About 1,000 pounds of Pennsylvania ginseng, a wild-growing plant with a range of medicinal uses ascribed to it, are gathered and sold every year, according to buyer reports filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
That’s equivalent to about 200,000 of the state-vulnerable plants pulled up annually and the reason that ginseng harvest is heavily regulated in Pennsylvania.
American ginseng is classified as “Pennsylvania vulnerable” because it is in danger of decline because of frequent removal from its native habitat for commercial or personal use. It’s also protected under the international treaty known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which requires its export to be regulated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
As a result, Pennsylvania has a season for wild ginseng harvest, which opened Sept. 1 and will run through Nov. 30.
“Ginseng is an important part of Pennsylvania’s heritage and its natural forest ecosystems, which is why we encourage harvesters to use good stewardship practices when collecting wild ginseng plants,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn.
Ginseng takes up to 10 years to reach harvestable maturity and environmental stresses such as habitat loss, climate change, deer browsing and illegal harvesting decrease the chances of survival for the plants.
Even within the three-month open season, in Pennsylvania ginseng may not be collected in state forests, state parks or state game lands and written permission must be obtained before collecting on private lands.
Harvesting is permitted only when the mature plants have at least three leaves of five leaflets and the berries are red. That ensures that the plants will have seeds to replant near the collection site, which is required.
No permit is required for collecting, but only licensed sellers may deal commercially in ginseng.
DCNR oversees the Vulnerable Plant License Commercial Process, which grants licenses to those looking to sell or trade the plants. The licensing program collects transaction information from sales to track the quantities of wild ginseng and other vulnerable plants collected for export from Pennsylvania forestlands.
“Creating a sustainable future for these vulnerable plants is the only way to preserve the longstanding American tradition of ginseng use, sale and trade,” said Pennsylvania State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger. “The health of the species and the economic benefits are intertwined and dependent on our ability to be good stewards of this critical resource.”