Why is Marathon County the top producer of ginseng in the U.S.? - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Why is Marathon County the top producer of ginseng in the U.S.?


Marathon County is responsible for producing 95% of the ginseng in the United States, and 80% of it is exported to countries in Asia.

Will Hsu, owner and operator of Hsu Giseng Farms in Wausau, explained that the reason why Wisconsin ginseng is so popular worldwide is because of its unique taste.

"Wisconsin has been growing ginseng for over 100 years, and so people associate what they believe should be be ginseng, to taste of the local crop here in Wisconsin," Hsu said.

Hsu learned how to grow the crop from his family, who began ginseng farming after they moved to Marathon County almost 40 years ago.

The plant is sophisticated, but also high maintenance. 

First, it must be grown in the shade.

"The shade actually simulates the shade and the shade patterns you would see in a natural forest setting," Hsu said.

He said that Wisconsin's climate of cold winters and cool summers makes the Badger State the ideal place to grow ginseng.

The ginseng plant takes four to five years to mature before it can be harvested, but it leaves the soil bare of nutrients, so ginseng is never planted on the same piece of land twice.

"It takes a lot of nutrients out of the soil during those four or five years, particularly for a root crop," Hsu explained. "It's very intensive on the trace minerals and elements in the soil."

Growing ginseng takes patience and hard work, but the market value can be worth the wait.

Hsu said his crops "ranged anywhere from $40 to $75 dollars per pound this year."

With the announcement of Wausau hosting the International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival in 2017, Hsu said tourism will grow.

"People know about Wisconsin, but they haven't had a reason to travel to Wisconsin to see farming and some of the agriculture, but you're seeing a lot of folks who want to take their kids or family out to the farm and experience what it's like," Hsu said.

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