Washing Fresh Ginseng for Drying
I wonder how many folks will pass this one up because it seems so obvious how to 'wash' something. Well, over the years, I've found that there are many ginseng diggers who honestly don't know the proper way to wash ginseng. I suspect there are dealers out there who don't know either. Here it is in a nutshell, don't leave extra dirt on the roots, and don't wash them too clean. Clear as mud isn't it?
In the end, we want the natural color of the ginseng skin to show as this is a quality factor. We always want to leave some soil at the bottom of the wrinkles of the root. This is especially true in areas like North Carolina where mica in the soil causes the root to sparkle under retail showcase lights.
The market for fresh ginseng in recent years has taught us that ginseng sold green that is not intented to be dried should not be washed at all. Just brush of the excess dirt with a finger. The problem is that if ginseng is washed, it must be dried as soon as possible or there is an elevated risk that it will go bad. When ginseng goes bad it can go bad overnight. I once bought a couple pounds of ginseng on my way out the door to work. I left the roots in a small plastic tub with the lid off so it would start to dry off. The next day more than half the roots had lesions on them and most of the fine roots had turned color and turned to mush. Half that lot was lost outright and the value of the remaining roots was reduced to thirty cents on the dollar. Don't wash ginseng unless you plan to dry it right away.
Ok, lets start with some pictures. I went out and dug a few wild roots and took some pictures of the process of properly washing the roots to ensure the best market price.
As you can see, there is some extra dirt clinging to the roots. Just run a pan of water and drop them in. And, before you ask, I don't remember why I left the tops on those couple roots. I'm sure it made sense at the time though!
After letting them soak for about five minutes, just shake them off in the water as you pull the individual roots out of the tub. If there is clay or stuborn dirt clinging in bunches, just wipe them gently with your finger. Don't worry about getting them too clean. This is how they look after their bath.
Here are a couple individual comparisons.
Notice I am intentionally leaving the dirt in the rings to enhance their appearance. Lay the roots out in a shady spot to dry. The prefered method for preparing the roots for permanent drying is to refrigerate them for a couple weeks before you wash them. This changes the starches in the roots to sugar and further enhances the appearance and quality of the finished roots.
Yes, washing ginseng roots is very simple. However, you would be shocked to see that some diggers still scrub their roots with a toothbrush to get all the dirt out of those pesky rings! Root that is too clean, and root that has the skin damaged or scrubbed off, is damaged root and only worth about on third of what it might be otherwise. Never use a brush or high pressure water to wash ginseng before you dry it, and never wash ginseng sold fresh.