- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 11, 2001

BOONSBORO, Md. Ginseng hunters are shrewd. They know where it grows, when to dig it, how to dry it and when to sell it.
This is not the time.
The weak Asian economy has pushed prices for increasingly rare wild ginseng down to about $200 a pound from nearly $500 just two years ago, Western Maryland diggers and dealers say.
The result is a slowdown in sales and a growing stockpile of the brown, tangy-smelling roots in cool, dry, secret places across the region.
"I've been buying ginseng for 20, maybe 30 years, and I've never seen the market this bad. There's a lot of wild ginseng that hasn't even sold from last year," said James E. Fazenbaker of Washington County, one of six state-licensed dealers.
He and other dealers buy ginseng from people in mountainous Allegany and Garrett counties who have harvested the twisted woodland root for generations.
The wild variety ginseng also is grown commercially in relatively large quantities is particularly prized, especially in China and Korea, for its reputed but unproven medicinal qualities. American ginseng, native to much of eastern North America, is believed to have both a calming effect and the power to boost one's vitality and sexual potency, according to folklore.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers wild ginseng a threatened species and has regulated harvesting and exporting since the 1970s, said Robert Trumbule, who runs Maryland's ginseng management program for the state Department of Agriculture. Federal rules prohibit digging wild roots younger than 5 years old, and the state, which licenses hunters and dealers, requires diggers to plant the bright red berries for regeneration.
The number of diggers and dealers has shrunk, though, as demand and prices have fallen. Mr. Trumbule said he issued 302 digger permits this year at $2 apiece, and six $20 dealer permits. That compares with 336 digger permits and nine dealer permits last year. The season runs from Aug. 20 to Dec. 1.
Mr. Trumbule said he has gotten just one call this season from a grower wishing to have ginseng certified for export to Asia, where it retails for three times the U.S. wholesale price. In a more normal year, perhaps a dozen growers would have called by now, he said.
Maryland's output is fairly small compared with surrounding states such as Virginia, which produced more than 5,700 pounds of wild ginseng last year.


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