Classification: Plantae – Angiosperms – Eudictos – Asterids – Apiales – Araliaceae – Aralioideae – Panax
It is funny the plants that they have found in the Smokies over the years. The climate, the elevation the forest canopy and other factors have produced a biosphere that includes some very unusual plants and animals. One of the plants that’s grows in the shady areas of the National Park is Ginseng. Ginseng. Just like the ingredient that you see in the energy drinks in the convenience store.
Ginseng is normally found in Asia, specifically in China. In fact China gave the name to this wonder herb. The term Ginseng means man-root. This is in reference to the way that the Ginseng plant looks when you pull it out of the ground. The tuber grows in two pieces underground that looks like a man’s legs. In Asian cultures, the root was boiled as a tea or maybe ingested whole. In the Greek the term for the genus of the ginseng plant is Panax. Panax means all-heal. In other words, ginseng has been known as a heal-all herb for a long time.
In the Smokies, due to the fact that the ecosystems are very similar to the mountain regions were ginseng grows in China, it is possible that early prehistoric people that came to North America across the Bering Strait. These plants, coming to a new area found purchase in the shady land and lush undergrowth of the mountains that the Cherokee would come to call the Smoky Mountains. In fact the Cherokee used this herb in medicines and remedies. And though the European settlers that came to the area and certainly knew about the herb from the Native Americans that they met, they did not embrace the Ginseng root.
Then you have the resurgence of the use of Ginseng in the 20th and 21st centuries. With the popularization of the ginseng and guarana, Ginseng in the Southern Appalachians became a going concern. There are certainly people that harvest Ginseng as a crop in the privately owned parts of the Smokies but remember that it is illegal to harvest any plant, including Ginseng from the National Park. People that try to take any plant from the GSMNP. People who break this regulation – law – are subject to imprisonment and a fine.
At some farmers markets around the area you will find Ginseng root being sold. It is still known as a cure all, it is a home remedy though some of the effects of this plant are known and have been studied by science, little is definitely known about this strange herb that grows in the shade of the canopies in the Smoky Mountains.