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By Glynis Board of West Virginia Broadcasting
For original publication and audio segment click here.

OCT 9, 2014

A new reality TV show that features ginseng hunting premiered this week. Smoky Mountain Gold pits four teams against each other to see who can collect the most wild-ginseng. It comes in the wake of another reality show that aired in January this year, Appalachian Outlaws. Dried ginseng root sells for 400-900 dollars a pound, and these reality shows are generating a lot of new interest in the plant. That might be a good thing for the ginseng industry… or it might not be.


Frame from National Geographic Channel's new ginseng reality TV show: Smoky Mountain Money, which pits teams against each other to see who can collect the most ginseng.
Credit National Geographic

Poaching Up-tick

Larry Harding is a ginseng farmer in Maryland. He cultivates the plant across 300 forest land acres; he sells seed, root, and even ginseng wine. He’s been in the ginseng business for decades. He says he gets hit by poachers every year, hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and losses. Just a few weeks ago while he was patrolling his fields in the middle of the night he spotted a few head lamps in his crop...

“I called the law,” Harding said. Catching a poacher red-handed, with a law enforcement officer, is one of the only ways to be able to successfully prosecute a poacher. That’s exactly what Harding did. He aided officers in the arrest and learned in the process that the men traveled some 400 miles from Kentucky to steal his ginseng.

It might sound like a scene from a reality show, but this is real life. Harding says everyone he knows in the industry is seeing more interest and more theft this year since ginseng has been in the TV spotlight.

“Since Appalachian Outlaws, I’ve talked to several different people who’ve been hit,” Harding said. “I’ve been hit three times this year.”

This year:

West Virginia’s Division of Forestry reports a 300 percent increase in calls from people who want to know where to dig for ginseng and when; the Monongahela National Forest has issued twice the number of permits to dig; and the state’s Department of Natural Resources—which is in charge of enforcing the state’s ginseng regulations—reports increases in criminal activity.

The Slippery Slope to Extinction

“I know there’s no way we can continue down this path and still have something years down the road for my grandchildren,” said Lieutenant Woodrow Brogan, a law enforcement officer with the state DNR.

He’s been involved in a separate, year-long investigation that recently lead to a $180,000 ginseng bust and the arrest of 11 people in just one region of southern West Virginia. They were charged with illegally harvesting wild ginseng, or illegally buying and selling it.

Lt. Brogan has been with the DNR for 20 years. He also takes part in the nearly 300-year-old Appalachian tradition of harvesting wild ginseng.

“My father taught me that you don’t dig the smaller plants,” Brogan said. “You always leave some crops for next year. That was the tradition that we had; and most ginsengers I knew growing up, they had the same type of mentality, of conserving the resource. What we’re getting into now-a-days, is there’s folks going out and the only thing that they’re seeing is dollar bills.”

Boom or Bust?

The main markets for ginseng are in Asia. It’s an extremely popular medicinal herb there, and has been for over 2,000 years. Asian demand is increasing with booming populations and a growing middle class. That’s driving prices along with illegal harvesting in this country. Lt. Brogan thinks West Virginia has reached a crisis point where action is needed.

Current regulations vary from state to state, but in West Virginia:
you can only pick wild ginseng for three months in the fall,
only plants that are older than 5 years,
only in certain locations with permits or permission from landowners,
and you must have root certified with a dealer licensed by the state

These laws are designed to protect and preserve wild populations. But problems persist.

Program director of plant science at Shavers Creek Environmental Center at Penn State University, Eric Burkhart, thinks if the industry doesn’t get a handle on illegal activity, wild harvesting in the U.S. could soon go the way of Canada where it’s completely prohibited. He worries that would have unintended consequences.

“The concern there,” Burkhart said, “is that it would likely only drive out the good people who are involved in this industry—that is, the people who do have been following the rules, the people who do care about the plant, the people who do every late summer and fall and look for the berries and seeds and replant them.”

But all the new enthusiasm for ginseng could have a silver lining. Researchers and enthusiasts are excited more people are growing the native plant. They say a healthy, properly regulated ginseng industry could bring all kind of benefits to Appalachia, from economic diversity, to ecosystem protection, to preservation of the region’s unique natural and cultural history.

A new chapter in the story of Hawaii's sandalwood trees has begun, Hana Hou Magazine JULY 2014JULY 2014 During the Spring of 2014, our Executive Director, Susan Leopold travels to Hawaii to investigate the ongoing sustainability issues regarding the harvest of native Hawaiian Sandalwood and the various mapping, replanting, and conservation projects taking place on the Big Island. During her visit, she was interviewed by Shannon Wianecki of Hana Hou magazine. This is a wonderful article which gives a thorough overview of the history behind the Hawaiian Sandalwood trade and where it stands today amidst larger conservation and sustainability concerns. Click the image below to view the scanned article from Hana Hou June/July 2014, pp.86-95. To read the scanned article from Hana Hou June/July 2014, pp. 86-95: This article will also be available at a future date directly from Hana Hou's website.


Planting the Seeds of Mindfulness: United Plant Savers 2014 Community Grants cycle closes having supported a spectacular season of projects.JULY 31, 2014 (RUTLAND, OH) Planting the Seeds of Mindfulness: United Plant Savers 2014 Community Grants cycle closes having supported a spectacular season of projects. This was a popular year for United Plant Savers Community Grants program. This program, only available to our membership, is designed to support community-based projects that include the replanting of medicinal plants native to the United States and Canada. A total of three projects were funded this year including the successful proposals from Vermont Center for Integrated Herbalism (VCIH) of Montpelier, Vermont, Turtle Mountain Herbs of Rockford, Tennessee, and Northwest Middle School of Northwest Local Schools in Canal Fulton, Ohio.   United Plant Savers is honored to support the ‘Planting the Seeds of Mindfulness’ project at Northwest Middle School of Northwest Local School Districtof Canal Fulton, Ohio . Through this project, 15 Northwest Middle School students, will have the opportunity to create and plant a medicinal nature trail. These students will be working with Sandra Engle, School Psychologist and United Plant Savers member, planting Bloodroot, American Ginseng, Blue Cohosh, Black Cohosh, Ramps, Goldenseal, Wild Yam, Lobelia Inflata, Slippery Elm and Virginia Snakeroot. The Students will also be starting Echinacea and Arnica seeds and tending


Stakeholders Meet for Ginseng Summit, Discuss Industry To-Dos, To-Don’ts, Ta-DasJULY 16, 2014, RUTLAND, OH United Plant Savers was honored to host the 2014 American Ginseng Summit last month at our Goldenseal Botanical Sanctuary in Rutland, OH. Read below for an overview of what was spoken about in regards to safe-guarding wild populations of American Ginseng as well as protecting the American Ginseng export industry and creating a domestic market. We highly recommend you listen to the live NPR broadcast and coverage of the 2014 American Ginseng Summit HERE.   Ginseng Summit 2014 By Glynis Board, West Virginia Public Radio About 35 gathered, including producers, buyers, government enforcement agents, and academics, to discuss relevant topics within the ginseng industry. United Plan Savers hosted the summit. Susan Leopold, the medicinal native plant conservation group’s exec director, said there are two main goals of the summit, both focused on conserving the plant:
  • Conservation through cultivation; encouraging people to grow American Ginseng on their wood lots.
  • Promoting a national conservation plan that looks at protecting wild populations of genetic diversity throughout ginseng’s range.
Folks at the 2014 Ginseng Summit were also working to find ways to collaborate among themselves to develop and align best practices to sustain their agro-forest business. Demand for ginseng root in


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