Dr. Jiang Mingtao, the American ginseng doctor: Cultivating dreams in the fertile land of America

Classic Life Collection Official Account.


Jiang Mingtao and his ginseng field

As the morning light breaks, Jiang Mingtao drives towards his ginseng field. Despite the chilly spring, the tree branches on the hillside are tinged with fresh green, foreshadowing the busyness of spring, the lushness of summer, and the joy of autumn. Along this forested road in Wausau, Marathon County, Wisconsin, Jiang Mingtao has spent the past 12 years.

This doctor of cardiac physiology and expert in cardiac protection chose to "abandon medicine for farming," leaving his study and returning to nature. In the homeland of American ginseng, he found his paradise and opened a new world for Chinese Americans in the United States.

"Ginseng saved my life."

Dr. Jiang Mingtao has a long history of 20 years in cardiac research, earning him the well-deserved title of "Dr. Jiang." After obtaining a master's degree in pediatric cardiology from Shandong Medical University in 1988, he went to Canada to pursue a doctoral degree in cardiac physiology. In 1996, he came to the United States, working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an assistant professor at the state medical college. His research on cardiac protection mechanisms received high praise within the industry, and the American Journal of Physiology hailed his findings as a "milestone discovery."

In 2009, Jiang Mingtao's wife was offered a position at a hospital in Wausau, Marathon County, prompting their family to relocate there. Due to the toll of two decades of intensive scientific research, Jiang Mingtao fell ill and had to take sick leave at home. Being in the American ginseng capital of Marathon County, he thought, why not try ginseng for his own health? So, he bought a wild American ginseng root aged between 20 to 30 years, simmered it into two bowls of black chicken soup, drank one bowl on the first day, and immediately felt his body filled with warmth. The next day, he drank the second bowl, and on the third day, he woke up feeling light as a swallow, feeling a spring in his step. In fact, he even cheerfully ran a mile, despite having been homebound due to chronic illness.

Collecting wild ginseng in the mountains

"It's truly miraculous; ginseng saved my life!" Jiang Mingtao still cherishes this extraordinary experience to this day. Experiencing the unique effects of Wisconsin ginseng made him, as a medical doctor, full of curiosity about this little elf that the Chinese have revered as the "king of herbs" for thousands of years: "What exactly produces such healing effects? If ginseng can save me, it can save more people too!" Jiang Mingtao was inspired to start a ginseng business.

Thus, he formed a "bond" with ginseng, delving into ginseng cultivation, purchasing land, toiling diligently, and establishing market connections, embarking on the entrepreneurial path of "abandoning medicine for farming." 

In 2010, Jiang Mingtao founded the "Wisconsin Marathon Ginseng Farm"

Encountering several American "benefactors"

The journey from a medical doctor to a ginseng expert was not an easy one for Jiang Mingtao. There are nearly 200 ginseng farms in Marathon County, and 95% of American ginseng is produced here. With each additional ginseng farm came increased competition, making it difficult to learn the "secrets" of ginseng cultivation from other farmers. Most of the knowledge had to be gained through self-learning and hard work.

Jiang Mingtao was fortunate to meet David, the third-generation heir of Monk Garden, shortly after arriving in Marathon County. The Monk family, originally from England, had a history of ginseng cultivation in Marathon County for over a century. David, a graduate of West Point, had served in the Middle East three times and carried the air of a military man, along with a sense of righteousness. He and Jiang Mingtao connected instantly and became good friends.

David (left)

 "David was my guide into the world of ginseng cultivation, offering me a lot of help and guidance. We became not only friends but also business partners. I can say that the Monk family was my first 'benefactor' in the ginseng industry!" Getting introduced to the Monk family was like obtaining a "passport" to the ginseng industry. It facilitated Jiang Mingtao's entry and allowed him to meet more experienced ginseng farmers.

Ginseng cultivation is unlike growing crops; it requires virgin soil, and the value of American ginseng depends on its age. It takes a minimum of three years and up to five or six years to have a harvest after sowing. The longer the time, the higher the value, which requires substantial financial investment.

"At the beginning of my business, my first marketing funds were not coming in time. When a white ginseng farm owner, Dell, heard about it, he didn't hesitate to generously lend me the money. I had only known him for less than three months at that time," Jiang Mingtao said, deeply moved.

