Hello Linda, really enjoyed your article on Ginseng in Lanark Village. I spent many a day with my father looking for wild ginseng in the backwoods of Lanark County from about the time I was six years old and continued on a more sporadic basis myself. If I remember the last time I looked for it would be around 1988.
My father always had a cultivated patch at there home north of Watson’s Corners and I imagine it is still growing there. Attached for your info is a few pictures I have. The first two were taken in my fathers patch the single root is one I found around 1988 and the last is one of my mother (Lorna Milotte) with a sample of some had found in the 1980’s.
Sure, by all means, I think the last year I picked ginseng, it was about $700/pound dried and I had about $1700.00 for the season. Was a valuable source of income for my parents in the early years (1950’s – mid 1960’s) of their marriage when they were subsistence farmers at Joe’s Lake.
I can recall A. J. Desjardin & his wife coming into Brian Bingley’s cabin in behind the Dome and asking if he could pick Ginseng. A. J. said “he still knew the special places on the property to harvest this crop.” That was years ago and I recall him telling Brian that he and Elwin had some private lots to select from. All sounded like extremely coveted grounds to me.
In the early 1900s Walter J Robinson conceived the idea of growing ginseng under cultivation. After an exhaustive examination into the project he became convinced the Lanark soil and climate would be ideal to the growing of Ginseng as wild Ginseng had been already found throughout the vast hardwood forests of Lanark County—– Read-The Lanark Ginseng Company?
Ginseng has a special place in the history of Ontario and Quebec. Roots were used in traditional Native medicines. In 1715, a Jesuit priest recognized the plant from descriptions out of China and initiated export to Hong Kong. At one time, ginseng trade rivalled the fur trade.Ginseng is native to the floor of the mixed hardwood forests of Eastern North America. It requires only 20% sunlight, and in fact will senesce (age) and die if light intensity exceeds this level for any length of time. All the roots were harvested from the forests, and now truly wild ginseng is rare in Ontario and Quebec. In June 2008, the Endangered Species Act, 2007, came into effect in Ontario, making it illegal to plant, harvest, possess, buy, sell, lease or trade ginseng collected from the wild in Ontario without authorization through a permit or agreement under the Act.
Seems like the Lanark Ginseng Co. also had other business going that was liquid and profitable..
By 1911–the foraging of the wild ginseng was hot and heavy as they say….
NINE years later……
The Death of the founder….. Walter J. Robinson
In the end Lanark County Wild Ginseng became foraged out of existance similar to the early years in Beckwith when most of the deer were hunted down by the settlers there..or beavers in Blakeney. Ginseng is an endangered species now in Lanark County where it once grew plentiful and after 1914,could not find anything about the Lanark Ginseng Co.
Ontario Ginseng Sites Known in 1987 and Revisited 1996-1998
Partially harvested about 1990. Thinning and understorey removal may cause further decline.
Someone mentioned on Facebook yesterday that most kids today had no idea that the Trillium was Ontario’s flower and no idea about it’s history and a light bulb went off.
Matthew Jason Dever–
How do kids get to be 17 years old in this city and this province and not know what a trillium is? And what it means to this province? #argh#kidsthesedays
So thank you Matthew for your comment and idea– and here is your 101 and then some…. For all of you adults and the kids:)
The trillium is my absolute favourite wildflower. Every Spring my mother would excitedly tell my sister and me that they were once again in bloom. Out the back door and away we would go, exploring the woods until we came upon the hollow where the trilliums covered the place like a fairyland.
My favourite thing to do in the Spring is to visit the Mill of Kintail just outside of Almonte when the trillium are in bloom. Almost magical–the trillium, a three-petalled white flower exquisitely tinged with purple as are scattered among the trails just past the little bridge. They can be seen all through Lanark County and I have also put a photo of the Beckwith Nature Trail below. The adoption of an official flower for Ontario in 1937 grew out of a movement during the First World War to choose a national floral emblem appropriate for planting on the graves of Canadian servicemen overseas. Although it was well received, no national flower was ever chosen, but the white trillium was chosen as Ontario’s floral emblem.
