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
these hard times only because they could dig and sell ginseng.
Ginseng became one of Minnesotas biggest exports. Minnesota
dealers exported 154,830 pounds of ginseng in 1863, a time when
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 didnt 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 Taopis 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,
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
the protective law, most of the wild ginseng was gone, and dealers
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