Virginia's Ginseng Harvest Season Begins Sept. 1

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Friday, September 1, marks the start of the ginseng harvest.

This plant can fetch a pretty penny, but picking it is strictly regulated.     

The valuable plant is considered endangered, because it’s being over-harvested and most of it is exported overseas.

And, since there's such a scarcity, a lot of people are growing it without a permit during non-harvest seasons, and selling it on the black market.

The problem with growing it during the off-season, and/or picking it too early, means that the ginseng won't reach its full potential.

Ginseng is valued as a medicinal herb, and it has many health benefits like lowering blood sugar, boosting energy, reducing stress, and treating diabetes.  

The Shenandoah Valley’s supply of ginseng has become a popular area among illegal harvesters in recent years.

That's because the plant isn't easy to develop in just regular soil, and instead needs a more sandy soil that’s typical of the east coast in order to thrive. 

"With ginseng, it really is a national treasure and traditionally it's been such an important tonic, so this is a huge issue for us,” said Kathleen Maier, director of Sacred Plant Traditions. “And the reasons for the over-harvesting are primarily the climate change. The other is the poachers, who are harvesting out-of-season, aren't harvesting correctly, they're doing this for the quick dollar.” 

Those caught harvesting the plant during the off-season or stealing it from another person's property can be charged with possession of ginseng and face fines and restitution. 

However, it is legal to grow ginseng in your own backyard.

Last year, people in Virginia harvested over 2,400 pounds of ginseng which was valued at one million dollars.


08/31/2017 Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services News Release:

The digging season for wild ginseng began Sept. 1, but before heading to the woods, diggers need to be aware of laws protecting this valued plant. Since wild American ginseng is a threatened species in Virginia, ginseng collection is prohibited on most public lands in Virginia, including the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, and in state and national parks. Where digging on private lands is permitted, diggers must replace every plant with seeds from the one dug and they need to be aware of size and age restrictions.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), the agency responsible for regulating ginseng harvest and sales in the Commonwealth, says the wild ginseng harvest season starts Sept. 1 and runs through the end of the year.

Over the last several decades, ginseng populations in Virginia have declined due to continued harvest of the plant. In order to protect plant populations, ginseng collection is prohibited on most public lands in Virginia. Harvesting wild ginseng from state and federal parks and forests is prohibited. Collecting any portion of the plant, including the berries, for personal or commercial use from the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest is prohibited. Removing ginseng from the national forest comes with strict penalties, including a fine of up to $5,000, six months in jail or both. Violation of Virginia’s wild ginseng harvest regulations is punishable by imprisonment for up to 12 months, a fine of not more than $2,500 or both.
Individuals harvesting ginseng must obtain permission from the property owner from which the plants are being removed. Permission should be in writing and kept with the individual harvester at the time of harvest. A permit from the appropriate agency is required to harvest ginseng from public lands.

Regulation of the harvest and purchase of wild ginseng includes the following provisions:

•  The harvest season for wild ginseng begins on Sept. 1 and ends Dec. 31 of each year. Wild ginseng cannot be harvested from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31.
•  Wild ginseng that is younger than 5 years old, has fewer than four stem scars present on its rhizome or has fewer than three prongs cannot be harvested.
•  Any person who harvests wild ginseng must plant the seeds of the harvested plant at the harvest site at the time of harvest.

Individuals shipping or transporting ginseng from Virginia in amounts of 8 ounces or greater per calendar year must have the ginseng certified by VDACS. Individuals buying or accepting ginseng to sell must obtain a license from VDACS.
The root of the American ginseng plant is valued as a medicinal herb. During the 2016 season, approximately 2,400 pounds of ginseng roots were harvested in Virginia, with a value of about $1 million. It takes between 250 and 300 roots to acquire 1 pound of wild ginseng.

The regulations regarding the harvest of ginseng do not apply to any person harvesting wild ginseng from their own land. Keith Tignor in VDACS’ Office of Plant Industry Services encourages landowners to observe the same age restrictions and other guidelines meant to ensure the continued, long-term viability of wild ginseng when digging ginseng on their property. 

For more information, contact Tignor at 804.786.3515 or keith.tignor@vdacs.virginia.gov.