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Wild ginseng- Mother Nature’s gold

Jim Boxberger
Posted 1/27/23

These long nights in the winter, I can't help but to scroll through hundreds of channels of garbage on TV just to come back to watching reruns of the Big Bang Theory.  

Reality shows seem …

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Garden Guru

Wild ginseng- Mother Nature’s gold


These long nights in the winter, I can't help but to scroll through hundreds of channels of garbage on TV just to come back to watching reruns of the Big Bang Theory. 

Reality shows seem to be all the rage, but they are far from reality. Shows like, Appalachian Outlaws and Smoky Mountain Money make it seem like you can become a millionaire by going on a hunt for Wild Ginseng. 

Ginseng grows wild in the woods, even here in New York, but in the United States, American ginseng is generally not listed as an endangered species, but it has been declared under threat by some states. In New York, harvesting ginseng is legal but it is regulated and you will need to register with the state before hunting. And just like deer, there is a ginseng hunting season, you just can't go willy nilly into the woods and start digging, not to mention you need to know what you are looking for and how old the Ginseng needs to be. 

So why would anyone want to bother doing this? Well, American ginseng root can fetch one dollars an ounce on the open market. Older gnarly roots fetch even higher prices up to four hundred dollars an ounce and knowing the difference is not something that a novice can pick up by reading about it. 

The root of the ginseng plant has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and is highly sought after. 

Ginseng grows extremely slow and takes several years for a plant to mature enough to be harvested, this is why it isn't just farmed like other crops. It would not be profitable for farmers to grow a crop that could not be harvested at the end of one growing season and ginseng can easily take four or five years before even one root is viable. Mother Nature grows it better than any farmer could, because mother nature is not looking to turn a profit. 

Ginseng is native to the hardwood forests of North America, from southern Canada (Ontario and Quebec), west to South Dakota and Oklahoma, and south to Georgia. It usually grows in well-shaded areas (especially north or east-facing slopes) of moist hardwood forests. The more mature the forest (with large hardwood trees and a full canopy that shades out most shrubs, briars, etc.), the better for ginseng, as a thick undergrowth of smaller plants will overshade or compete with ginseng plants. 

Remember, Sullivan County was practically clear cut back in the late 1800's to early 1900's, so our forest floor was totally destroyed and had to regrow from there. Many native plant varieties that once florished in our woods around the county were lost after the clear cutting took place. That is why hunting in Sullivan County or other counties along the Delaware River may prove to be fruitless. 

Older forests in the Adirondack or Appalachian Mountains are much more suited for harvesting wild ginseng if you decide to become a treasure hunter. For me, I'll stick to root crops that I can grow in my backyard like carrots, turnips and horseradish. 

Horseradish is probably my favorite not only because it is perennial so that it keeps producing year after year, but because it is used with some of my favorite foods like bratwurst or shrimp. With how easy horseradish is to grow, it is hard to believe less than twelve months ago there was a horseradish shortage. 

The supply chain still has challenges two years after Covid, so plan on growing just a little bit bigger garden this year.


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