I recently posted a blog and in it had a picture of one of my favorite plants that grow in the mountainous forests and woodlots of the Eastern USA. That plant is American Ginseng and it is not my favorite because of the mystical cures and benefits that it may have, but how it has played a part in my life as I was growing up.
American Ginseng is a plant that is highly sought after for its possible benefits for humans. For that reason, a high price is paid for its roots and while that may be $500 or more per pound in today’s world, it had a similar monetary value even 40 or 50 years ago, not $500 a pound, but enough that it was highly sought after. Because of that and the unusual growing patterns of Ginseng, this plant could be easily wiped out of existence and was in certain areas. For that reason it has been highly regulated in recent years and if one follows those regulation, it can be safely harvested. Oh and by the way it takes many many plants to get a pound of ginseng – so it is not an easy make it rich plant to look for. If you are not willing to put the time in to harvest it ethically and to obtain enough to even sell, please leave it alone!
Ginseng is a sloooooooowwwww growing plant. As a matter of fact, it takes two or more years for the seeds to naturally germinate and grow. When that plant does emerge, it is a small plant that is easily damaged. At that point it is known as a one prong. The next year it will probably emerge as a two prong – meaning it has one more branch on the plant. Over the years it could eventually grow to a four prong and in very rare and excellent growing areas, you could find a five prong – don’t remember if I ever found one of those. The plant produces a pod of berries around it’s third year that turn red when ripe and that is how the plant spreads. I have even seen times when the plant skips a year of coming up, or it could be damaged early in the growing season and not come back up until the following year. The plant above the ground is not the prize, but the root in the ground below. It can be a very unusual shaped root and care must be taken in harvesting it that you don’t miss part of it.
Do I hunt and harvest this plant now? No I don’t, I prefer to simply watch it grow and still find myself looking for the plant when I wander the forests in summer and early fall. It does put a smile on my face in the rare instances I find one! That smile comes from the memories of our family hunting this plant when I was a young boy and on into early adulthood. There were many, many Sunday afternoons when mom and dad would pack the family in the car, drive to a mountainous area, and walk the woods in search of Ginseng. I loved those trips and became pretty good at finding the plant. We would also visit my mom’s family cabin in the woods of Preston County WV, and after a family picnic, would all wander out in the woods in search of Ginseng. Those walks through the woods with the family not only increased my love for the outdoors and the woods, but I realize now how much I miss those times with mom and dad! We were always communicating to make sure we kept track of one another, and as a young boy there were always interesting things to see in the woods.
40 or 50 years ago as I stated earlier, the plant was not regulated, but it doesn’t take a PHD to know that if you simply dig up every plant that you see, there would soon be no more to find. For that reason my dad would tell us to NEVER take a plant that was less than a three prong and to make sure you planted the berries that were on the plant. That way you could make sure you were harvesting the mature plants and that the cycle of growth could continue. That growth cycle can take 6 to 9 years to create a mature plant, so these steps were critical to the survival of the plant, and these same rules that were taught to me are now the main parts of the regulations that states have mandated in the harvesting of the wild plant. It was important to my mom and dad that the plant continue to flourish, because the ginseng that we harvested went a long way into putting groceries on our table and I would guess even some Christmas presents under the tree!
Oh, how I would love the chance to go back in time to one of those Sunday afternoons of walking through the woods with the family, talking back and forth to make sure no one was lost, and listening to the joy of one of the party finding a large ginseng plant or even a “patch” of them. I miss those days!
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