Thursday, February 17, 2011

Treasure hunting: Ginseng

The warm weather today has got my blood boiling to get out into nature. I really want to be out in the mountains right now. Camping, hiking or what ever. There are many herbs and plants in the woods that can be collected and sold for money and lots of it in some cases. In this article I will discuss that magic herb known as Ginseng. When I was but a small lad of nine or ten my father took me out for the first time for an outdoors activity known colloquially as "sangin'." Sangin' is simply put the hunting and collecting of Ginseng. Dad took me out into the lush forests of West Virginia into places he knew had the valuable herb. I can still clearly remember the cool damp air of the forest against my skin. The wild noises of the forest which at times seemed untouched by man. Sangin' is as much about getting out into nature as it is about getting a few bucks. It is definitely a good way to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life. As we climbed to the top of the hill in search of the plants we eventually had some luck. When he found a plant he picked it and had me carry the plant with me while he put the root into his pocket. I was instructed to look at the plant for a few seconds every couple of minutes while looking around to find a plant that matched it. This technique is one I have used in many different areas. What it does is burn the pattern of the plant into your mind. You know it is working once you see the plant in your mind every time you close your eyes. Once you've reached that point it is there forever, even though the afterimage will fad after a day. Though it comes back every time you spend a full day sangin'. As I said I have used the technique for more than just ginseng. In fact, because of this I have become a real wiz at finding four-leaf clovers. I generally find 50 to 100 of them every year, much to the annoyance of friends and family who are unable to find even one, usually when one is right at their feet.

 Ginseng with ripe berry cluster

Ginseng usually grows in cool damp forests. They especially love areas covered in stinging nettles and grape vines. Grape vines make the PH of the soil just right for the plant while nettle helps with lots of micro-nutrients. Once you find one plant you want to start walking in circles radiating out from the plant. this is because many times the berries will end up very close to its parent so if you find one plant you will usually find more.

At peak prices a dry pound of the root can go for as much as 500 US dollars while wet is usually half that or less and if you try to sell less than one ounce the dealers will hose you with an even lower rate. Because of this it is best to just dry it and save it up for later. Once dry it can last for years as long as it never becomes damp.

Because of the value of this plant it has been extensively collected in many areas and so there have been laws set in place regulating how old the plant must be before it can be taken. In west Virginia I believe it is 7 years old now and you may need a permit as well. Season generally starts around the time the berries on the plant have turned red. This is to give them a chance to drop their berries and keep the species going.
  Ginseng root

 The only tools you need to collect the root is a bag of some kind or a big pocket and a screwdriver. I say a screw driver because if you go digging with a shovel or a garden tool you may chop the roots, which is always a pity. Basically what you want to do is run your finger along the stem down into the ground. Unless the soil is rocky you can usually penetrate the earth fairly easily as ginseng loves loose soil. Once you have located the root use the screwdriver to dig away the soil around it. Lift the whole plant out, break the root away from the plant and put it in your bag. You can either toss the plant or hold onto it to look at every once in a while, but take note that it is illegal to remove the berries from the forest due to the threatened nature of the plant. You can either put them just under the leaf cover of the forest floor so in a few years you know right where a patch is (lots of people do this) or you can just toss them for turkeys to eat and spread the seeds around the forest.

Once you have a collection of roots and you get back home use a spaghetti strainer of some kind to hold the roots as you run water over them and GENTLY scrub away the dirt clinging to the roots. Once this is done you can either sell it as is or dry it. Drying the root reduces its weight to about 1/3 to 1/2 of it's original weight depending on how much rain there has been that season. To dry it you have two options. the preferred option is to just put it on a rack and set it in a sunny window. This is what I do and it works like a charm. the other option is to put your oven at the absolute lowest setting and put them in, but this can cause them to burn if you are not careful and buyers will not take them that way. Many places that buy it can be found in sporting goods shops and there are even places that specialize in only wild plants that can be collected for money. (Many of which I will cover in later articles) Usually if you can find "Sang" in an area you will be able to find some one in town that can point you to a place to sell it. 

Like prospecting, Sangin' is kind of a way of life. There is definitely a different mindset involved once you get out into the wild and are working that close with nature. It can be at once both relaxing and exciting. (if that makes sense) The only real way to get an understanding of it is to get out there and try it for yourself!


  1. this is very interesting, do you do this regularly?

    1. Good sharing. Ginseng is used in traditional and herbal medicine to improve energy levels and concentration. Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer is one of the most well-studied species of ginseng with more than 70 published papers citing its various health promoting benefits. Read more at:

  2. Yes I try to get out in the woods at every opportunity, While I can only dig ginseng at certain times of the year there are several other valuable plants that can be collected year around which I will discuss later.

  3. Nice post!!!

    I wait on my blog!!!

    $upporting return favor BRO!!!!

  4. I live in NYC, we don't have "sang" 'round these parts. Nice info though brother!