In the Monk Brothers' processing plant

 Perhaps in the eyes of these experienced ginseng farmers, they could never imagine that a medical doctor and professional physician would come back to  nd and become a ginseng farmer. Maybe it's Jiang Mingtao's natural simplicity and honesty as a farmer's descendant that makes them feel very trustworthy. In recent years, Jiang Mingtao has often encountered such good Samaritan figures in America:

The Monk Brothers at the processing plant have always helped him with the post-processing, serving as the second "benefactor." Jiang Mingtao can simply enter the warehouse and greet them to take away several boxes of processed American ginseng, and the Monk Brothers never ask for any payment. Grandpa Barney, another ginseng farmer, lent his nearby farmland to Jiang Mingtao and his company's employees for vegetable cultivation without asking for a single penny. On the day of sowing the new ginseng field on October 9th, an elderly man named Cliff, who leased the land to him, not only brought helpers but also joined in planting himself, assisting Jiang Mingtao until late in the day.

Jiang Mingtao and Cliff (on the right) in the ginseng field

 "The ginseng farmers here are so genuine and reliable; I feel very reassured in my interactions with them." Jiang Mingtao fell in love with the ginseng farmers and the land here. He believes that, like these ginseng farmers, treating others with honesty and sincerity and being dedicated to the ginseng industry will naturally yield beautiful results.

With the generous help of many "benefactors," Jiang Mingtao's ginseng farm has expanded year by year. He has purchased 60 acres of the century-old Schmidt Farm and leased an additional 20 acres of land. Besides, he owns an additional 80 acres of ginseng base in the forest. Today, his ginseng brand "MonkGarden," in cooperation with the "first benefactor" Monk family, has successfully entered the Chinese market, rapidly gaining popularity with its high-end quality and unique packaging.


From cultivating ginseng to becoming a "Ginseng Doctor"

If over a decade ago, Jiang Mingtao was just a scholar and a medical doctor, now he has earned another prestigious title - "Ginseng Doctor." And this "doctor" was forged in the fields with his face towards the yellow soil and his back towards the sky, where he earnestly cultivated and "grew" his expertise.

Known as the "earth's spirit" or "little ginseng mallet," ginseng loves moisture but fears flooding and excessive sunlight. It requires the essence of the soil and has high soil demands, making ginseng cultivation an extremely delicate and time-consuming process with slow results, significant losses, and high risks, all dependent on the mercy of nature.

Dr. Jiang meticulously selected virgin lands that had never been used for ginseng cultivation with good drainage. He nourished the soil with organic fertilizers such as soybeans and oats. After planting the seeds, he covered them with wheat straw and erected sunshades to prevent direct sunlight.

The most arduous task after planting each year was setting up the sunshades: driving 168 wooden stakes, each 15 centimeters thick, into every acre and using over 300 meters of steel wire, weighing a ton, to create the framework to fix the sunshades, which allow light and rain to penetrate. "The first year is crucial; only with robust ginseng seedlings, we can consider it half successful," said Dr. Jiang. He personally oversees every aspect, ensuring that each step is done successfully. Working in the fields under the sun and wind, he built up a sturdy and robust physique. 

Apart from taking on physically demanding tasks, Dr. Jiang also applied his research thinking methods, constantly delving into studies.

He conducted extensive soil and plant analyses and discovered that supplementing calcium and boron as trace elements in ginseng soil is beneficial for its healthy growth and medicinal properties. Using oats and soybeans as organic fertilizers for the soil, he ensured that the ginseng "ate better than humans."

His long-term scientific research cultivated a "reverse thinking" approach, providing him with many inspirations. For instance, upon hearing that corn stalks take years to decompose, he cleverly utilized this characteristic by returning the corn stalks to the fields, increasing soil permeability and preventing ginseng roots from waterlogging.

Another example is when he heard people saying that eating ginseng can cause heatiness and nosebleeds, he keenly thought, "Isn't this an indication that ginseng has strong anticoagulant properties?" Consuming a small amount of American ginseng can not only improve blood circulation and anticoagulation but also dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Furthermore, dilating blood vessels can improve microcirculation, known as "unblocking blood vessels," thereby reducing side effects of diabetes.

