Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ginseng experiencing a resurgence; 95% of U.S. produced ginseng from Wisconsin

The wild roots of American ginseng are experiencing a "recent surge in popularity, partly due to a reality TV show about Appalachian ginseng diggers," Monica Johnson reports for Civil Eats. "Many in the industry are concerned that all of this attention could lead to its demise, but others contend that further exposure may be the only way to save it." Ginseng, highly prized in Asia as a tonic, is sometimes hard to come by, and collectors often cherish hidden spots. The threat of poaching real, with a repeat poacher in rural North Carolina sentenced in August to six months in prison. (Wisconsin State Journal photo by John Hart: Seasonal workers load ginseng into a tractor-drawn trailer)

"Though not in danger of extinction in most states, Ginseng is considered 'at risk' in some states, meaning that if it’s not protected soon, it could disappear," Johnson writes. "And because it grows in out-of-the-way spots, there is usually no one around to report illegal diggers. Currently, 19 states allow ginseng harvesting, though each one has its own rules. Generally, the plant must be a certain age, usually around 5 years old, which diggers calculate by counting how many leaves each prong contains, and it may only be harvested in certain areas."

One state enjoying a resurgence of ginseng is Wisconsin, where the rural landscape in 11 counties in the central part of the state account for 95 percent of all U.S.-produced ginseng, Barry Adams reports for The Chippewa Herald. "About 70 to 80 percent of the crop, after it is dried in kilns, is packed into barrels and exported to Asia. Dried, cultivated ginseng can sell for between $65 and $85 a pound. Much older wild ginseng, scavenged for in the woods, can sell for more than $500 a pound."

Sales, which peaked in 1996, began to plummet in 2005 because of a decline in world market prices, Adams writes. "Over the last four years, increased marketing and consumers demanding to know their food’s origins." Will Hsu, a second-generation ginseng farmer, told Adams, “I think we’re entering what people might say is the third golden age of this product. This area has an origin story that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. There’s 100 years of history here. It’s very much like France and wine. People know this area for producing some of the highest-quality ginseng in the world.”

Officials from the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin "say that if prices remain stable and the weather cooperates, the state could harvest 1 million pounds of ginseng by 2017," Adams writes. "In 2014, state farmers harvested 720,000 pounds of ginseng, worth $52 million. State farmers last surpassed 1 million pounds in 1999, according to the state Department of Trade & Consumer Protection."

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