., Effects of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) on neurocognitive function: an acute, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 2010. 212(3): p. 345-56.



Hops in the USA

If you have heard anything about the craft beer or home brewing community lately,

you have likely heard something about hops. Hops are the female flowers of the

plant Humulus lupulus, and are used in beer brewing to add bitterness, flavor and

aroma to the finished beverage. With the increased interest in local craft beers and

home brewing, hops have become a popular herb in the market within the past

decade or so.

A bit of history: In the United States, craft beer production has increased at a steady

annual rate since 1999, with higher sales recorded from the year 2004 onward.

Interest in craft beer has risen significantly since then, and has risen every year

since, driving the increase in craft beer production. Craft hop usage by beer

producers has also been on the increase since 2007­2008. This drives up the demand

for hops production, and has led to shortages in the hops market in the past several

years, with many hops consumers reporting shortfalls in the availability of desired

varieties of hops.

To combat this shortfall, many local breweries and home brewing enthusiasts are

turning to purchasing hops that are grown in their locales. The demand for locally

grown hops is on the rise, with organic farming methods preferred by consumers.

This seems to hold true in Michigan, with craft beer drinkers and home brewers

starting to demand locally grown hops. The general trend appears to be shifting

away from a centralized hops production method and toward smaller hops producers

who focus on selling their product in their local area. To that end, some farmers have

joined forces as cooperatives, usually depending on what state they grow hops in,

selling their hops on exchanges much the way other commodities are sold on the

market. They contract with local breweries to sell their products at a slightly lower

rate but in larger batches, ensuring that all product they produce in a given year is

sold before they harvest.

In the Southwest Ohio Valley region, with its history of local breweries and beer

production, people are beginning to demand organic locally grown hops in several

varieties. In one poll taken of Greater Cincinnati region home brewers, many people

were specifically interested in locally grown organic Nugget and Cascade hops


To that effect, we at Shaw Black Farm have constructed a small experimental trellis

system, and we will be planting hops this spring when the weather agrees. We will

be growing two varieties to start out with: Cascade and Nugget. As an organic farm,

we will not use chemical pesticides or herbicides on these plants. We have a network

of home brew enthusiasts who are already interested in this product. If the demand

exceeds our production this year, we will look into expanding the trellis system,

planting more hops and possibly expanding into other varieties as well.  We are

testing the waters, so to speak, but we are optimistic that this endeavor will be a

good one. Here’s hoping the weather breaks soon so we can plant!




Ginseng Facts

There has been a recent surge in the interest in the Ginseng trade, thanks in part to more media coverage of the plant and associated trade. Fox News and CBS have both had recent news items regarding American Ginseng, and the new History channel show “Appalachian Outlaws” has brought this plant species into the spotlight this season.


First, a few facts:

Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial plant which takes 4 years before the roots are harvestable. It takes closer to 7-10 years before the roots are large enough to be of any real interest to the market buyer. 98%+ of all American Ginseng is exported to Asia, and most of it is sent to Hong Kong to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. A pound of good quality roots that a digger sells to a dealer in the States for $500-700 may get as high as $4000-5000 once it reaches Hong Kong, if not more. This past 2013 season saw prices as high as $1000 a pound in some Stateside markets. The Ginseng market fluctuates seasonally, usually averaging between $400-800 a pound. It is one of a very few products is always in demand.


American Ginseng grows naturally in the Appalachian mountains and surrounding areas. It requires 70-80% shade in deciduous forests, and grows on steep slopes to ensure good soil drainage. The plants start producing red berry pods at 3 years old, with each berry in the pod containing 2 or 3 seeds. These seeds should not be planted immediately, they need a stratification period of warm/cold temperatures before they will germinate reliably. The germination rate for fresh seeds is very poor and often the seeds will not germinate until the following season, pretty much stratifying themselves. Stratified seeds have a much better initial germination rate, and because the stratification process is controlled, fewer seeds are lost during the stratification process.


If the right type of habitat is available with good shade, rich soil, adequate drainage and slope, it is possible to grow your own Ginseng patch. We recommend only planting stratified seeds to increase germination rates.


How to plant Ginseng:

You can plant seeds either in the late Fall or early Spring. Fall plantings tend to have fewer problems with foraging wildlife. Plant individual seeds about 6 inches apart to a depth of ~1/2 inch in a circular patch (as opposed as in rows). You want to plant seeds deep enough that the roots won’t be affected by the occasional dry season or drought. (We DO NOT recommend tilling the soil before planting, this will make your roots look “carrot-like” and cultivated, resulting in lower prices when you go to sell them. If you do choose to till the soil, you will also need to use fungicides to prevent diseases like root rot, because tilling introduced pathogens into the soil which can easily destroy your entire root crop.)

Cover the planted patch with a thick layer of leaf litter, several inches deep; this acts as insulation against the winter cold when planted in the Fall or late Spring frosts, and may add some protection from foraging animals for Spring plantings. In mid Spring, go back and check your patch to make sure the mulch layer is not stopping the little seedlings from coming up. If the mulch is causing problems you will have to remove some or all of it.

Ginseng will grow well in the right habitat even if left alone. If you want to add soil amendments, using an organic calcium additive such as bonemeal is a good idea. Beyond that, check your patch for signs of damage from wildlife and poachers. Wildlife problems can be controlled by hunting and traps; human poaching is more difficult to control for. In summer, you may want to remove the tops of established plants so poachers won’t see them to steal them.


Types of Ginseng and its Effects:

There are several types of Ginseng with the most commonly known being American ginseng, Asian ginseng, and Korean ginseng. Ginseng has been used medicinally by Native American tribes and later American settlers as well as many Asian cultures to treat a number of ailments, such as blood sugar problems, increase immune function, support libido and vitality, alleviate the aches and pains associated with a the aging process, among other things. There has been some research into the effects of the compounds found in Ginseng, and with the increase in awareness of the plant we expect to start seeing more research into its medicinal effects. Asian and American ginseng are very similar in their effects, but there are a few differences. American ginseng seems to be more effective as a treatment to stabilize blood sugar, and is more widely available as Asian ginseng has been harvested in the wild to near-extinction.

People interested in saving American ginseng should consider planting ginseng patches of their own if at all possible. Ginseng diggers have been replanting berries and seeds for generations, to responsibly steward the wild populations of this plant. There are also state and federal regulations in place to help conserve the wild populations of this plant. It is very important to pay attention to local and federal laws about Ginseng harvesting. Good conservation practices help conserve American ginseng for future use and generations.|