01 May

Food Traveler Magazine

For the World’s Best Ginseng, Head to Wisconsin

The Chinese have had 5,000 years to perfect ginseng, the root known today as an edible and rejuvenating herb. But just a century ago, a town in North Central Wisconsin quietly developed the gold standard, drawing the respect of discerning connoisseurs from China and around the world.

Welcome to Marathon County, where the second annual International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival takes place September 14-16, 2018. The three-day celebration will be held at downtown Wausau’s 400 Block city square park, promising bold flavors in myriad executions, exciting arts and entertainment, and plenty of ginseng-fueled activities.

While Wisconsin is best known as the nation’s largest cheese supplier, relatively few know the state produces 95 percent of the U.S. ginseng supply. Arguably more surprising – over 85 percent of the local crop is exported to Asia. Yes, the Chinese have an insatiable appetite for ginseng grown in America’s Dairyland.

To understand how a rural Midwest town became the nation’s ginseng epicenter, look back to the turn of the twentieth century. A local group of brothers, the Fromms, took interest in farming the wild ginseng that grew in a nearby forest. Marathon County’s long, cold winters and glacially enriched soil deliver the optimal environment for growing the prized root. In a few years, the brothers turned their crop into a business. Their commercial success spawned an industry and helped employ local farmers during the depression, which saved this area.

Thousands of ginseng purists and those merely curious will converge from around the globe to enjoy the culmination of summer in Wausau and discover all this herb can be. Ginseng is believed to boost energy, lower blood sugar and cholesterol, ease stress and even enhance men’s libido.

Festival goers will be treated to ginseng-enhanced delights from ice cream to burgers, soda to locally-brewed beer and wine and, given the state’s better-known reputation, cheese curds. Vendors will show off its herbal virtues in capsule form, lotions, lip balms and other creative expressions.

For fun, visitors can participate in a scavenger hunt, get dirty digging their own roots and enjoy an exciting mainstage lineup. The culinarily inclined can expand their repertoire at ginseng cooking demonstrations. The festival also focuses on local ginseng growers and local farm-to-table fare, with some fascinating historic tours planned. Events will extend onto nearby streets and throughout the county.

The International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival is a community collaboration in partnership with area businesses and organizations including Baumann Ginseng Farm, Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises, Ginseng Board of Wisconsin, Ginseng & Herb Co-Op, Travel Wisconsin, Marathon County, Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau, as well as many local associations and businesses.

More at wisconsinginsengfestival.com.

About the Author