The war over the rare and endangered American ginseng

“Discover the history and challenges of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), a rare root threatened with extinction due to increasing demand. From traditional Cherokee use to modern conservation dilemmas, explore the plant’s importance in medicine and global trade.”

The American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a plant with ancient roots, a symbol of health and longevity, whose history is intertwined with the cultures and traditions of different eras. Native to the deciduous forests of North America, this root has always played a central role in traditional medicine, so much so that it is sometimes compared to gold for its value. In China, where it has always been imported in large quantities, it is considered a universal remedy, now it is in danger of disappearing and we are witnessing a kind of “wild west” between ginseng growers and thieves.

History and Properties of American Ginseng

American ginseng, used for millennia by Native American populations as a natural remedy for various ailments, has also begun to gain popularity in Asia, especially China, where it is considered one of the most valuable medicinal herbs. Rich on ginsenosidescompounds known for their tonic, anti-stress and adaptogenic properties, American ginseng is often used to increase physical and mental endurance, reduce stress and improve memory.

Come on Appalachia (a mountain range located in the eastern part of North America) and surrounding areas, gnarled roots grow wild in the forest, but are also cultivated, often always in a forest simulating the wild state. Only true connoisseurs can tell the difference between these two varieties.

American ginseng

In these places, the properties of ginseng have been known since ancient times, and the Cherokee (the original inhabitants of North America) used the root as a tonic for colic, colds and other ailments. Since the fortunes of these roots grew and stimulated real business.

Growing demand and extinction risks

Chinese medicine believes that wild American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius not to be confused with Panax ginseng, Asian) can help in many situations: from depression to fatigue to impotence. However, those involved in the management of wild flora and fauna in the US have already raised the alarm several times: the high demand from China puts this rare root at risk of extinction.

The fact is that today the crops are under threat because there are those who, when they smelled the trade, started stealing ginseng. Farmers are therefore even arming themselves to avoid losing their precious crops, and some thieves have already been arrested or fined.

Larry Harding’s family, as reported by national geography on this subject, he has been growing ginseng for decades, a family tradition started by his father more than 65 years ago. Farming that has always had to deal with various challenges: insects, diseases, mold, deer, mice, turkeys, drought, storms, but now the presence of thieves has added to the “natural” problems.

American ginseng roots

Why do they attack crops in particular? Wild ginseng is increasingly rare to find, and harvesting is only seemingly easy. The plant actually grows firmly rooted on steep and rocky slopes in mountain forests where snakes and black bears live, often in thickets of blackberries and nettles that test the durability of skin and clothing. It takes skill and patience to extract intact roots, which is why the price is high (I think the best and most valuable wild roots are also bought by collectors who don’t use them at all, but just display them).

Protective measures

Several organizations and local governments have recognized the seriousness of the situation and begun taking measures to protect American ginseng. A licensing system for harvesting has been introduced and protected areas have been established where harvesting the plant is prohibited. In addition, sustainable cultivation programs have been initiated to meet demand without harming wild populations.

However, many people are not aware of the rarity of this root and the danger of extinction it faces. As Eric Burkhart, a Pennsylvania State University botanist and renowned ginseng expert, stated:

“It’s an internationally protected species, but many people I’ve met have no idea about conservation issues. It’s like the Wild West.”

Since 1975, American ginseng has been classified as a protected species according to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a global treaty created to prevent the destruction of plants and animals of commercial value.

The Wild West of American Ginseng

In fact, American ginseng is not yet officially considered an endangered species, but every year federal authorities evaluate the pros and cons of a possible addition to this list.

Nineteen of the United States allow ginseng seekers to harvest it in the wild during a limited season. Under federal law, the roots can only be exported if they were dug up legally and from plants at least five years old. However, state laws vary widely. Some states, including Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Vermont, and Wisconsin, require licenses or permits to harvest and sell wild ginseng. Other states require sellers to be licensed only to export ginseng through state channels.

Since 2012, Fish and Wildlife Service startedThe main cause of the operationblock illegal ginseng trade. Agent Cottrell, who worked undercover as a prospector and dealer in Pennsylvania, said the effort, completed in 2015, uncovered “a lot of illegal activity. Ginseng is even used as currency for everything: drugs, firearms, and sometimes even those who lose their lives in the fight between growers and thieves, as happened in June 2016 in Ohio, when the body of a prospector was found in the land of a farmer who he was then arrested.

It is normal that there are also those who have come up with an ingenious trick to defend their ginseng. Such is the case with Mr. Smith, who protects the ginseng in his forests by dusting some of the large roots with a special blue dye powder that shimmers gold when illuminated with ultraviolet light. If someone steals a marked root, authorities inspecting shipments at the port can trace its color.

In a nutshell true American wild west style!

Also read:

Leave a Comment