Ginseng in Appalachia

In the Appalachians, ginseng hunting is a centuries-old tradition. Prized for its medicinal use in Native American medicine, American ginseng drew the interest of a French missionary in Canada in 1715. Helped by the Iroquois community near Montreal, the priest discovered the connection between the American species and Asian ginseng, one of the best-documented plants in Chinese medicine, used for centuries as an “adaptogen” – basically an immune-system stabilizer. When the French realized that the two ginsengs were similar, they shipped the dried American roots to China, where buyers confirmed their interest and the French realized a handsome profit. (Chinese medicine found a slightly different use for the American ginseng – a “cooling” stabilizer distinct from the “warming” effect of Asian ginseng.)

In this early case of globalization, ginseng became one of America’s first exports to the Far East. All through the 1700s, ginseng harvesting for the China trade was a feature of mountain life. Daniel Boone collected the plant along the Ohio River’s banks, and George Washington wrote in his diary of encountering ginseng traders hauling ginseng roots in Virginia’s mountains. The shrub thrived on slopes like the Great Smokies. Naturalist William Bartram wrote in 1791, “The Cherokees speak of the plant as a sentient being, able to make itself invisible to those unworthy to gather it.”

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8 Responses to Ginseng in Appalachia

  1. Annie says:

    A couple years ago I planted some ginseng out in our woods. I probably should check to see if there’s any sign of it. If it worked in 20 years or so somebody could have a goldmine.

  2. Trib says:

    I always wonder how much BS do these History Channel and other channels shows shit on some of their shows about moonshiners, ginseng, off the grid, mountain men, hillbilly science etc. I Like the the shows but I suspect some are part staged.

    • Skipperdaddy says:

      I have wild ginseng on my property and I am a moonshiner for hobby, dont sell either one, but use both. Just enjoy making shine and hunting for seng in the woods. There are alot of other wild roots out there that have uses too. Bloodroot, sasparilla, and golden seal. Gonna make some black walnut tonic this year too. Make a planter outta that fucking TV man.

  3. Djamer says:

    I was just watching some tv show last night showing different crews out hunting for this stuff, turned it off when two guys starting fight over it.

  4. brighteyes says:

    Ginseng is most certainly still being harvested in Va. and W.Va. People have their secret patches same as with morel mushrooms. They will fight over these patches. Another thing getting hard to find is Ramp. They have big Ramp Breakfasts annually and have to go deeper into the wood to find them.

  5. SgtBob says:

    It took the Depression to make the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so did it take federal government’s seizure of land in Arkansas to make most state parks there. The federal Resettlement Administration took people from the land and sent families to areas bought by the government. The land left behind was offered to Arkansas for state parks. In areas near Mount Magazine, the people in at least one small community were taken elsewhere.

  6. Noveske Lou says:

    I hate that stupid Appalachian Outlaw show – all the meth heads want to steal ginseng now. Heads up, damaged roots don’t bring full value and it takes a couple hours to dig 300 plants carefully (which is roughly a pound when dried). It’s very likely hat digging around me will occasion a visit from a couple catahoulas and a pit bull – with me in hot pursuit. Go knock over your dealer if you want cash and stay outta my patch

  7. WestcoastDeplorable says:

    I used to take Siberian Ginseng which supposedly had more medicinal benefit than Korean, the other widely-available type. Can’t find Siberian anymore however; I guess it’s due to “Russia collusion”.

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