- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Wild ginseng diggers are trudging deep into the hills as the harvesting season opened yesterday.

If West Virginia’s crop is anything like last year’s, more than $2 million worth of the perennial herb is lying ready in the soil. Last year, nearly 4,800 pounds of ginseng were harvested.

Much of the state’s ginseng is exported, mostly to China, said Richard Strickland of the West Virginia Division of Forestry. The root is popular in Asia and is often brewed in teas to cure digestive ailments or headaches or act as an aphrodisiac.

Mr. Strickland said the root grows best east of the Mississippi River and particularly well in a region like the Appalachians because it flourishes in a moist, shady environment.

West Virginia is considered to be one of the top five locations in the U.S. for digging ginseng. Kentucky, considered the national leader, harvested nearly 9,400 pounds last year, said state Department of Agriculture spokesman Bill Clary.

The digging season is a bit longer in Kentucky: It runs from Aug. 15 through Dec. 1. West Virginia’s season runs from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30.

“Sangers,” as ginseng diggers are known, will do best looking for shady spots.

“It grows better on a north- or northeast-facing slope than on an east- or west-facing slope,” Mr. Strickland said. “They like the slope that stays moist.”

West Virginia’s southern coalfields are the best area in which to dig.

“The coal-mining country, that’s where the bigger roots are,” Mr. Strickland said.

No permit is needed to dig the root, which lies beneath a thin stem that leads up to “prongs,” or places where the plant has branched off like tines on a pitchfork. Each prong has a cluster of five leaves at the end of it. A cluster of red or green berries hangs below the leaves.

A plant’s age is determined by the number of prongs it has: Only those with three or more prongs are ready to harvest. It takes about five years for a ginseng plant to mature.

Anyone digging ginseng must replant the berries from the plant in the spot where it grew. It is unlawful to dig on public lands, including state forests, or dig on private property without the owner’s written permission.

Diggers have until March 31 to sell to a registered West Virginia ginseng dealer or have roots weight-receipted by the Division of Forestry. Possession of ginseng in the state is prohibited from April 1 through Aug. 31 without a weight receipt.

Ginseng has been harvested in West Virginia for at least 200 years and there are more than 30 ginseng dealers in the state, said Robin Black with the Division of Forestry.

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