Mill of Kintail Trillium Loop There is a still a common belief that it is illegal in Ontario to pick white-trillium flowers because of its status as the province’s emblem. Actually common gossip was that if you accidentally stepped on a trillium the Mounties would swarm out of the woods and arrest you! While there is no such law, it is not advisable to pick the flowers because it takes so many years to produce one and the plant may take years to recover from the damage. Anyone who has visited a forested area in the spring in our region is familiar with Ontario’s floral emblem, the white trillium. Many gardeners have failed to grow trilliums in the past because thirty or so years ago the only supply came from wild-collected roots that had dried out in transit. It was impossible to grow these plants then: they simply never got going. Twenty years ago nurserymen began to grow pot-grown specimens raised from seeds and it became possible to buy a healthy trillium that would do well in the garden.
According to “ginsengers”, this group of flowers, as well as Jack in the Pulpit; are good indicators of soil favourable for growing wild ginseng. Maybe the *Watt Brothers in Lanark knew something about this when they had their *Ginseng Company near the village. Did you know that trilliums are edible and medicinal? The flower has a long history of use by Native Americans and the young edible unfolding leaves are an excellent addition to salad tasting somewhat like sunflower seeds. The root is used as an alternative medicine and is antiseptic, antispasmodic, diuretic, and ophthalmic. The roots, fresh or dry, may be boiled in milk and used for diarrhea and dysentery. Yes, we still get dysentery- and it’s just not for the history books.
Sometimes the raw root is grated and applied as a poultice to the eye in order to reduce swelling, or on aching rheumatic joints. The leaves were once boiled in lard and applied to ulcers as a poultice, and to prevent gangrene. An infusion of the root is used in the treatment of cramps and a common name for the plant, birthroot’, originated from its use to promote menstruation. Some of the root bark can be used as drops in treating earache. Constituents found in the volatile and fixed oils are, tannic acid, saponin, a glucoside resembling convallamarin, sulphuric acid and potassium dichromate, gum, resin, and starch.
Folklore: Used to facilitate childbirth, and to treat other female problems by the women of many Native American tribes. Trillium root was considered to be a sacred female herb and they only spoke of it to their medicine women.
Medicinal drink: Add 1 tsp. herb decoction to 1 cup warm milk, take at bedtime for diarrhea.
Mark Piper has added— To the tune of the Flowers that Bloom in the Spring (from the Mikado):
Arrest from the Red-Coated men, tra la If you step on that poor Trillium. Arrest from the Mounties in red, tra la For assault on Ontario’s emblem.
So that’s what we mean when we say when we sing Except for the Trilliums, step on anything.
Tra la la la la, Tra la la la la, Tra la la la la la.
The Watt Brothers began their business either in the beginning 0f the 1900s, or the very latter part of the 1800s. They were growers and dealers in nursery stock, seeds and supplies of every description. They also offered the local farmers an opportunity to make money off the trees from their farms without injuring the trees. ( I think that meant not cutting them down)
From the looks of it they specialized mostly in trees ( early arborists) and were in the market for all kinds of forest trees seeds, and important growers of *ginseng. They were on of the few I can tell at the time that had a mail order business and shipped to all parts of Canada. They were noted as being the envy of all Ontario in everything they grew and sold.
Few people had either greenhouses in which to germinate seeds or cold frames in which to harden plants off. Those who did either grew exotic vegetables such as tomatoes because there was a market for them, or vegetables for show, nurtured and cosseted from seed specially bought for the purpose.
Potato sets and seeds such as parsnips grew away quickly. Vegetables such as cabbages could either be swapped as young plants grown from seed by a neighbour for later produce, or bought as bare-root plants wrapped in newspaper from the market. People grew plants as seasonally as they ate them.
