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Sky-High Ginseng Prices Boost Illegal Harvest in Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Ginseng in Korean store window. Photo by []Peter Garnhum[/url] via Flickr.

With dried ginseng roots fetching $900-$1,000 a pound now, illegal harvesting has increased in Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a serious federal crime. Ginseng thieves who are caught and convicted get hefty fines and jail time.

Ginseng is a fleshy-rooted plant grows in cooler-climate zones. Practitioners of traditional medicine have long valued ginseng root for its purported stress-reducing and strength-giving or rejuvenating properties. Traditional Chinese and Native American medicinal uses have also included libido enhancement and treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED).

The forked shape of a ginseng root resembles a man’s legs. Historically, the best prices have been paid for roots that came closest to meeting this ideal human-like configuration. Individual roots can bring amazing prices. In the late 1970s a record-setting ginseng root sold for $64,000, which is well over $200,000 in today’s money.

Though shape still means a lot to some who use ginseng in traditional medicine, most who use ginseng today use processed forms of the root.

By 2000, U.S. ginseng exports had reached about $44 million a year. The prime market for ginseng is Asia. North American suppliers have been shipping ginseng there since the early 1700s.

The value of ginseng has increased dramatically with the skyrocketing popularity of herbal supplements, which now account for about $60 billion in world trade. Gatherers recently have been getting $900 to $1,000 a pound for the dried root, which is roughly $4 a root.

There are places in Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky National Park where ginseng can grow quite well, though not profusely. Unfortunately, the plant is now rare in both parks. Ginseng thieves have repeatedly raided the parks, and with sorry consequences. Most ginseng patches have been thoroughly stripped. The few remaining ones will suffer a similar fate unless they are very carefully protected.

Rangers are fighting back. Surveillance of ginseng patches and suspected ginseng thieves has led to a number of arrests. Various other tactics are also employed. Applying permanent dye to growing ginseng roots, for example, ruins their market value without otherwise harming them. Another tactic, implanting microchips in the growing roots, provides a mean to trace their whereabouts if they are illegally removed.

Since ginseng thieves can be quite clever and adaptable, it remains to be seen whether these and related tactics will suffice to protect the parks’ dwindling ginseng stocks.

Meting out harsh sentences to convicted ginseng poachers is a key element of the struggle to protect the remaining ginseng on federal lands. The gathering of ginseng on federal land is a serious federal crime.

There is a strong precedent for dealing harshly with ginseng poachers on the federal lands. One ginseng poacher nabbed in Great Smoky in 1995 was convicted and sentenced to a six-month prison term.

As this excerpt from a recent NPS Morning Report indicates, recent convictions in ginseng cases have yielded similarly strict sentences.

On Sunday, August 24th, ranger Joe Darling found a vehicle parked off the side of the parkway in an area [of Blue Ridge Parkway] that has no trails but is known for illegal harvest of ginseng. When Darling entered the woods, he discovered signs of recent digging and eventually contacted Sage Adamson of Asheville, North Carolina. Upon investigation, Adamson was found to have 34 freshly dug ginseng roots in his possession and admitted to digging them up on park property. On Friday, August 29th, Adamson appeared before a federal magistrate and pled guilty to digging and removing ginseng. He received 18 days in jail, was ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, and banned from the parkway and adjacent federal or US Forest Service lands for two years. Adamson further admitted to previously removing ginseng from other locations along the parkway and adjacent USFS areas and subsequently surrendered 481 additional roots, which when dried renders about two pounds of ginseng.

Cases now under investigation will lead to additional convictions. We hope it’s not too late to save the remaining ginseng in the national parks.


To mark ,saw a picture in pheleps ky ,at glen stumps gas station .the root was at least 5lb *it wasnt a poke root either,I was in my 20s then im in my 40s now ,contact me if ya like

I dig yearly and see an abundance of ginseng in more than just cool places, I find it everywhere. Ginseng is a commodity just like all the forest lands that have big traces of natural gemstones,gas resivoirs,water, anything of value. It's not about depletion, its about a commidity an assett. I know of one mine that produced "gem" quality sapphires in world wars one and two!!! Not for abrasives. on federal land and every forestry officers have their own set of rules, I was told hands and pans to call the regional office though, law is not in effect and you can dig in the creek just not the banks. This is the thing to me, we as tax payers support "ALL" of the forest lands, we the people own those lands and thats the way it should be. Rest assured if a big war comes and the american dollar isn't no good anymore, ginseng, bloodroot,yellow root, precious stones will be worth alot. And guess who has alot of all of the above, we do on our federal land in which we can't use freely just as this wonderful "free" country!!! It's is not prohibited to dig good ole' sang on federal land, oh unless you pay $30 for a wet pound????? Something is ass backwards there. Everybody needs to look at all the federal land and see whats on that land. Ray mica mine, federal land- tourmaline,beryl,aquamarine,apatite,moonstone all very desireaable gems. OK, lets go the other way Clay county nc Old herbert mine an old monestary was mined for garnets,ruby,sapphire all federal land now. Chuncky Gal- RUBIES!!!!! Cat eye cut-Star sapphires!!!!!! All federal land????? Lets go to Grimshaw mine in Transylvania Co NC- Facet grade sapphires!!!!!! Ginseng, its everywhere, private lands,federal lands and the diggers are why its coming back. Seed need make it into the dirt 3/4 inch to germinate and grow. I've never known of any seed to dig a hole and jump in it!!!!! If you know of any give me them bad ass jumping -digging berries and you can keep the root as for me and the jumping berries we're joining the circus!!! For real all the cut roads to these mines aren'y for us its for the goverment to get to them if they ever have to tap their resources that are there. How and why does the goverment own all this land that happens to have a monster resource on it???????? Look into it and you will see the real truth. As for me, my family depends on all of it, ginseng, stones,blood root, yellow root, Ivy and I'LL CONTINUE TO GET IT!!!!!

