I managed to snag Foxfire 3 out of a local library. It has a significant section on ginseng in the Appalachians, both hunting it wild and growing it. The consensus by those interviewed was that cultivated ginseng might grow larger, especially if fertilized and tended, but it wasn’t as good or potent as wild ginseng. On top of that cultivated ginseng tended to be vulnerable to molds, moles, rats, and other predators on seeds and tubers. And the most reasonable compromise was to find tiny ones in the wild, replant them in more likely spots, and then leave them alone.
I found this interesting particularly because I’ve read modern agroforestry books (2010 or later) on cultivating woodland herbs, ginseng in particular, and the modern info on molds, predators, and root sizes agrees with the accumulated folk knowledge of these articles written down in 1973-1974. More, modern medical analyses agree. Whatever medical effects ginseng may have are produced by ginsenosides, and those compounds only build up in the plant over years. And since they’re likely produced by the plant to fend off some kind of infection or predation, a pampered, fertilized plant has much lower concentrations in the root. The best cultivated ginseng is, effectively, cultivated as little as possible. Growers get their seeds, spread them in their shaded woodland areas, put a little leaf litter on top, and then wait.
…Sometimes with shotguns. People will poach ginseng even off private property. The prices are that enticing – and one night raid can ruin years of work. Poaching goes on even in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park; there’s at least one botanist whose job is to find ginseng in the park, dig it up, dye the roots, and then replant it. Dealers know the dyed roots won’t sell.
So. Accumulated folk wisdom of a plant, proven out by modern research. Folk wisdom also advises packing wounds with sphagnum moss, coating them with honey, or binding them with cobwebs. Anyone visiting this blog will likely not be surprised that all of these have good reasons behind them. Sphagnum moss is absorptive and extremely acidic, inhibiting the growth of bacteria and fungi. Honey in its natural form has plenty of hydrogen peroxide that kills infections, and the sugar in it sucks moisture away from invading organisms, killing more. And spiderwebs have various kinds of “webicillin”, meant to keep bacteria from eating the prey the spider hasn’t gotten to yet.
Granted, there’s a lot of folk wisdom out there that is just plain wrong. (Check out the doctrine of signatures for using plants on diseases, and hollow horn disease, if you want some facepalms.) But the vast majority of information passed along culturally survives because it matters.
Meaning the average person in your world should have a similar bundle of information on things that work and don’t work to handle wounds, illness, ghosts, monsters, and so forth. They may not always believe the rarer things; see Aragorn defending the wisdom of old women who still use athelas, when it’s needed to save those struck down by the Black Riders. But they should at least have heard of it.
…Though some of the rare things may only be known in certain books or villages. Which gives your Bad Guys some obvious targets to wipe out, if they plan to Conquer the World!
Give your world folk wisdom. It’ll take the story places you never would have imagined.