If you’re out in the woods and see ginseng that is ripe, remember that you are not allowed to dig it up until Sept. 1. That is the official start of the ginseng digging season in West Virginia.
“Ginseng is an important forest plant,” State Forester Randy Dye said. “Asian cultures have believed in ginseng’s health benefits for centuries, making the growing and digging of it economically important to the state’s economy and the harvesters’ wallets.”
Demand drives the price of ginseng, which can fluctuate during the digging season. According to Robin Black, who oversees the ginseng program for the DOF, the average price per pound for wild ginseng in 2010 was $445.
“In the past 20 years, I have seen ginseng as high as $700 a pound and as low as $200 a pound. On average, it takes about 300 roots to make a pound of ginseng,” Black said. “The more demand from exporters, the higher the price goes. Less demand from exporters means less money per pound.”
Besides growing naturally in the woods, ginseng also is cultivated, but roots from cultivated plants typically are worth less per pound than those that grow wild.
Ginseng plants are ready to harvest when their berries turn red. The plant is dug out of the ground and its roots removed. West Virginia state law requires anyone digging ginseng to replant the berries/seeds from the parent plant in the spot where it was harvested; this helps continue the species. Federal regulations set the minimum age a plant can be harvested at five years. The age of the plant is determined by the number of prongs; only plants with three or more prongs are considered old enough to harvest.
The following laws also apply to the harvesting of ginseng:
•Anyone digging ginseng on someone else’s property must carry written permission from the landowner allowing him or her to harvest ginseng on the property.
•No permit is needed to dig wild ginseng.
•Digging ginseng on public lands, including state forests, wildlife management areas or state parks, is prohibited.
•Diggers have until March 31 of each year to sell to a registered West Virginia ginseng dealer or have roots weight-receipted at one of the Division of Forestry weigh stations.
•Possession of ginseng roots is prohibited from April 1 through Aug. 31 without a weight-receipt from the Division of Forestry.
•The ginseng digging season runs through Nov. 30.
More information on ginseng in West Virginia:
A native plant of West Virginia, Ginseng grows in all 55 counties of the State but is prevalent in cool, moist forests. This perennial herb is highly prized for its large, fleshy roots that grow from two to six inches in length and a ¼ to a ½ inch in thickness. Ginseng is slow growing with seeds taking two years to germinate. The age of a Ginseng plant generally can be determined for the first three to five years by the number of its leaves, or prongs. Ginseng roots must be dug only when the plant has three or more prongs (with no fewer than 15 leaflets) indicating the plant is probably at least five years old and capable of producing fertile berries. The berries of the plant must be red in color indicating that they are mature. Younger plants have smaller roots and little or no financial value.
Collection of Ginseng in West Virginia is regulated by State law. Ginseng roots are to be dug only between September 1 and November 30 each year. Ginseng diggers, often called “sangers,” are required to sow the seeds from harvested plants at the site of the digging, thereby perpetuating the species in its native habitat. During the digging season landowners may dig Ginseng on their own land or give written permission to others to dig on their land. Digging without written permission on posted or enclosed land is a criminal act and subject to fines and imprisonment. Ginseng buyers must obtain a permit from the WV Division of Forestry. Possession of uncertified Ginseng between April 1 and August 31 is illegal and substantial penalties are imposed on violators.
Ginseng has been harvested as a cash crop in West Virginia for at least 200 years. In 2002, more than 6,400 pounds of Ginseng, worth more than $2 million, were dug in West Virginia.
Ginseng has been used for centuries in North America and Asia. Allegedly teas, soups and medicines made from Ginseng roots cure sickness, increase vitality, relieve mental and physical fatigue and prolong life. In China the roots themselves are often chewed.
Read More: WV Forestry