September 15, 2013

No license needed during this hunting season

It’s hunting season and that means it’s time to get out your trowel — if you’re in the wild ginseng business.

The season opens Sept. 1 and runs through Nov. 30. And you don’t need a license to harvest on private property. Harvest on state land is prohibited.

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is an uncommon and important plant that grows in rich soils under hardwood trees. It can typically be found in moist places, often near maidenhair ferns, blue cohosh, Christmas ferns and Baneberry. This week I came across some ginseng near all four of these neighbors.

Its foliage is similar to other herbs and blends into leafy understory plants but the bright red color of the fruit stands out. Interestingly, the Department of Environmental Conservation reports that “the tree most commonly associated with ginseng in the northern part of its range is sugar maple,” and this was the case with the ginseng I came across.

Ginseng was once much more common in New York than it is now. In the 1800s fur trappers became the early ginseng dealers. Clearly knowing the sweet spots in the woods made them experts in finding it. In 1900 ginseng was worth as much as $5 per pound for dried roots. It was harvested so heavily it became rare and eventually in the 1970s, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began protecting endangered species, ginseng was on the list.

Because it became rare in the wild, harvest of ginseng on private land continued to be lucrative.

Robert Beyfuss of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Greene County reports, “In 1985 wild ginseng in New York state sold for approximately $180 per pound. In 1995 the price was $500 per pound and in 1997 the average price was in the range of $300 to $400 per pound.”

As wild stock has disappeared, a huge increase in cultivated ginseng has changed the marketplace. Wisconsin has emerged as the largest grower of ginseng and the Wisconsin Ginseng Association claims a 95 percent market share of cultivated ginseng grown under artificial shade.

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