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Ginsing in BC

Hort. Issues - reply to Ginseng
November 17, 1999

Sharron also has her facts wrong about the mulch. It is used (as mulch is used in many organic gardens) to provide winter protection for the over-wintering roots and to conserve moisture in the summer. In fact, the mulch suppresses weeds rather than producing them. Weeds tend to be a problem where the mulch is too thin or has blown off. Fungus disease is not being "set up" by touching rhizomes. (the ginseng root is a true root, by the way, not a rhizome). Fungus disease in ginseng, as in most plants, is "set up" by excess water on the leaves or in the soil. This is well known to anyone who has watched plants and shrubs wither and die from root rot in waterlogged soils. The reason that ginseng is grown in B.C. is precisely because it is dry. This means that waterlogged soils and wet leaves are rare, so growers need to spray for fungus control much, much less than they need to in the East. In fact, B.C. ginseng growers spray far less than conventional potato or apple growers on the Coast. In the plant’s native habitat the frequency of high humidity and rainfall during the summer means that growers are constantly battling fungus problems. This is exactly parallel to apple and peach growers locating in the dry Interior to avoid the apple scab and peach leaf curl fungi. This is normally considered good practice for organic and conventional producers alike: grow the crop where the pest and disease pressure is lowest.

I recognise that the use of pesticides in a herbal crop such as ginseng causes many people concern. However, extensive sampling by Health Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Environment has turned up nothing of concern. In fact, one of the inspectors told me that they found the ginseng industry was much cleaner than most of the commodities they have checked. There is a little organic ginseng on the market, but currently the market is unwilling to pay any premium for that product, which puts those growers in a difficult position. For people who are concerned about what’s in ginseng, you should be aware that 95+ % of the North American ginseng production is exported to Asia. Virtually all of what is sold in North America is Asian ginseng, (a different species) that comes mostly from China and Korea. Virtually no checking is done on the imported ginseng for pesticide residues. What has been done has turned up residues of DDT-era chemicals like lindane and chlordane, all of which are banned in North America. The North American ginseng industry is a part of conventional agriculture. As such, growers use government approved fungicides to protect their crop and their livelihood. These are products that are routinely used on food crops in Canada and the U.S., and are very mild compared with some of the products also used on those other crops. The hysteria surrounding ginseng farming in B.C. is way out of proportion to the facts. People may not agree with conventional agriculture (and many don’t), but ginseng is no worse and is probably better than, most forms of conventional agriculture. Eric Littley, Ph.D.

Hi Donna,
I would like to see you address the issue of ginseng growing in Canada, or at least BC. This plant is naturally grown in dappled shade in its native land, and is not suited to the desert where they are growing it here. Therefore they shade it with black plastic tarps, (hence the name for it here - The Black Plague!) and to keep the roots cool, they mulch. The mulch produces weeds, so herbicides are used. Then, because the highest yield per acre is desired, the roots are planted so that they touch. When ginseng rhizomes touch another ginseng rhizome, it sets up a fungus. So in addition to the herbicide, a fungicide is used. The resulting crop is sold as a Health Food. There have been documented cases here in the Central Interior of horses dying from eating hay from old ginseng fields. The toxins are now making there way into the water systems, and polluting neighbors wells, and the streams nearby.

Ginseng is now considered to be one of the worst environmental issues in BC. (The fact that there are much cheaper, and more reliable, plus healthier ways to get the same results as gingseng is touted to produce physically, are never mentioned! There is too much money at stake here. Sound's an old story!) I hope that you can mention this on your page. I spread the word everywhere I can. Ginseng growing is not good for the environment, and probably not good from a growers point of view either. We have seen what can happen when too many chemicals are used in an area - one has only to look at the Fraser Valley to see that. Too bad the lesson wasn't learned there!

I think the thing about it that worries me the most is that the Canadian govt is letting these growers sell this as a health food! Most of the people I have talked to that eat ginseng tell me that they want the extra energy that it gives them, but Vitamin B supplements is a far better way to get more energy! and a whole lot cheaper too!

I'll keep watch on your page and take part wherever we are invited to. I did post it's URL in the Message Boards at Women Online Worldwides web site. Another Thyme, Sharron

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