For centuries, American ginseng has been in the spotlight for mountain foragers and market specialists. Now, it is in the spotlight for conservationists who are striving to protect it from an irreversible decline.
Why Is American Ginseng So Valuable?
This plant is often considered one of the most expensive herbs in the world, with some black-market prices said to reach above $500 per pound of the root. These black-market operations are unsustainable, however, and the prices rarely climb that high. There are also federal penalties for harvesting, possessing, or exporting the wild root. On average, the ginseng harvester won’t get anywhere near this amount. $30 to $50 is a more realistic price range for a pound of roots, which can consist of anywhere from 200 to 350 roots.
So why is American ginseng so valuable, even in the face of extinction in the wild? Simply: supply and demand.
In the 17th century, colonial settlers realized that they had what is now known as American ginseng in the new and seemingly abundant land. Around the same time, China was looking for a supplier for ginseng as their Panax ginseng root – which is very similar to Panax quinquefolius, or American ginseng – was believed to be extinct in the wild.
To the inexperienced, ginseng can be difficult to identify, which makes foragers and cultivators alike feel like they need a degree of expertise to sell. For a time, the lack of sellers inflated the price per pound of ginseng, though you would be hard-pressed to find that same demand in the modern market.
Why is Harvesting Ginseng Illegal?
In the United States, the local foraging of ginseng is governed by individual states where the plant grows natively. Some states only regulate ginseng and have established ‘hunting seasons’ for the root to allow individuals to forage for the plant under specific licensure and inspection. This allows them to control which plants are being harvested, ensuring that younger generations can continue to exist in the wild.
Other states have banned the wild collection of the root entirely; wild collection is also illegal on most State-owned land as well as National Parks land.
By making ginseng harvest illegal or regulated, conservationists hope to support the population through decline and take other steps – such as careful stewardship – to allow populations to recover. Ginseng’s number one threat to extinction in the wild is human poaching.
Why is Ginseng Restricted?
As another measure of protection, American ginseng was one of the first species listed in the CITES Appendix II restriction, which governs the trade of flora and fauna that are at risk of over-exploitation. While this has created an illegal trade of ginseng, it has dampened the overall exploitation of wild roots, making it a successful and vital component of ongoing conservation efforts.
Want to Learn More About Ginseng?
Enjoy more in-depth information about how to identify, grow, and harvest your own American ginseng crop in HerbSpeak's new book: How to Grow Ginseng.
In this book, you’ll learn everything you need to know about growing ginseng – specifically American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius – and how to care for this wonderful plant from seed to harvest.
Beyond that, you’ll learn why such a small root has earned such an honorable reputation, and what you can do to help keep this plant in our lives no matter what your motivation for growing ginseng is.
Your journey into the world of ginseng starts here.