This is the Thomas Watt & Son stove display at the Middleville Fair.
Fruit needed to be plentiful and not fiddly to use – this meant rhubarb, gooseberries, and apples either scrumped, shared, bartered or grown. Fruit pies are today no longer a regular part of a meal, but for many they were an essential and cheap filling food. Food was energy. Suet rendered from pig for puddings, crappings (similar to scratchings), fat bacon, dripping on bread, fruit pies and oatcakes were cheap to fill people up.
There is no record when Watt Bros closed. If you know anything please let us know.
Perth Courier, April 27, 1860
The spring ploughing match came off on the 18th inst., on the farm of W.O. Buell, Esq. Six ploughs entered, four of them iron ploughs. We notice Marley’s Iron Plough and one made in Perth by Mr. Rutherford. Three of the iron ploughs took premiums and one of Cox’s make took another at the match. The first prize was awarded to John McCullom who used the Rutherford Iron Plough. We understand he holds a medal received at a ploughing match in Scotland. The second prize was awarded to James Cameron, Scotch Line—iron plough. The third prize went to James Buchan—Marley’s plough and the fourth to David Watson, Cox’s wooden plough. The ploughing was excellent and a credit to the society. The day was beautiful and there were some 200 people present who enjoyed the exhibition very much. The ploughmen, judges and others were entertained at the farm house for lunch by the proprietor. The judges were Messrs. James Stewart, Hugh McIntyre and Peter Stewart.
We are glad to know that our farmers are paying attention to the root crop. In the neighborhood of Perth more carrot, turnip and mangold wurtzell seed is now sold in one year than formerly used in ten years. The purple top Swede is one of the most favored varieties. We have been told of a Swede raised on the farm of John Donald, Esq., Reeve of Dalhousie, which is ahead so are as we know. When peeled with the tops on, one weighed 26.5 pounds and when trimmed and allowed to dry the net weight was 25.5 pounds. This turnip was perfect in form and round throughout. By the application of a liquid manure the size and weight can be increased and we trust some of our farmers will produce turnips like Mr. Donald’s for exhibition at the Fall Show of our agricultural society. The business done in the winter at the 9th Line Dalhousie is worthy of note. Owing to the extensive lumbering operations beyond we are told as many as fifty sleighs on a day will congregate and that the 9th Line farms have found a market there. We notice in passing a sign hung out “Oysters and Lobsters” at Thomas Scott’s, 9th Line. Old Dalhousie, as far as prosperity and population is concerned, is nobly holding her own, notwithstanding the emigration westward.
Our great, great grandfather Alexander Watt, born 1789. Died in Lanark County 1881. Stuart McIntosh
In the early 1900s Walter J Robinson conceived the idea of growing ginseng under cultivation. After an exhaustive examination into the project he became convinced the Lanark soil and climate would be ideal to the growing of Ginseng as wild Ginseng had been already found throughout the vast hardwood forests of Lanark County.
So Mr. Roberston prepared a corner of his garden, bought an assortment of seeds and roots, and began his career as a Ginsengist and people thought he was a bit crazy. When fall came along the next year the plants reddened and grew beautiful. The garden was one acre and one quarter would be planted with Ginseng, and in September and October the berries would become vibrant red.
The large brilliant bunch of berries projecting so brilliantly attracted much attention from the locals. But, then there were the questions as to the use and commercial value of the plant. Out of this rose The Ginseng Gardens and Mr. Roberston became manager, C. M. Forbes secretary, and the other members of the company were:
Mell T. Watt
James N. Dobbie
They had initially invested a capital of $2500. The market was paying $6.00 a pound and the worth of one acre was $50,000 and the roots were shipped to China where the media said 400 million were addicted to its use. However, there were many locally who doubted its future existence. But some said there should be no fear as tobacco and tea were still on the rise. Robertson insisted those who got in on the ground level would be rewarded. Anyone in Lanark County deciding to grow Ginseng was advised to contact the company for information.