August is a tough month to find anything to write about. Trout streams are dry. Bass fishing is slow. It’s too hot to hunt unless you might know a farmer who would like to be rid of groundhogs. What to do? What to do?
Many years ago, for me there was one overlooked season that might be of interest. Ginseng. When I hunted Ginseng, the season came in in mid-August, and digging would end with the first frost, which usually happened well before the season officially closed.
I still have my old, duck taped screwdriver that I used for digging. I even have a few Ginseng roots that I saved in a jar.
Regulations have changed since I roamed the woods. Wild ginseng is now controlled under Virginia Administrative Code, Chapter 321. “Regulation of the Harvest and Purchase of Wild Ginseng”. If you plan to do any “’sang digging” be sure you are familiar with the Code.
Wild ginseng is now listed as a threatened plant under Virginia’s Endangered Plant and Insect Species Act. Harvesting wild ginseng from state and federal parks and forests is prohibited.
The Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (VDACS) is responsible for ensuring the sustainability of wild ginseng.
Ginseng can grow in many places in the Valley but tends to like the north sides of mountains and ridges. You won’t usually find it in laurel. It doesn’t like sun. Look for the thickest, roughest, rockiest, snakiest spot on the mountain and you might find ‘sang.
So why in the world anyone would go into the hot summer woods and battle heat, spiderwebs, yellow jackets and snakes for a plant?
How about $500 a dry pound!? An “extensive” (5 minute) google search found the 2019 average price for a dry pound of ginseng was around $500 and about $160 for a green pound.
When I was digging you could get maybe $100-$120 a dry pound? A fair amount of money back in the day. COVID made pricing for 2020 unstable. Whatever the price you earn every penny.
Ginseng (“ren-shen”) means “man root” so the more gnarled and manlike in appearance it is, the greater the value. Some rare single roots can go for thousands of dollars.
Ginseng can be cultivated, woods grown or grown under other controlled conditions, but wild ginseng is most valued.
If I remember correctly 3 pounds of freshly dug ginseng will fill the better part of a plastic bread bag. It will normally dry 3-4 pounds green to 1 pound dry, depending on the size of the root.
Why is it worth so much you might ask? Mostly due to the demand in China! They use it as an herb for medicine and it’s thought to have the properties of coffee, Viagra and Prozac all rolled into one. That being the case, it is much in demand in Eastern Asia.
The plant itself is distinctive once you know what it looks like. A single stalk grows out of the ground and branches into three to six prongs, with three prongs being the norm. At the end of each prong five leaves radiate with two of the five usually a bit smaller than the rest. From the middle of the array of prongs continues a single seed stalk with a pod of red berries at the top.
Later in the fall the plant will turn yellow and finally, at the first hint of frost, it’s gone.
So, if you still think it sounds like easy money, take a walk in the woods this fall and see how many 5 leaved, red berried plants you see.
Graduate of Bergton Elementary (Class of ’65)