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Grown Here at Home: Rules for harvesting wild ginseng

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 12:29 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - These days a pound of wild ginseng can get you about $500. Sounds pretty nice, right? But if you talk to any ginseng digger, they’ll most likely tell you they’re working hard for every single one of those dollars.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has specific harvest guidelines that must be followed to keep the plant from becoming extinct. First, you need to have a license to do it on public land, or written permission from a private landowner. The plant harvested cannot be under five years old.

“The purpose of having that five years is to allow the plant to go to maturity to produce seed for that seed to be able to get down into the soil,” said Keith Tignor, endangered species coordinator for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Anyone who harvests wild ginseng must plant the seeds of the harvested plant where the plant is found at the time of harvest.

“The primary part of the plant that is being harvested for export is the root. Once you take the root out, of course, the plant is gone, so we want to make sure the seed is there in the soil, in order for it to replace itself,” Tignor said.

Each root has to be harvested individually.

“Digging an individual root, doing it properly, can take some time. It’s takes about 250 roughly roots to make a pound,” Tignor explained.

Be advised, Tignor said although you can make good money harvesting wild ginseng, it most likely won’t make you rich.

“There’s ways that you need to a handle it and so forth to process it, and that’s takes time. When you kind of come down to the nuts and bolts, at $500 a pound, you’re making maybe a dollar an hour,” he said.

The VDACS website has a list of requirements for harvesting wild ginseng. Violating any of these regulations could land you up to a year in prison, up to a $2,500 fine, or both.

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