Through comprehensive literature analysis, meticulous observation, scientific research, and reasoning, he finally unraveled the fundamental pharmacology of American ginseng, especially Wisconsin ginseng – it contains ingredients like ginsenosides, which stimulate the production of nitric oxide (NO) in the body.

"This miraculous molecule can invigorate and reduce fatigue, lower blood viscosity, improve blood circulation, thus preventing strokes and heart attacks," explained Dr. Jiang. "The so-called 'heatiness from eating ginseng' is basically a series of side effects caused by excessive stimulation of NO production." The ancient legends about the effects of ginseng have finally found a modern scientific explanation in the research of this "Ginseng Doctor."


Rooted in the industry, giving back to society

In Jiang Mingtao's view, ginseng, with its unique "divine nature," is a gift from the earth, full of profound meaning in life: breaking through the cold soil, with green leaves, red fruit, and white roots, it transforms through cultivation into a unique root-shaped figure, like a spirited natural elf; it emits a faint fragrance, combining bitterness with lingering sweetness.

"Marathon Ginseng Liquor" (as shown above) is a premium ginseng product, and the certificate is for the high-quality ginseng product (as shown below).

His journey is akin to this depiction: for thirty years in North America, he tirelessly and relentlessly persevered, eventually planting his own roots - nurturing the "Marathon Ginseng" brand.

Today, Jiang Mingtao's Marathon Ginseng Farm has become a distinctive brand in Wisconsin, not only receiving support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal branding program but also gaining backing from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. The farm has earned the trust of the renowned Chinese medicine store, Tong Ren Tang, and secured investment and equity partnership, making the high-end brand, "Monk Garden Ginseng," an official gift from the Wisconsin agricultural delegation to China.

During the first Wisconsin International Ginseng Conference in 2017, Jiang Mingtao also presided over the first International Symposium on Ginseng and Panax, becoming a leading figure in the local ginseng industry. The Marathon Ginseng Farm has become a popular destination for visitors from all over the world, especially mainland tourists.

Jiang Mingtao is a well-known community activist in the Chinese American community. Over a decade ago, he participated in the establishment of the Milwaukee Chinese American Community Center, the Yi Jianlian Fan Club, and launched Wisconsin's first Chinese newspaper, the "City Times." Since 2016, as a director of the United Chinese Americans (UCA), Jiang Mingtao has been actively promoting political participation and community welfare, generously providing assistance and donations. To promote Chinese culinary culture, from 2017 to 2019, he supported the Wisconsin Ginseng Cooking Competition at the Chicago International Food Expo in the Chinese exhibition area for three consecutive years, receiving rave reviews! 

The inaugural Marathon Ginseng Cup Cooking Competition was held in the Chinese exhibition area of the 100th Chicago International Food Expo in 2019 (pictured below), with London Olympics Chinese cuisine chef and Yipin Sichuan Restaurant Group Chairman, Zhong Fuhua (right) wearing a suit

His biggest dream is not only to expand the ginseng market but also to create a cultural industry with both Eastern and Western cultural connotations, establishing a ginseng museum to serve the public. This museum would encompass popular science, tourism, sightseeing, ginseng collection, and the dissemination of ginseng culture, welcoming friends from all over the world and allowing more people to experience the essence of ginseng, bringing health and happiness, and enriching their understanding of life, while seeking the roots of dreams and hopes...


[Profile] Dr. Jiang Mingtao, originally from Shandong, graduated from Shandong Medical University in 1979 with a bachelor's and master's degree in medicine. In 1995, he obtained his Ph.D. in Cardiac Physiology in Canada. In 1996, he joined the University of Wisconsin for cardiac research. From 2000 to 2007, he served as an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin. For over twenty years, he has been engaged in research on cardiac aging, ischemia, heart failure, and dietary anti-aging, with his articles cited thousands of times.

In 2010, he founded the "Marathon Ginseng International Inc" in Marathon County, the capital of American ginseng, which continues to this day.

He is currently a member of the Market Promotion Group of the Wisconsin Ginseng Association, a director of the National Asian Pacific American Political Action Committee, a director of Project Access Inc., a community non-profit organization in Milwaukee County, a director of the Marathon County Native American Center, and the first director of the United Chinese Americans (UCA).

(Reprinted from the "Classic Life Collection" WeChat public account; click to view the original article)

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