   hello all i have been a ginseng hunter for over 20 years.  i only hunt for the big prize, at least knee high, and have 1/2 oz to one ounce roots on it.  i have a name in the town where i live as a true hunter because of the size of my roots and how i leave all the small plants alone.  now before i die i would like to make a bit of history i want to know what is the tallest and the most heaviest root found in the state of kentucky and also in the united states if anyone knows how to go about finding out this information please let me know

They won't let us have wild ginseng seeds. I would replant my areas as well if I could get the seeds. The government needs to relax a little. I hope my grandkids can find root in my patches years from now.

I have been gathering wild Ginseng roots for 30+ years from 4 states and will tell you that in 1980-1993 I was digging between 100-200 wet pounds of Ginseng per year. I have dug many virgin patches of 30-40 pounds on many a hillside, and one hillside yielded over 100 lbs.alone, but those days are long gone. I will now tromp my ass off and very lucky to find 3-6 wet pounds per day. I am now a very strong advocate of taking the time to replant the Red RIPE berries correctly !! It is very important to not plant the berries TOO deep. A good rule of thumb is to squash the berry and plant 1/2"-1" deep Maximum.
In my early days of hunting, my Ginseng buyer advised me to just throw the berries into the hole that you just dug the plant from, THIS IS A NO NO. I now am working back to these areas 20 years later where I dug so well and planted many a tennis ball size wad of berries, yet there is no GInseng growing. I was told 5 years ago to plant the seeds shallower, and just think of how many years of good seed I personally wasted by me not planting all those berries correctly. DO NOT PLANT YOUR BERRIES TOO DEEP !!!!!!!!!!!!!

m daddy dug ginseng for forty years and i have been digging it since i was 6 years old i remember hen you could sell ginseng any time during the year and hunt it any time bu now you cant and if you wait to september or go asking for permission you aint gonna get no ginseng most ass hole want let you on there property but a week laer they cut there timber so i say to hell with protecting it im getting what i can

RE: True American

I have come down from Chicago 12 years ago and have been learning alot of wilderness info, some is very interesting and some are so hard to believe. 4 years ago I finally learned how to find ginseng but never dug it because the plants were too few to benefit anyone. Last year I made a huge mistake of asking an elder about a massive patch I found, and he talked me into showing him (dumb dumb). The plants were all 3 to 4 prong on a very steep slope and he suggested that it would be well worth it to harvest when season is in. He is telling me that the size (thickness of the stalk) should guarentee good size roots. Also said 15-20 year old!
Well I was asked by my son to show him what they look like so I went out with him 1 week later, (1 month before season opened) to find every frikn plant dug up and left holes without seeds anywhere. My son as well as I learned a big lesson down here in southern indiana, never tell anyone about your find.

Some people I just dont understand!!!

What gets me is ... Wonder how many private parties have lost their Land Because Our Government took it from them. To make a park. And the next thing is its federal land ..Ok who owns the government.. The people. This means it is public land set forth for the people of this country to use and enjoy. So we the people own this land. If sang is dug and replanted it hurts nothing. It doesn`t take as long for sang to grow to maturity as people let on. Germanation depends on quality of soil and moisture content. I have a few patches i have planted on the north side of facing of a ridge. And as long as it is grown in the same enviroment as wild sang . There is no difference in root texture or color. Where the difference comes from that people say its cultivated ,is when people grow it in soft soil ,like green houses and plowed ground. It cracks me up to hear people say it takes year for sang to grow to maturity . The truth is very seldom will sang get to be 25 to 30 years of age . Most of the time after sang reaches 15 to 20 years of age it dies off. And yes once a plant gets roots astablished. It comes up every year. You can tell the age of a plant by the head of root,each year that it sheds the plant above ground. It leaves a notch in root head for each year it has came up.i have wild patches that contain 1 prongs that are from 1 to 2 years of age, 2 prong that are 2-3 years of age and as of the 3 prong and 4 prong depends on plant nutrition and water it has recieved that year. I have plants that have been a 4 prong then the next year only make a 3 prong . Very seldom will you find a 5 and 6 prong but i have seen them ,with the plant only being 4 to 5 years old. People crack me up when they don`t understand somthing the crazy thing they tell. If sang lived 50 years which they may be some that have made it that long but very seldom. If all sang lived to see that age the forest would be flooded with sang. But its alot like any other plants it has a life spand . And the people that dig sang are the best thing for sang to survive and insure it will be there. When people dig sang and replant the berries from a plant back into the ground where plant was taken from . Then it insures that all berries will have a chance to germinate. When you have 5 to 20 berries on a plant and they drop off to the ground only about 2% of these berries will ever make under enuff soil to germinate.I say if you want sang to be there for the younger generation .In our parks and national forest .Then teach them the truth about the life and the right way to dig and harvest sang at the right size,And To Replant The berries. All our federal government thinks, is if people are making a profit from a plant . Then it can`t be good for the plant,'BS"."Truth" they are not getting their cut. Guarantee the forestry department Charges for the permit.

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