HIGHLIGHT: International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival

(First published in the September 13, 2018 issue of City Pages)

International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival



Aaron Williams and the Hoodoo perform Saturday night

The Ginseng Fest returns for a second year showcasing agricultural, culinary, historical and health aspects of the precious root. Last year the inaugural festival attracted an estimated 5,000–8,000 visitors, which included 1,000 international travelers (ginseng is a big deal in Asia, where a lot of the locally grown root goes). After seeing the turnout and positive impact of the first fest, organizers decided to make it an annual event—and this year it’s slated to be even bigger.

Marathon County is the ginseng capital of the U.S., but many locals were first exposed to the local history of the root just last year during the festival. This sparked the organizers to add a new educational aspect to the festival, with seminars on Friday and Saturday. “Awareness was established last year” says organizer Rebecca Bratton of the Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Now we want to add an additional level of information.” Attendees can dive deeper into ginseng and learn about its health benefits and the ginseng business itself in the Loft Gallery of the Center for the Visual Arts.

A highlight for many last year was trying all the ginseng-infused food and drink creations prepared by local restaurants and breweries. Organizers kicked that up a notch this year with more food vendors, a ginseng cookbook for sale, the return of cooking demos at Monk Gardens, and the addition of a chef competition. The Iron Chef-style event takes place Saturday 1-3 pm in the Great Hall of the Grand Theater. Watch as local chefs square off and are judged by Vietnam/Hollywood celebrity chef Jack Lee for the best dish.

Festivities happen at several locations around Marathon County, but the main hub is on the 400 block in downtown Wausau with vendors, food, beverages and entertainment all happening there. You’ll see local musicians, Hmong dancers, a stand-up comedian and the return of the colorful Chinese Lion Dance. Come and immerse your senses in all things ginseng. Fri.-Sat. noon-9 pm; Sun. 11 am-4 pm.

A full schedule of events and details are spelled out in program guides available at the festival and at the Convention & Visitors Bureau office in downtown Wausau, at the corner of Jefferson and Third streets. Or go to wisconsinginsengfestival.com.

Festival Highlights

There are so many fun events throughout the festival, it’s impossible to list them all. Here are some highlights:

Main Stage entertainment (400 Block)



Noon · Opening Proclamation

1:00 pm · Patchouli, soulful guitar and vocals

3:30 pm · Brothers Tsway, stand-up comedian and talk show host

3:45 pm · Bian Lian, Chinese mask changer

4:30 pm · Kyle Megna & the Monsoons, indie, folk, rock and blues

7:00 pm · Spicy Tie Band, party band performs hits from all eras


Noon · Brothers Tsway, stand-up comedian and talk show host

12:30 pm · Hmong Dance Groups

1:00 pm · Bian Lian, Chinese mask changer

1:30 pm · Chicago Chengsem Troup, traditional Chinese fashion show

4:00 pm · Chinese Lion Dance

4:30 pm · Bian Lian, Chinese mask changer

4:45 pm · Announcement of Poster Art and Top Chef winners

5:00 pm · Allen Brothers Band, funky pop rock

7:00 pm · Aaron Williams and the Hoodoo, blues, soul, roots rock


11:00 am · Freistadt Alte Kmeraden Band, traditional polka

Noon · Chicago Chengsem Troup, traditional Chinese fashion show

12:30 pm · Freistadt Alte Kmeraden Band, traditional polka

Cooking Demonstrations


Celebrity Chef Jack Lee

At Monk Botanical Gardens, watch how chefs incorporate ginseng into menu items.


10:30 am · Justin Wester and Arkielle Ferguson of City Grill prepare Chicken with Ginseng Pomegranate Ginger Sauce

Noon · Nate Bychinski of Red Eye Brewing prepares Woodfired Ninepatch Chicken with Ginseng Broth, Cabbage, Beech Mushroom and carrot

1:30 pm · David Thorio of Thrive prepares Roasted Carrot and Ginseng Soup


10:30 am · Cody Heidmann of Sconni’s prepares Ginseng Cheesecake

Noon · Celebrity Chef Jack Lee prepares Salmon Lollipop with Ginseng Honey soy glaze; Bacon Wrapped Shrimp with Jalapeno Wisconsin Ginseng Cheese sauce; Beef Filet wrapped in fresh herbs with sweet & tangy sauce; Ginseng, Almond & Walnut crusted Chicken Strips with honey mustard; and a Ginseng and Peach Mojito Mocktail

1:30 pm · Justin Wester of City Grill prepares Chocolate Ginseng Cake

Educational Seminars

Loft Gallery of the Center for Visual Arts, each seminar seats 100, first come first serve.


9:00 am · Dr. James Lee: Ginseng Standards

1:00 pm · Paul Hsu: Ginseng Medicine & History

2:30 pm · Nan Lee, Vice General Manager of Beijing TRT Health: How Wisconsin Ginseng Gets to Chinese Consumers


1:00 pm · Dr. Jiang: Ginseng Medicine

2:00 pm · Will Hsu: E-Commerce and the Future of Ginseng

3:00 pm · Ginseng Q&A with a panel of experts

Center for the Visual Arts Poster Contest Exhibit

View all of the entries for the Second Annual International Ginseng Festival Poster Art Contest. You’ll see digital posters, paintings, mixed media and photographs celebrating the reputation central Wisconsin has for growing ginseng.

Ginseng Root 5K Run


Wisconsin made ginseng soda is back!

Saturday Veterans Park, Marathon

This 5K run takes place in the heart of ginseng country. Run through Veterans Park and the wooded area of St. Anthony Retreat Center, with prizes for the top finishers and divisions. 10 am-noon. $15 advance, $20 day of. Register at tandhtiming.com.

Fromm Farm Historical Tours

Saturday (register in advance)

More than 100 years ago, the famous Fromm brothers created the largest ginseng farm in the world in western Marathon County. The wild root was much sought-after, but was notoriously difficult to cultivate. The Fromm farm soon became a huge operation that also included the famed silver fox furs, and attracted visitors from around the world. The main buildings still stand, and this tour of the grounds was a hit last year as visitors learned about the history of ginseng and how ginseng farming began in Marathon County at the Fromm Farm.

Tours run noon-4 pm with the last tour at 3 pm. Available via shuttle bus and appointment only—no parking allowed on site. Must register in advance. Find the link at wisconsinginsengfestival.com.

Shuttle Bus Schedule

Several events happen out in the country. The drop off and pick up site for all rides is near the 400 Block at Prehn Dental, on Jefferson St. Find the schedule in the festival program.

Friday the bus picks up at 12:50 pm goes to the 45×90 geographical marker, the Edgar Swap Meet and the Heil Dig Your Own Root.

Saturday, five buses pick up at 11:10 am, 11:40 am, 12:10 pm, 1:10 pm, 1:45 pm, 2:05 pm and 2:35 pm and go to the Fromm Farm, the 45×90 geographical marker, the Edgar Swap Meet, Heil Dig Your Own Root and Hsu’s Dig Your Own Root.

Sunday, two buses run. Bus #1 picks up at 10:50 am, 11:30 am, 12:15 pm and 1 pm and goes to the Granite Peak Ski Area chairlift rides. Bus #2 picks up at 9:55 am and 11:30 am and goes to the 45×90 geographical marker and the Heil Dig Your Own Root.