I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about the fabled ginseng root. Many swear by its health properties which include increased energy, memory and stamina, with a little sex drive boost on the side. After tasting some wonderful fresh ginseng infused bourbon at a bar in Minneapolis, I was intrigued. It had nice herbal notes with earthy, nutty and slightly sweet overtones. This had possibilities. As luck would have it, the largest ginseng growing area in the United States, producing 95 percent of our crop, is right next door in Wisconsin.
Central Wisconsin is the epicenter of American ginseng cultivation, with nearly 200 growers in the area, many dating back to the 1800s. Wisconsin-grown ginseng is known for its distinct aroma and medicinal effects. If ever there was a terroir-influenced herb, this would be it.
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is in the same genus as Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng), and has the same active compounds, called ginsenosides. It is native to the US and Canada, with a growing region that stretches from central Wisconsin, north through Quebec, over to New York, down through Appalachia and back across the Ohio Valley. American ginseng grows in cool, shady woodlands and has been foraged by native peoples for possibly thousands of years. Commercial production is intensive. Ginseng takes 4-5 years to grow and the fields must be covered in shade cloth to simulate the forest floor.
In testing this bitter I steeped raw, sliced dried and dried pulverized ginseng tea in vodka. The best tasting bitters were made with the dried sliced American ginseng. It had a clean, zingy, nutty flavor. Second best was the fresh ginseng root, followed by the tea. The tea just didn't have much kick, but still kept the bitterness.
By Tammy Kimbler
8 oz vodka
2 oz dried sliced ginseng, 8 tea bags of pure ginseng or a 8" piece fresh ginseng root, thinly sliced
1" piece ginger, thinly sliced
2 tsp coriander seed
4"x1" strip orange zest
Combine ginseng, ginger, coriander seeds and orange zest to the vodka. Allow to steep together in a jar for at least 1 month. Strain.
This bitter is great added to all sorts of cocktails, but I particularly like it with champaign and a little orange liqueur--for medicinal purposes, of course. Buy American ginseng from Wisconsin growers online at their own co-op, Ginseng & Herb Co-Op.
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