(Aralia racemosa) Ginseng family

Flowers - Greenish white, small, 5-parted, mostly imperfect, in a

drooping compound raceme of rounded clusters. Stem: 3 to 6 ft.

high, branches spreading. Roots: Large, thick, fragrant. Leaves:

Compounded of heart-shaped, sharply tapering, saw-edged leaflets

from 2 to 5 in. long, often downy underneath. Lower leaves often

enormous. Fruit: Dark reddish-brown berries.

Preferred Habitat - Rich open woods, wayside thickets, light


Flowering Season - July-August.

Distribution - New Brunswick to Georgia, west to the Mississippi.

A striking, decorative plant, once much sought after for its

medicinal virtues - still another herb with which old women

delight to dose their victims for any malady from a cold to a

carbuncle. Quite a different plant, but a relative, is the one

with hairy, spike-like shoots from its fragrant roots, from which

the "very precious" ointment poured by Mary upon the Saviour's

head was made. The nard, an Indian product from that plant, which

is still found growing on the distant Himalayas, could then be

imported into Palestine only by the rich.

The wild spikenard, or false Solomon's seal, has not the remotest

connection with this tribe of plants. Inasmuch as some of the

American spikenard's tiny flowers are staminate and some

pistillate, while others again are perfect, they depend upon

flies chiefly - but on some wasps and beetles, too - to transfer

pollen and enable the fertile ones to set seed. How certain of

the winter birds gormandize on the resinous, spicy little

berries! A flock of juncos will strip the fruit from every

spikenard in the neighborhood the first day it arrives from the


The WILD or FALSE SARSAPARILLA (A. nudicaulis), so common in

woods, hillsides, and thickets, shelters its three spreading

umbels of greenish-white flowers in May and June beneath a canopy

formed by a large, solitary, compound leaf. The aromatic roots,

which run horizontally sometimes three feet or more through the

soil, send up a very short, smooth proper stem which lifts a tall

leafstalk and a shorter, naked flower stalk. The single large

leaf, of exquisite bronzy tints when young, is compounded of from

three to five oval, toothed leaflets on each of its three

divisions. The tiny five-parted flowers have their petals curved

backward over the calyx to make their refreshments more

accessible for the flies, on which they chiefly rely for aid in

producing those close clusters of dark-purple berries on which

migrating birds feast in early autumn. By these agents the plant

has been distributed from Newfoundland to the Carolinas, westward

from Manitoba to Missouri, which is not surprising when we

remember that certain birds travel from the Gulf of Mexico to the

Great Lakes in a single night. While the true sarsaparilla of

medicine should come from a quite different herb that flourishes

in Mexico and South America, this one furnishes a commercial

substitute enormously used as a blood purifier and cooling summer

drink. Burrowing rabbits delight to nibble the long, slender,

fragrant roots.

The GINSENG (Panax quinquefolium; Aralia quinquefolia of Gray)

found in rich woods from Quebec to Alabama, and westward to

Nebraska - that is, where found at all, for much hunting has all

but exterminated it in many regions - bears a solitary umbel of

small yellowish-green, five-parted, polygamous flowers in July

and August at the end of a smooth stem about a foot high. Bright

crimson berries follow the clusters on the female plants in early

autumn. Three long-petioled leaves, which grow in a whorl at the

top of the low stem, are palmately divided into five thin, ovate,

pointed, and irregularly toothed leaflets. But it is the deep

fusiform root, simple or branched, about which the Americanized

Chinese, at least, are most concerned. For centuries Chinese

physicians have ascribed miraculous virtues to the Manchurian

ginseng. Not only can it remove fatigue and restore lost powers,

but by its use veterans became frisky youths again according to

these wise men of the East. In short, they consider it the

panacea for all ills (Panax: pan = all, akos = remedy) - the

source of immortality. Naturally the roots were and are in great

demand, especially such as branch so as to resemble the human

form. (Both the Chinese name Schin-sen, and Garan-toguen, the

Indian one, are said to mean like a man. Here is an interesting

clue for the ethnologists to follow !) Imperial edict prohibited

the Chinese from digging up their native plant lest it be

exterminated. So Jesuit missionaries, who discovered our similar

ginseng, were not slow in exporting it to China when it was

literally worth its weight in gold. Indeed, it is always sold by

weight - a fact on which the heathen Chinee "with ways that are

dark and tricks that are vain" not infrequently relies. Chinamen,

who gather large quantities in our Western States to sell to the

wholesale druggists for export, sometimes drill holes into the

largest roots, pour in melted lead, and plug up the drills so

ingeniously that druggists refuse to pay for a Chinaman's

diggings until they have handled and weighed each root


The DWARF GINSENG, OR GROUND NUT (P. trifolium; Aralia trifolia

of Gray) whose little white flowers are clustered in feathery,

fluffy balls above the whorl of three compound leaves in April

and May, chooses low thickets and moist woods for its habitat -

often in the same neighborhood with its larger relative.

Yellowish berries follow the fragrant white pompons. One must

burrow deep, like the rabbits, to find its round, pungent, sweet,

nut-like root, measuring about half an inch across, which few

have ever seen.

AMERICAN HOLLY AMERICAN WHITE HELLEBORE INDIAN POKE ITCHWEED facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail