Ginseng, once plentiful in the eastern United States, is now considered an endangered species in Massachusetts. Very few wild ginseng seeds survive to produce new offspring. That fact, coupled with over-harvesting, has lead to a significant decrease in the population of these plants. Careful protection under the law coupled with hunters replanting their take has caused this medicinal plant to begin making a comeback in some areas. Check necessary permit requirements before digging ginseng root.
Know the laws concerning ginseng hunting in your state. Obtain any necessary permits from your state's Department of Natural Resources before beginning your ginseng hunt, and obtain permission from landowners before digging on private property. Plan to harvest ginseng in during the months of September, October and November. Visit deeply wooded areas that have not been hunted much in the past.
Dress appropriately for the dig. Wear long pants, hiking boots and a long-sleeved shirt. Carry a few plastic grocery bags, small trowel, insecticide and water in a backpack.
Identify the ginseng plant. Look for green leaves with three prongs each in a cluster of five leaflets. Look for a cluster of red berries protruding from the center of the plant. Count the clusters of leaves. There should be at least five clusters; otherwise the plant is too young to be harvested. Take note of immature plants by noting their location in a notebook so you can visit them in the coming years. Carry a picture of a ginseng plant with you if you are not familiar with this plant to avoid digging up the wrong plant.
Remove the ginseng plant from the soil with a small trowel Begin approximately 6 inches from the stem of the plant. Dig around the perimeter of the plant, creating a 12-inch circle. Dig down until the main ginseng root becomes visible.
Loosen the soil from the main root. Continue digging slowly and loosen the dirt as you go. Continue this process until the main root, tail and branch roots are all exposed. Identify the tail by a pronged section attached to the main root and the branch roots by sprouts projecting from the main root.
Pry up the ginseng and the roots with the trowel so that they remain intact. Remove as much soil as possible from the ginseng root. Replace any immature ginseng roots and tamp them back into the soil to be harvested in the future.
Plant a mature ginseng seed in the area where the ginseng plant has just been harvested to ensure an adequate crop for future generations. Obtain a mature seed by squeezing the plant's berries until they burst open. Take the seeds from the berries and plant 1/2 inch deep in the soil. Plant individual seeds 6 to 12 inches apart. Cover with leaves after planting.