CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia’s ginseng digging season starts Sept. 1. Ginseng diggers, often called "sengers," will be out in full force searching for the native herb that sold last year for an average of $410 per pound.
On average, it takes about 300 roots to make a pound of ginseng. The price of ginseng per pound fluctuates based on demand and has been recorded to sell from as high as $700 per pound to as low as $200 per pound.
In 2011, according to State Forester Randy Dye, ginseng generated approximately $2 million for West Virginia’s economy.
"People, especially here in West Virginia and in Asian cultures, have believed for centuries in the health benefits of ginseng, which makes the growing and digging of it economically important to the state’s economy and the harvesters’ wallets," Dye said.
Dye said that 4,920 pounds of ginseng were harvested during the 2011 season, which was a 12 percent decline from the previous season. Robin Black, who has worked with the Division of Forestry’s (DOF) ginseng program for more than 20 years, said she’s not worried about ginseng digging ever ceasing, though.
"Ginseng digging is a time-honored tradition, usually passed down from generation to generation. I don’t believe it will ever fade away," Black said. "In fact, in many areas of West Virginia, digging ginseng provides a second or third income for many families especially during tough economic times. Ginseng digging is a great way for families to get out into the forest together, learn about the importance of sustaining a native species and make some extra money."
Ginseng plants are ready to harvest when their berries turn red. The plant is dug out of the ground and its roots removed. West Virginia state law requires anyone digging ginseng to replant the berries/seeds from the parent plant in the spot where it was harvested because this helps continue the species. Federal regulations set the minimum age a plant can be harvested at five years. The age of the plant is determined by the number of prongs; only plants with three or more prongs are considered old enough to harvest.
The following laws also apply to the harvesting of ginseng:
* Anyone digging ginseng on someone else’s property must carry written permission from the landowner allowing him or her to harvest ginseng on the property.
* No permit is needed to dig wild ginseng.
* Digging ginseng on public lands, including state forests, wildlife management areas or state parks, is prohibited.
* Diggers have until March 31 of each year to sell to a registered West Virginia ginseng dealer or have roots weight-receipted at one of the Division of Forestry weigh stations.
* Possession of ginseng roots is prohibited from April 1 through Aug. 31 without a weight-receipt from the DOF.
* The ginseng digging season runs through Nov. 30.
Beginning Sept. 1, a list of registered ginseng dealers for 2012-2013 will be available in the ginseng section of www.wvforestry.com.
Besides growing naturally in the woods, ginseng also is cultivated, but roots from cultivated plants typically are worth less per pound than those that grow wild. People who want to grow ginseng on their own property must get a grower’s permit and have a determination done on their property before the ginseng is planted. Determinations are done from April 15 to June 15 each year. Contact Robin Black for more information or with questions at 304-558-2788 ext. 51764.
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Robin Black, 304-558-2788 ext. 51764, Robin.S.Black@wv.gov
Leslie Fitzwater, Public Information Specialist, 304-957-9342 or 304-541-8102, Leslie.C.Fitzwater@wv.gov