American ginseng is a highly sought after perennial herb which grows in the forests of eastern United States. Because of a high demand for wild ginseng root, ginseng was over-harvested during the 1970s and has reached the status of endangered species in certain locations. Asian ginseng is more of a stimulant than the American ginseng. American ginseng isn't used much in US but is exported primarily to Asia. Harvesting of the "wild" ginseng is only legal during a specified time that is state defined, which is usually in the autumn months. Here's how you can make some money harvesting ginseng.
For several generations, digging for ginseng has been an enjoyable and profitable way for many mountain people to spend a day in the woods. Make sure to take a cooler of water with you when you start on your excursion of digging "sang," as it gets hot and muggy walking the hills. Take with you a sharp digging tool and a bag to hold the entire ginseng. You may walk a long way before you will spot the lush plant but might spend the whole morning or afternoon digging on the hillside. Wild dried roots sold for as much as $425 a pound about 10 years ago. The price varies each year according to market demand.
Identify the American ginseng by its 3-pronged display of a mature plant. The top way to identify ginseng during the season is to search for their bright red berries with yellowing leaves. These berries plus the yellowing leaves toward the end of the fall season are easy to spot in the woods or field. If you find one or two pronged plants, they should be left for a couple more years. Ginseng takes several years to mature, with most roots being dug when the plant is between three to ten years old. It is often found in heavily wooded areas and requires rich soil to thrive. It takes almost 3 hours to dig 3 lbs. of roots that then shrink to just 1 lb. when dried.
After digging for a day in the woods, the next obvious thing to do is rinse the ginseng roots and lay them out to dry. Place the roots in a single layer in a flat cardboard box or on newspaper and leave in a warm area of your house. The drying time varies according to the size of the ginseng roots. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, but may take as long as a couple of months. Don't lay the ginseng out in an area that has animals or is subject to rodent activity.
A method that is called wild simulated ginseng can be used when growing ginseng. The prices paid are about the same for this type of ginseng as for the wild roots. If the right site is chosen, ginseng growing can provide income for those who have perseverance, patience and discretion. It is also very enjoyable. When ginseng is grown in an open field with artificial shade, the roots quickly grow to a size suitable for harvest. Ginseng has to be planted in the fall, preferably after November.
In selling dried roots it is hard to find a product that is easier to sell. In Virginia alone there are 45 buyers spread out across the state. These buyers are regulated by the Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services. A list of buyers can be obtained by visiting that office. All that a seller has to do is drive to the store of the buyer, carry in the roots, watch them as they get weighed and accept payment.