Kentucky's Ginseng Exports

Photo credit: Kentucky Department of Agriculture

Western research has found that ginseng increases blood flow and memory function, and can be used as an aphrodisiac. In the Far East, people drop ginseng roots into teas, tinctures and soups to cure a variety of ailments.

Kentucky is one of 19 states with a wild ginseng program in place, thanks to the Commonwealth having an abundance of forested habitat that is ideal for growing the plant. In fact, eastern Kentucky is regarded as one of the most prominent areas in the United States for ginseng to flourish.

“Daniel Boone was actually an early trader of wild ginseng,” says Jonathan Van Balen, import/export adviser with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. “Today, the plant is especially popular in Asia but overharvesting there has made it increasingly rare, so Kentucky is exporting ginseng to countries like China, Hong Kong and South Korea. We have a specific program in place to monitor exports because we don’t want overharvesting to occur here, too.”

Here’s the Dirt

Anyone in Kentucky can harvest wild ginseng, digging it up by the roots – the roots are the valuable part of the plant. It takes 300 ginseng roots to make one pound of dried ginseng, and there are thousands of harvesters who pick ginseng every late summer and fall. However, they must follow specific rules to ensure sustainability of the species for future generations.

“American ginseng is protected by a 1975 treaty called CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,” says Anna Lucio, Kentucky Department of Agriculture marketing specialist. “The treaty makes sure that ginseng isn’t overharvested in a way that is detrimental to its overall survival.”

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Seven Years to Mature

Regulations state that ginseng roots can’t be picked in Kentucky until the leaves have three prongs, indicating that the plant is at least five years old. Once picked, berries from every uprooted plant must be replanted by hand within 50 feet of the harvested plant. It takes 18 months for a seedling to germinate, and a plant becomes fully mature in 7-10 years.

“The picking season is Sept. 1 to Dec. 1, and harvesters can sell green (moist) roots beginning Sept. 1, but can’t sell dried ginseng until Sept. 15,” Lucio says. “Dried ginseng sales can then occur through March 31. The Asian marketplace is huge for ginseng, and Kentucky can be an exporter for years to come, but everyone needs to obey the rules and regulations.”

150 Ginseng Dealers

Lucio says once roots are obtained by harvesters, they can only sell ginseng to authorized Kentucky ginseng export dealers. All dealers must obtain a license from the Department of Agriculture that allows them to export the product.

“The Kentucky Ag Department has a good-stewardship list of about 150 active licensed dealers on our website,” she says. “They are the only individuals allowed to take ginseng outside the borders of Kentucky and the United States. It’s a complicated export product, and we don’t really keep total sales figures, but the ginseng market is getting bigger all the time.”

23 COMMENTS

  1. My husband (Kenny Holbrook) taught me how to find ginseng when we first got together, I’ve been doing it every summer since then. It’s like an easter egg hunt for adults! Besides that, the overall profit is that enough to support our family through the winter months when no work is available.

  2. Hi George,

    Thanks for your comment! We suggest contacting the Kentucky Department of Agriculture at (502) 564-4696 for your request. They should be able to help you with what you need. Thanks!

    Rachel Bertone
    Editor

  3. Hi. I wanted to know where I should be looking for ginseng we own about 300 acres and most of it is wooded. If I do find it can I sell to any dealer? Do I have to have a license/permit to sell to someone and when can I start looking and digging?

  4. I would like to know if ginseng is found in western ky also I would like to know who in western ky would be a dealer?

  5. Hi Bobby,

    Thanks for your comment. Please contact the Kentucky Department of Agriculture at (502) 564-4696 for answers to your questions. Hope this helps!

    Best,
    Rachel Bertone
    Editor
    Kentucky Proud

  6. Ginseng is a great tradition and family adventure! I, too, always call it adult easter egg hunting! Remember to only scout during the summer and wait until fall to harvest to help ginseng harvest to continue to be sustainable for many more generations.

    Remember when harvesting ginseng, please be a good steward of ginseng.
    Get permission to harvest.
    Only harvest plants that have 3 prongs or are at least 5 years of age.
    Only dig plants with red berries
    Plant berries within fifty feet of where you dug the root with your finger in ¾ to 1 inch of soil.
    Leave some mature plants for the future.
    If young plants come up when digging a larger root, plant them back into the same spot.

    Also, talk to your ginseng dealer about “off roots.” Ginseng dealers often buy other plants and herbs outside of ginseng season to provide a livelihood from your forest.

  7. Detailed ginseng information for Kentucky is available at http://www.kyagr.com/marketing/ginseng.htm.

    For scouting in the spring and summer and harvesting in the fall, it’s always good to start on the north eastern part of the hillside. Think of where the morning sun hits or that super cool spot on a hot summer day. Looking for ginseng companion plants also helps.

    We encourage to sell to licensed dealers, not only because it’s the law, but you’re more likely to get an honest price for your product.

    Ginseng Program Summary
    Ginseng harvest season is from September 1 – December 1, each calendar year
    Buying season for green ginseng starts September 1 each calendar year
    Buying season for dry ginseng is from September 15 – March 31 each calendar year
    Dealer licenses are valid annually from September 1 – August 31 and cost $75.00 for Kentucky residents and $150.00 for non-residents.
    Harvesters can declare their ginseng as wild, wild simulated, woodsgrown or cultivated.
    All fees collected are deposited specifically for the ginseng program.
    The regulation outlines violations and penalties, which is available to download at http://www.kyagr.com/marketing/ginseng.html

  8. Ginseng is found through the state of Kentucky. The USDA Plants profile at the following two links, shows some of the distribution. Also, not all populations and sizes are documented in this official database and can be out of date.
    https://plants.usda.gov/java/county?state_name=Kentucky&statefips=21&symbol=PAQU
    http://arcmapper.sc.egov.usda.gov/output/Counties_hyborea1v2472405629020.jpg

    Finally, a list of Kentucky dealers is available at http://www.kyagr.com/marketing/documents/GIN_DealersbyName.pdf

  9. Are there any organizations that support or are made of growers, harvesters and dealers?
    We want to help educate and promote the growing of ginseng.

    We want to make sure there is as much education about conservation as there is about harvesting. Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises is one of the World’s largest growers, exporter, buyer and supplier of ginseng and seed. See more about us at http://www.hsusginseng.com or hsucompost.com

  10. We own property in Kentucky and live there a few months out of the year. We pay property taxes. What rules make you a resident of Kentucky or not?

  11. I found some ginseng pickers picking ginseng at 2 am next to my home in the woods in Kentucky. I said what are you 2 doing?”One replied “Hunting Turkeys”.

  12. Paying taxes, a po box or mailing address, The one that is good–is paying state tax is what makes you a resident and a KY drivers license.

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