2017 American Ginseng Symposium in Morgantown, WV

Shaw Black Farm attended the 2017 American Ginseng Symposium, which was held in July in Morgantown, West Virginia and sponsored by United Plant Savers. The Symposium was a meeting and workshops by a variety of roles in the Ginseng industry, including Ginseng regulators, dealers, growers, scientists and researchers. It was an overview of the latest developments in research, regulations, and current and future threats to wild American Ginseng. Other native Appalachian wild-harvested medicinal plants, such as Bloodroot and Black Cohosh, were also addressed.

American Ginseng is still in decline in the wild, due to several factors. Places with large deer populations are seeing the ginseng patches eaten away, and turkeys and other small animals are predators of ginseng seeds. There are also a lot of poor harvest methods used, and illegal out-of-season harvesting. Proposed solutions included: managing forests better for smaller deer herds, so they don’t have a negative effect on the rest of the forest, more and better information and education to ginseng harvesters and dealers about best ginseng harvest practices, and possibly creating a Ginseng Harvest/Digger License.

6 of the 19 American Ginseng-producing states already have a Digger/Harvest License requirement, where digging ginseng is treated more like going hunting or fishing. Go get the license, then get out into the woods or on the water. A Digger License for ginseng would be similar; get the license and then go dig ginseng. The Digger License would be needed to legally sell the ginseng roots to a ginseng buyer. There is also the benefit of being able to get information about ginseng laws and best harvesting practices to diggers more easily with this kind of program, with a focus of good ginseng stewardship.

Good stewardship practices with ginseng is one of the best ways we can ensure that this plant resource survives and thrives. This includes harvesting only the larger and older roots in a patch (10 years or older), to make sure those plants have already been able to successfully reproduce. Planting back a growth bud and some root can sometimes let the plant regrow and keep producing seeds. HOWEVER, partially harvesting ginseng like this makes it impossible to sell for export, so this is something that should probably be addressed.

Developing a more local (non-export based) American market demand for ginseng could also help, since over 95% of all American Ginseng is exported overseas. There is a growing trend in the United States for herbal and alternative/complimentary medicine, and American ginseng is a wonderful native medicinal plant that is already in demand. Tapping into potential nationwide demand would get people interested in growing and protecting this valuable plant, which may take some pressure off of wild ginseng. Where there is a local U.S. market, then people would be interested in producing ginseng themselves.

There was also a lot of talk about how to protect ginseng growers, especially those who do wild-simulated or woods-grown methods (as opposed to artificial shade cloth methods). In many states right now, woods-grown and wild-simulated ginseng farmers have no representation or recourse in how Ginseng laws are set up, which can create huge problems for them. For example, if a grower notices that their ginseng patch is setting up a blight or disease, they can’t really do anything. They cannot send a single root in for disease testing. They cannot dig up the still-healthy plants, or transplant those plants and separate them from the diseased plants. This makes regular care and maintenance of their ginseng patches difficult.

Another avenue could be forming Ginseng Growers Associations in each state, to have some cohesion within the ginseng growing industry. This would help ginseng growers have some real power in discussions regarding how Ginseng laws and regulations should be drawn up. Some states don’t let ginseng growers sell ginseng rootlets grown within the state as live plants unless these plants are 5 years old (federal minimum for dry roots for export sales), when ginseng can be transplanted safely at least as young as 2-3 years old. This is an extra 2-3 years grow time for farmers, when they could be selling that crop much earlier and able to grow more ginseng. For this industry to grow, Ginseng Growers need a place at the regulatory table. A Ginseng Growers Association has the potential to help make that happen.

Altogether, the Ginseng Symposium was a great conference, with many people with different concerns and viewpoints coming to the table to talk about how to preserve Ginseng. Ginseng Regulators, dealers, growers, scientists and researchers are all working towards ways to help preserve and regrow native Ginseng in the wild, and use markets to increase the amount of people growing their own Ginseng for market to take some pressure off wild populations. We are looking forward to working with our friends in the Ginseng industry to help preserve this plant and grow the American Ginseng market here at home.