"You think, who would ever consume a root for $220,000?"
January 11, 2020 5:55 PM   Subscribe

American ginseng, found in the forests of the Ozarks and Appalacia, has long been used in traditional and Chinese medicine. National Geographic shares how high prices, loss of habitat, and over harvesting may be putting a native plant at risk. Demand for ginseng is creating a ‘wild west’ in Appalachia.
posted by snickerdoodle (16 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had no idea this was grown in Arkansas. I’ve got family there and they’ve never mentioned this industry. The roots that are for status/display purposes: how do they preserve it? Is it like a potato that can last for months in a cool dark space?
posted by johnxlibris at 9:54 PM on January 11


Ginseng is dried (Gardening Know How), not stored "fresh" like potatoes or apples.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:34 PM on January 11


This was interesting, thank you for sharing.
posted by hoyland at 3:16 AM on January 12


Ironically, my parents often bought ginseng products back from Asia when they travelled. I had no idea that it'd traveled from essentially my backyard to Asia and back again.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:55 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I wonder if you could farm ginseng on a rocky slope to get the gnarled and twisted shapes that seem to be favored?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:04 AM on January 12


I remember my conservationalist minded dad chasing people harvesting ginseng off our property 20 years ago in rural Indiana, and also picking the red berries off whenever we came upon a patch of them to make them less visible to poachers. I had no idea about the larger picture, thanks for posting.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:31 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


GenjiandProust, The folks who had ginseng beds when I was a kid in Southern Indiana had them under frames to mimic the forest canopy. My understanding is that they need a really rich, loamy soil and lots of shady scattered light. When I find it back home it is never in rock outcroppings or clearings, but I am not a botanist.

There are a few Facebook groups for ginseng sellers/harvesters and they are just bananas sometimes. It is this HUGE community - some of them are legit and rely on permission to hunt and harvest and do it really thoughtfully and some of them are brutal to the plant and ecosystems they hunt in.
posted by Tchad at 7:46 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I remember my dad going off senging with a neighbor, into a untamed gorge area, and coming back with what now sounds like an absurd amount of it, and how bitter it tasted.

Striking how much the narrative is about tresspassing, resource extraction, gun culture, poverty. I wonder how this would be dealt with in a place like scandanavia with more refined mores about use of private land, if something of similarly inflated value grew there?
posted by joeyh at 7:52 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


It would be spoilerish to say too much, but the first of Jefferson Bass's "Body Farm" series of forensic detective novels, Carved in Bone, is set in this Appalachian wilderness and a ginseng farm plays a prominent later role. It's the first thing I thought of when I read this.

It's a good (if fluffy at at time clunky) series, I definitely recommend it.
posted by jammer at 8:10 AM on January 12


Is there a larger dialogue about Asia's (specifically China's) eradication of entire species and ecosystems for medicine? I see articles like this and the ones about Mammoth miners and wonder why no one seems to question the big picture there (i.e. China has/is fucking up a lot of shit). I'm not asking flippantly, I would genuinely like to read anything of the sort.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:35 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


A few years ago, the Discovery Empire aired one of their worse "reality" series about a Ginseng Mafia, with rival harvesting gangs trying to muscle in on each others' territories. It was pretty bad.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:27 AM on January 12


I wonder how this would be dealt with in a place like scandanavia ?

Canada is the largest producer by far of cultivated North American ginseng.
We produce about 2500 tonnes a year or about 10 times what the U.S. does
Most of ours is grown in Ontario and B.C.
The Ontario region once grew tobacco. Ginseng was a replacement crop.
Permits are required to sell cultivated ginseng.
It basically all goes to Asia

It is not only illegal in Canada to harvest wild ginseng it is illegal to possess or trade in it.
It is considered endangered.

In theory penalties are steep pdf

What are the penalties for not complying with the import and export restrictions for American Ginseng?

In the case of individuals:
summary conviction may result in fines of up to $25,000; in the case of designated serious offences, conviction will result in fines between $5,000 and $300,000, and may result in imprisonment for a term of up to six months, or both.
Conviction on indictment may result in fines of up to $100,000; in the case of designated serious offences, conviction will result in fines between $15,000 and $1,000,000, and may result in imprisonment for a term of up to five years, or both.

Poaching still exists ,though steps are taken to combat it

The biggest single threat to wild ginseng in Canada is considered to be illegal harvesting.

There is evidence that American Ginseng plants are smaller than they used to be (McGraw 2001). This may be the result of artificial selection imposed by harvest targeting the biggest plants, leading to reduced fitness of remaining plants as well as reduced seed production within wild populations . Because the American Ginseng is slow to reach maturity, a 5% annual root harvest is sufficient to bring a viable population to the brink of extirpation
posted by yyz at 10:02 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


I've seen American ginseng growing wild just once in my life, surprisingly close to a road. Just a little plant. My dad had to point it out to me. He has also grown it from seed to sell, and I believe planted some back into the woods.

Apparently deer overpopulation is another significant threat to ginseng, but humans are the big one.
posted by Belostomatidae at 10:23 AM on January 12


I remember my dad going off senging with a neighbor, into a untamed gorge area, and coming back with what now sounds like an absurd amount of it

Related soundtrack:

Ginseng Sullivan (Norman Blake), and Ginseng Sullivan (Tony Rice)
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:22 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Came into the thread for Ginseng Sullivan, was not disappointed.
posted by gnutron at 2:02 PM on January 12


I’ve got dear old friends in Arkansas who have been ginseng harvesters for a long time. These are back country folks with a pretty deep knowledge of Ozarks ecology and major backwoods skills. I’ve been out with them to do it. There was definitely already an aura of gold rush around it a decade ago, and people trying to reliably cultivate it, and talk of guns and territory marking.

But at the time I was made aware of it, it was a very rustic thing to do, something done by people close to subsistence level living, not nearly as widespread.

Cool post, thanks!
posted by spitbull at 5:06 PM on January 12


« Older Compañeras and sisters: Welcome to these...   |   The medications that change who we are Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.