A Closer Look

Ginseng is a fleshy-rooted herb. It grows in the moist, shaded soil of hardwood forests. The Big Woods of Minnesota was the perfect place for ginseng.

Beginning in about 1859, there was a “ginseng rush” in Minnesota. Although digging ginseng could be very hard work, many people survived during these hard times only because they could dig and sell ginseng. Ginseng became one of Minnesota’s biggest exports. Minnesota dealers exported 154,830 pounds of ginseng in 1863, a time when the harvest was beginning to decline (and Taopi was beginning to seek ginseng). At that time, buyers paid as much as twenty or twenty two cents for a pound of green root. In the fall of 1864, some dealers paid the amazing sum of forty cents a pound.

When roots were easy to find, a digger could harvest ten or twenty pounds a day. Taopi probably didn’t gather that much. He had to dig in an area that had already been dug up in previous years. He also probably had to accept less money, since he needed to be paid in cash right away. Since ginseng dealers were often old fur traders, it is possible that Alexander Faribault served as a middleman in Taopi’s sale of ginseng, although there is no direct evidence of this.

Ginseng grows to about one foot in height. It has greenish flowers that bloom in mid-summer, and then it gets bright red berries with pea-sized seeds. After several years, the root develops forks. Older roots can have “arms” and “legs.” The area where the stem dies back every year became the “head.”

Ginseng was particularly important in China. Roots were (and still are) dried and chopped or powdered. It is believed to cure and prevent many diseases, including indigestion, heart problems, stress-related diseases and cancer.

Beginning in 1865, there were laws that said when ginseng could and could not be harvested. The price dropped to fifteen cents a pound. By the turn of the century, in spite of the protective law, most of the wild ginseng was gone, and dealers exported cultivated ginseng. Wild ginseng can still be found in rare spots around Faribault and other suitable woodlands in Minnesota. People who dig and sell ginseng must be licensed by the state and follow strict rules.

(Source: “Ginseng Rush in Minnesota,” William Lass, Minnesota History, Summer 1969, Vol. 41:6.)

You can find out more about ginseng by reading the University of Minnesota Extension Service Yard and Garden Brief: Identifying Wild Ginseng.


Alexander Faribault

Faribault's French House
Fur Trade
Making the Town Grow
Site of the Bluffs
Trading Post

Mary Whipple

Bed Bugs
Divinity Students
Emma and Eva Havens
Emma Willard School
Eva's Death
Hastings to Faribault
Hawaiian Fever
Letter of August 25, 1862
Longed to Travel
Mary's Wedding
Sandwich Islands
Soap to Sausages
Some Clothing
Sound of Bells


Big Woods
Fort Snelling
Saving Others
When it Started

Henry Whipple

Back Home
Bad Teeth
East to School
Gull Lake
Loved to Fish
Six Children
Time of Crisis
Treatment of Indians
Youngest Child

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