Q&A with author Jeanine Davis, co-author of Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and other Woodland Medicinals

By Shelley Pierce | April 9, 2017
by Shelley Pierce
April 9, 2017

Jeanine Davis, is an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Horticultural Science with NC State University. For over 25 years, she has focused on helping farmers increase their profitability by diversifying into new crops and organic agriculture. Jeanine is passionate about medicinal herbs and is in demand as a conference speaker and workshop leader in North Carolina and beyond.  In her latest book, ‘Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and other Woodland Medicinals‘, Davis, and co-author W. Scott Persons, show how more than a dozen sought-after native species can generate a greater profit on a rugged, otherwise idle, woodlot than just about any other legal crop on an equal area of cleared land.  Read on to learn more about this book and enter below to win one of three copies from New Society Publishing!

1. In the book’s preface you mentioning receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of requests from home gardeners wanting to grow woodland botanicals. Why do you think there is an elevated amount of interest in growing woodland botanicals?  And, how did you become interested in woodland botanicals?

There are many reasons for the rising interest in growing woodland botanicals. One is the increased interest by the public in growing and using medicinal herbs in general. Second, forest botanicals have been somewhat neglected and are just recently coming to people’s attention. Third, forest land owners are often looking for ways to generate income from their woods that do not involve cutting timber. Growing woodland botanicals is one way to generate some income. Fourth, homeowners often have shady areas in their yards where flowers and vegetables won’t grow but woodland botanicals will. And finally, ginseng has received a lot of exposure on television and in the media in recent years bringing attention to these plants by new audiences.

Since I was a teenager I have been interested in alternative medicine, organic agriculture, and all things natural. My education in horticulture gave me exposure to herb growers and researchers and I did a few class projects as an undergrad that included herbs. When I completed my Ph.d., i accepted a faculty position with NC state university. My predecessor, Dr. Tom Konsler, was a vegetable and ginseng specialist. He did many studies on how to grow ginseng and knew scott very well. After he retired and I took over his position, I ‘inherited’ his very experienced technician, it was just natural for us to continue the work with ginseng. Tom knew Scott very well and so our relationship was also a natural progression. Very quickly I became interested in other woodland botanicals that ginseng growers could produce. The first plant I looked at was goldenseal and that quickly led to bloodroot, black cohosh, ramps, and false unicorn.


2. What advice do you have for those thinking of foraying into growing woodland botanicals for the first time?

My advice to beginners is to attend as many workshops and conferences as they can, visit with experienced growers and gardeners, read books (such as ours), watch videos, grow a variety of plants, and start small. The support network for people wanting to get into woodland botanicals is increasing all the time. For example, I am part of the appalachian beginning forest farmers coalition which is a multi-state, federally grant funded program to train and support beginning forest medicinal herb growers. http://www.appalachianforestfarmers.org


3. What are some of the hardest lessons you had to learn over the course of the many years you have been growing woodland botanicals?

One of the lessons all professional growers/farmers learn pretty early on is that no matter how much you know and how correctly you do it all, sometimes your crop fails or does not meet expectations in terms of yield or quality. It can be a humbling experience. The other hard lesson that I learned was no matter how much i wanted one of these herbs to be a profitable crop for the farmers I work with, that i am not in control of the market and sometimes a profit was not going to be made. That is why I encourage growers to plant a variety of plants because we just can’t promise that you are going to make money on any one plant, especially since all of these plants take a number of years to reach maturity.


4. Is it easy to make woodland medicinal growing a profitable venture? Why or why not?

I just addressed that a little in question number 3! It is not easy to make any agricultural business profitable. It takes hard work, an understanding of the market, and good business practices. Every workshop or presentation I offer provides information on budgets, markets, good business practices, taxes, etc. Also, many people like to grow plants but they don’t really like to sell them. So they take what they think is the easy route and plan to sell their herbs on the wholesale market. You have to be a certain scale of operation, know how to fulfill the expectations of the buyer, and be willing to ride the ups and downs of the marketplace to be successful on the wholesale market. So i always encourage people to look for multiple ways to sell their herbs. The internet has opened up so many opportunities for people to sell, either through their own websites or through established online marketplaces. Also, consumers are more educated about herbs now and many will buy raw herbs at farmers markets to make their own products. I encourage people to think about offering workshops and plant walks, too.


5. Do you necessarily have to have access to a woodlot to grow woodland medicinals? And does your book offer solutions for those without that access?

If a farmer or gardener does not have natural woods to grow in, they can erect artificial shade to grow their plants under. Scott addresses this in his ginseng section and I address it in the home gardener section.


6. Your book is half devoted to ginseng with the rest devoted to 11 other woodland medicinals. Are there other woodland medicinals on your bucket list that you haven’t tried yet?   If so, what are they and why are you interested in trying them?

There are many, many other woodland botanicals. If you look at the herb lists in the back of the book you will see dozens more. I concentrated on the herbs that had well established markets and that we had enough experience and information on growing to write about. I am personally very interested in examining more of these herbs. Some I am starting to work on or am considering include boneset, elderberry, passionflower, and stoneroot.

WIN ONE OF THREE COPIES OF  ‘Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and other Woodland Medicinals’!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, April 16, 2017 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

Which woodland medicinals are you interested in growing?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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