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Wild ginseng harvest wraps up in Wisconsin
Ended on Nov. 1
outdoors 3
The recent cool temperatures and sunny days have no doubt invited outdoors people into the woods to continue with the Wisconsin Wild Ginseng harvest season.
“I just heard it’s been a normal season as far as plants and leaf drop,” reported Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Conservation Biologist Char Robaidek.
The native plant and valuable root has drawn hunters out into the woods for decades. Armed with deer horns, screwdrivers, and any number of other devices for harvesting. The season in Wisconsin is over half way through. Beginning on the first of September, things will wrap up promptly on Nov. 1.
The season is perfectly timed with the maturing of the bright red seeds the plant bears. All in the name of preserving the future of the highly prized root.Early harvest of the plant, as Robaidek explains can be problematic.
“Early harvest is very detrimental to the season. Berries turn from green to red and the plant wont have viable seeds if harvested too early,” Robaidek said.
Along with special regulation, a harvest license also required when hunting and harvesting (and/or selling) ginseng. The one exception made in this comes for those who are hunting ginseng on their own land, for their own private use. License are available online and at DNR License sales locations for a cost of $15.75 for Wisconsin residents and $30.75 for non-residents.
The perennial plant is part of the ivy family and it’s growth spans all the way from the East coast to Minnesota. With harvest happening in 19 of those states. Ginseng, or simply ‘sang as its colloquially called is found in full shade environments deep in the hardwood forests.
“It’s valuable, and very sought after,” Robaidek explained. “A lot is exported to Asian countries. It is very slow to mature, this attributes to the trade of the species being regulated.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) most wild American ginseng roots harvested in the United States are shipped to Hong Kong and China.
“The harvest of ginseng has significant economic and cultural importance for many,” the FWS notes. “The wholesale value of wild American ginseng roots is estimated at approximately $27 million per year.”
In the United States, American Ginseng is not generally listed an endangered species, but due to some over harvest, particularly  on the East Coast, it is considered threatened, vulnerable or of special concern in some states.
The plants roots and leaves have long been used in traditional medicine in the United  States and beyond.
The word ginseng is derived from the Chinese term jen-shen, which means “in the image of a man.” Anyone who has dug a hefty root can attest to the fact that a fine root of sang will boast a thick torso like body and long leg like roots.
Ginseng is generally chewed directly, or taken in a pill form to escape the bitter taste. Some also report enjoying it lightly steamed or sliced into hot water for a refreshing tea. It’s said to raise energy levels, enhance over all wellness, improve brain function, lower blood sugar, and boost the immune system.
At one time there was a healthy wild crop of ginseng in the Asian countries and Korea that now import it. But over time intense harvesting has brought the Asian Ginseng species to its knees and to near extinction. This has led to a rise in popularity for cultivated ginseng. However, it is reported that customers in China and Korea will pay roughly 10 times the amount for wild ginseng over cultivated. Fetching upwards of $800 a pound.
While wild ginseng is highly prized and sought after, the market for cultivated ginseng is also strong, even in America’s Dairyland. Wisconsin, makes up about 95 percent of the cultivated ginseng in the market.
“Every ounce of ginseng grown in the state of Wisconsin is carefully and properly grown with love, by farmers that have many years of experience,” The Wisconsin Ginseng Board website boasts. “Wisconsin Ginseng is the gold standard for high quality American ginseng. American Ginseng has been cultivated in Wisconsin for more than 100 years, dating back to the 1800’s.”
In Wisconsin, the harvest of American Ginseng, is heavily regulated.
According to the ‘Guide to Wisconsin Wild Ginseng Regulations’  no person may harvest (cut, root up, gather, carry away or destroy) wild ginseng unless they carry a valid wild ginseng harvest licenses issued through the Department of Natural Resources.  One exemption to this is made for those who harvest ginseng on their own private property for their private use. However, as Robaidek stresses, everyone must follow the same harvest regulations.
“Wisconsin wild ginseng related violations include but are not limited to theft from private property, harvesting without a license, harvesting prior to the harvest season, or harvesting from state owned or managed land,” Robaidek said. “There were 26 citations issued for violations of the State’s wild ginseng regulations between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019.”
According to the Wisconsin DNR, wild ginseng plants shall only be harvested if they possess three or more true leaves-also called prongs-and a flowering/fruiting stalk. The entire stalk, minus the mature fruits, shall be kept with the plant until they are taken to the harvest’s home, or place of business.
In addition to only harvesting three prong plants, harvesters are also required to plant all the seeds from the harvested plant in the vicinity of the parent plant.
“Planting seeds is very important to the future of the species,” Robaidek explains. “It’s very easy to do, just squeeze the seeds from the red berries and plant them about inches apart and about one inch deep. Studies show that helps the seeds have the best success rate.”
The FWS also advises harvesters to leave some mature plants for the future.
“After harvesting some of the mature plants (with red berries) and planting the seeds, remove the leaves of the remaining ginseng plants in the patch. This will hide the plants and protect the roots from being harvest so that the plants can produce seeds next year,” the FWS explains.
If younger plants are disturbed in the process of digging for larger roots, harvesters can put them back in the same spot to mature for the future.
Once in the earth, the seeds will take around 18 months before they will begin to germinate. From there, it will take about five more years before the new plant will begin producing its own viable seeds. Due to the fact the root is the most prized part of the harvest,  the simple nature of the harvest destroys the plant. This regulation ensures the ongoing survival of this special species.
When it comes to harvesting ginseng, location is also an important factor.
“It is very important to remember that no one can harvest wild ginseng from any State owned or administered land,” Robaidek expressed. “It is also a very good idea for land owners to be aware of ginseng that is on their property. Problems with trespassing can arise.”  
The incredible value of the root has attributed poaching and trespassing continuing to be a ongoing problem across the United States growing regions. Robaidek notes that several citations go out each season for the crimes. But the issue also lies heavily in the future of the crop.
“All of the regulation is to protect the future of the species,” Robaidek echoed.  
All National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges and Federal Waterfowl Production areas are also closed to ginseng harvest.
Robaidek noted that anyone who suspects suspicious activity can contact the DNR on their tip line.