Following a solid year in 2022 that included an outstanding fall workshop, the Middle Tennessee State University International Ginseng Institute continues to grow as it heads to a new year that, hopefully, features increased participation by MTSU students.
“We anticipate working with more students who are interested in plant conservation and herbal medicines,” said Iris Gao, director of the institute.
In America, ginseng primarily grows in the wild on hilly, mountainous areas across the region and Appalachians and is valued for its medicinal properties. Plants usually mature and produce seeds after five to 10 years.
MTSU founded the International Ginseng Institute, or IGI, in May 2018, dedicated to the research, education and outreach of wild American ginseng.
The goal of the institute is to use focused scientific research to develop comprehensive strategies, standards and sustainable products from wild American ginseng for the benefit of the world and the community it serves. Through technology, talent and resources, the institute has been successfully studying and addressing key issues affecting American ginseng conservation and industry development.
Gao, a professor in the School of Agriculture, said the institute’s “research agenda continues in the next year, which includes studying organic ginseng cultivation methods and finding natural materials that exist in the natural environment to inhibit or prevent plant pathogens.
“We are also excited to continue and develop collaborations with researchers, growers and local herbal businesses to work out solutions for a better future for American ginseng and other endangered medicinal plants.”
‘A wonderful workshop’
As research continued until the December holiday break, the institute’s Ginseng Workshop and Demo Day at Barfield Crescent Park’s Wilderness Station in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, earlier this fall helped cap the successful year.
“Overall, the workshop was wonderful,” said laboratory technician Ethan Swiggart. “There were many students in attendance, and it was great to see them engage with the speakers.”
Not counting speakers and staff, 37 people from across Tennessee and beyond attended the workshop.
• Planting American ginseng, led by MTSU professor Nate Phillips, who had participants try using two different types of planting devices.
• Growing American ginseng in forested environments, led by Bob Beyfuss, a retired New York State ginseng specialist for the Cornell University Cooperative Extension and one of the country’s leading experts, who got the audience involved through props and amusing stories.
• Goldenseal, an herb in the buttercup family commonly used in supplements in the U.S., led by Edward Fletcher of Banner Elk, North Carolina, representing Native Botanicals. He donated live Goldenseal roots and taught participants how to plant them properly. Attendees were allowed to take the plants home. He talked about the content of active ingredients and how the extract is used in the industry.
• Tennessee ginseng regulations, led by Caitlin Elam, of Nashville, Tennessee, the state’s American ginseng coordinator who communicated the laws governing the plant and offered clarification on how growers can legally operate.
Swiggart said the institute awarded T-shirts and locally made, one-of-a-kind American ginseng soap, plus gave away American ginseng seed and stickers.
Michael Boring, of Pikeville, Tennessee, representing Boring Roots and Herbs, donated goldenseal roots for participants to take home and plant.
In addition to Gao, Phillips and Swiggart, assistant professor Mingliang “Mike” Zhang is a participating faculty member.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 615-898-2430.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)