Plants are People Too: The Personification of American Ginseng

Betty J. Belanus (Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage)

American ginseng (panax quinquefolius) is a medicinal plant native to the deciduous forests of the Appalachian region. American ginseng and its Asian cousin, panax ginseng are seen as having mysterious human attributes, possibly because the valuable root of the plant is often at least vaguely person-shaped. This paper will explore the previous work of scholar Mary Hufford and others, as well as traditional tales and personal experience narratives personifying ginseng, and a recent project recording sound waves (equated to human moods) from the plant. Does ginseng have a story to tell, refuting Tok Thompson’s theory that storytelling is unique to humans?

Part of 62-01 No Longer "Humanique": Posthuman Folklore and the Relationship between Humans, Plants, and Animals, Saturday, October 23, 10:30 am–12:00 pm