Photo courtesy of MTSU News
Story by Sabrina Tyson / Contributing Writer
Middle Tennessee State University researchers have received a grant of $148,000 for research into ginseng growing methods for Tennessee farmers. The Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, a university research program, has been working on research to reduce the growth time of ginseng, which is around seven to 10 years, while maintaining its medicinal potency. This reduction will make ginseng more accessible for local farmers to grow.
Shannon Smith, an MTSU doctorate student in molecular biology and TCBMR assistant researcher, said that the grant has three main goals: to educate students and the public, communicate with Tennessee farmers about how to grow ginseng and to research the genetics of the plant. Graduate students have the opportunity to get involved in the research, working toward the goal of education, and the papers from the grant-funded research will be open to the public upon their publication.
Historically, ginseng has been used for medicinal purposes, such as to increase energy and as a cold and flu treatment. Ginseng has also become popular as an immune system supplement, making ginseng valuable across the globe, according to the TCBMR.
The high demand for ginseng makes growing it a possible opportunity for Tennessee farmers to experience economic growth. According to TCBMR Lead Researcher Iris Gao, farms could potentially earn more than $40,000 per acre while growing ginseng, compared to about $620 per acre from corn.
“The international market for ginseng is very large, and because of that, there has been a lot of poaching, illegal harvesting and the like, which has been damaging to the native population,” Smith said. “We are teaching techniques to help farmers grow a product where the needs are met.”
Wisconsin is currently responsible for around 90 percent of American ginseng, according to research conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Canada, though, remains the largest producer in North America, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
As a part of one of the goals for the grant, the TCBMR is planning to hold forums to work with local farmers on ways to successfully grow ginseng. The Ginseng Initiative will aim to work with local farmers and educate them on this opportunity.
“With our partners in the industry, especially our Tennessee farmers, we want to make sure their profits are maximized in a way that makes sure this is a long-term business model,” Smith said. “I know that’s kind of strange coming from a scientist.”
Tennessee is one of the top three states in the United States to grow ginseng, according to the TCBMR, and Gao stated in a press release that ginseng has the potential to be a great financial opportunity for Tennessee agriculture.
“This could add $4 million in farm profit, annually, once the harvest is normalized,” Gao said in a press release.
A guide made by the TCBMR, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Tennessee State University on how farmers can grow ginseng successfully will soon be made available to the public.
“These publications are the property of Tennessee citizens,” Smith said. “When we see little download counts beside our papers that have been funded by grants, it makes scientists very happy.”
The TCBMR is also involved in studying other plant compounds, such as an ongoing study on the effects that a compound from the starfruit tree has on metastatic breast cancer. For more information on the TCBMR and their research, you can visit here.
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