Wild ginseng is disappearing from Southeast parks at an alarming rate. By Kelly Bastone
"Tradition endures in the Appalachian Mountains, where collecting ginseng root is a custom that stretches back to Daniel Boone. Along with pelts, the trapper gathered ginseng for sale to Asia, where for centuries, it has been prized for its medicinal value.
Generations of mountain-dwellers have followed Boone’s example. Now, wild American ginseng has become so scarce that botanists fear for the plant’s very survival.
While not officially endangered, ginseng populations are dwindling due to overharvesting—a scenario that already played out in China, where people now covet the U.S.-grown roots. “They depleted their own ginseng populations, so they turned to ours,” says Janet Rock, a botanist at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. And she’s not talking about the farmed variety, which resembles a parsnip and lacks the wild plant’s potency. Asians covet the twisted, evocatively tangled roots found only in the wild, which is why nearly 90 percent of the wild ginseng harvested in the United States ends up crossing the Pacific.
There, ginseng is treasured for its supposed healing powers: Asians use the pale, gnarled roots to treat everything from depression and anxiety to erectile dysfunction and cancer. In America, “sang” (as it’s called in the South) is less cherished for its healing effects and more for its dollar value: Few gatherers on this side of the ocean use the plant for homeopathy, but it has long supplemented Appalachia’s meager household incomes. “It’s like moonshine,” says Don Barger, senior director for NPCA’s Southeast regional office. “It’s how people who are isolated in the mountains make enough money to buy flour and supplement their gardens.”
A pound of fresh ginseng (50 to 100 roots) currently goes for $135; dried roots are worth $460 per pound (about 200 to 300 roots). Such prices attract diggers throughout ginseng’s range, from southern Canada to Georgia; in Kentucky alone—where the most roots are removed—the trade is worth $8 million a year.
Much of that is harvested indiscriminately—and illegally. In national forests and on private property, diggers may legally collect the root with the landowner’s permission. But national parks prohibit plant removal. So at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and in the Great Smoky Mountains, rangers battle a poaching problem that predates park boundaries; many of the poachers return to the same secret locations their grandfathers used.
Ginseng grows in moist, well-drained coves at low to moderate elevations (below 5,000 feet). Traditionally, diggers collected only in autumn, when the plant’s berries aided identification; those berries were generally returned to the soil, where they’d produce the next generation of plants.
Today, poachers increasingly seek the plants throughout the summer, before they’ve had a chance to produce seeds. And because ginseng grows slowly, requiring at least six years to produce mature seeds and even more time to enlarge its bizarrely misshapen roots, the population is slow to rebound from aggressive gathering.
To protect it, park law-enforcement rangers patrol the backcountry to deter or apprehend diggers. Each year, two to three poachers are caught in Smokies parkland, where many more are believed to operate. In October 2010, a landmark bust involving a longtime suspect recovered 805 roots, many of which were replanted.
But poachers caught outside park boundaries often escape prosecution by claiming their ginseng wasn’t park-grown. So parks initiated a marking program developed by Jim Corbin, a plant protection specialist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Corbin formulated an innocuous powdered dye that, when deposited near ginseng’s roots, tints them orange. The dye allows dealers to identify (and refuse) shipments of illegally-harvested roots. It also gives prosecutors key evidence that roots were actually removed from protected lands.
Unfortunately, top-tier poachers aren’t deterred by such measures, and judges generally require additional evidence to convict them. So Corbin recently developed coded chips, placed on the roots just below the soil surface, to identify the plant’s precise growing location. The chips are detected using ultraviolet light or trained dogs that sniff out the encoded scent at dealers’ warehouses before the roots are exported. Still, programs like this are most successful when diggers and dealers are willing to play fair. As people realize the value of preserving this dwindling plant resource, illegal activities decrease.
Long-standing habits don’t change overnight, and the Park Service’s plant protection resources are stretched thin. But last spring, the agency’s director, Jon Jarvis, proposed a budget that could help. If Congress approves the $238,000 line item to protect ginseng and other resources in the Smokies, the park could see an additional 1,460 backcountry patrols. “It all comes down to money,” says Rock. “And education. Teaching the public about species conservation—that’s where my optimism lies.”"
What is the most important information I should know about ginseng? Pronunciation: GIN seng
"Do not take ginseng without first talking to your doctor if you have a bleeding or blood clotting disorder, diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, or if you are taking any medicines to prevent or treat these conditions.
Ginseng has not been evaluated by the FDA for safety, effectiveness, or purity. All potential risks and/or advantages of ginseng may not be known. Additionally, there are no regulated manufacturing standards in place for these compounds. There have been instances where herbal/health supplements have been sold which were contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs. Herbal/health supplements should be purchased from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination." From: http://www.aolhealth.com/drugs/ginseng?flv=1
Drugs Plus Supplements: Proceed with Caution
Medications and Supplements That Should Not Be Taken Together:
More at: http://www.bottomlinesecrets.com/article.html?article_id=100001806
I have never taken ginseng, nor felt the need to, but I know a lot of people swear by it.
It just upsets me that they are desecrating our National Parks.
"Leave No Trace" & "It's all about the money!"
Here is a good educational game you can play with the little ones:
Yesterday, I became ambitious to make some room in my fridge, so with I made some different dishes in my pressure cooker to use up some veggies. Then stored some in flat freezer containers, for later.
White part of bok choy, onions, red peppers, garbanzos, pine nuts, curry, in chicken broth.
Green bok choy leaves, zucchini, onion, tomato, in beef broth.
I wasn't sure if I would like the leaves, so I left them big, so I could fish them out!
I don't like the skins of tomatoes, so instead of putting in hot water, then ice, to peel then, I just cut them in quarters or eighths, and filet them.
We didn't even memtion the dreaded window.
Jay and I just worked on the base for the kitchen cabinet. We had to raise it up enough to make the toe kick. Could have been a bit higher, but we are fighting inches under the sink. We cut strips of paneling on the table saw.
We made sure the pattern matched up, then we stapled the paneling on the toe kick, as it is easier to before installing the cabinet base.
My son, Kevin arrived and he got engrossed in what we were doing, and helped us out for a while.
With this lovely weather the foster cats stayed on the screen porch, and even had their breakfasts out there, instead of in the grooming room.
It was great working outside in the warm, not cold, fresh air, today.