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American ginseng is an unassuming plant native to the deciduous forests of the United States. This plant has captured the imagination of many people across the globe for centuries, unfortunately, which is a problem for its wild population.

Why is Picking Ginseng Illegal?

You’ve heard about ginseng and all the benefits it might have medicinally, so why is picking ginseng illegal in the United States? The short answer: ginseng has been threatened by over-harvesting for centuries, and this is one step towards ensuring the conservation of the plant in the long term.

As of right now, picking ginseng in the wild isn’t illegal across the board, but it is regulated across all states. Individual states have control over their land management practices, which means there are hunting ‘seasons’ where you can apply for a permit to harvest ginseng during certain times of the year. It is illegal to harvest the plant on most state-owned land, as well as all land owned by the National Park Service.

Why is Ginseng Protected?

Ginseng is listed as an appendix 2 CITES species, which means that it is regulated and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

This plant is protected because it has been poached from the wild enough that the wild populations are at risk. Harvesting the plant destroys it, and new populations may struggle to establish themselves in the face of a changing climate, human development, and invasive species encroachment.

Protecting the plant, making its wild harvest illegal or regulated, and proactive conservation efforts are all a step towards ensuring the survival of this ancient plant in the wild. Part of this protection may also include education and stewardship of ginseng in some regions.

Why Are People Stealing Ginseng?

Since the 17th century, ginseng hunting has been a way of life for families living in these mountainous regions. Because much of ginseng’s notoriety comes from its monetary value on the market, it can be tempting to steal from someone who has a rich cultivation of ginseng or has wild ginseng on their property. Poaching ginseng from the wild is also considered a form of stealing by some, as it is removing delicate natural resources with selfish intent.

Typically, ginseng poachers are looking to make a quick dollar without any foresight into how it affects the population. This attitude is typically the result of a long line of ginseng hunters that don’t have another easy means of money, or the result of decades of ginseng lore inflating the perceived value of the root.

How Much is Ginseng Worth?

The market for ginseng roots is volatile. Much like other natural resources, it depends on supply and demand. Typically, roots sell for anywhere from $20 to $50 per pound.

That sounds like a lot until you consider the fact that it can take anywhere from 200 to 350 small roots to make a full pound once dry. Demand was stronger in the colonial era before cultivation picked up, and supply was easier to come by as the woods used to be rich with ginseng. Now, ginseng is an endangered plant that is on the brink of extinction in the wild.

Wild-simulated roots, which are cultivated roots in natural or wild conditions, typically fetch a higher price because they can become indistinguishable from wild roots.

Are Ginseng Berries Worth Anything?

Ginseng berries are highly valuable, but not on the market. Rather than increasing the size of your wallet, their value comes from the ability to plant a new generation of ginseng. Some companies utilize the juice from the berries as a medicinal concentrate, but this is typically the byproduct of stratifying the seeds for cultivation which requires that the berry flesh is removed.

Where Can You Pick Ginseng?

You can pick ginseng on your own property assuming that it has been legally cultivated. Poaching wild ginseng is not only illegal or regulated in many states, but it is often unethical with how endangered ginseng’s wild population has become.

Cultivating ginseng is best done in its native region, which encompasses central United States through southeastern Canada, following the mountainous Ozark and Appalachian region. Learning more about where ginseng grows wild can help you choose a growing site in your own woodlot.

Can You Harvest Ginseng Without Killing It?

No, you cannot harvest ginseng without killing it. The part of the plant that is harvested is the root, typically intact with the root neck.

There are some reports of individuals harvesting the rootlets, leaving the root neck and new roots intact so they can continue to grow and support the plant with nutrients. These rootlets begin growing once the plant is about 10 years old, which means your cultivated crop would need to age before this is possible.

Unfortunately, not only is this plant surgery exceedingly difficult to pull off without killing the plant, but it undermines the usual motivation for harvesting the root in the first place, which is to put it on the market.

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About Destynnie K. Berard
I am a lifelong naturalist who believes a good sense of humor is essential to staying happy. ★ After traveling for years, I settled in New England, falling in love with the diverse landscape the Northeast has to offer, and began pursuing conservation in earnest. ★ My career background is in enterprise marketing and communications, which provides me with a unique perspective of ecological relationships.

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