By Bob Fala
Ginseng digging or sangin,’ as it’s called in these parts, is one of the richest of America’s Appalachian traditions. Perhaps the most famed medicinal plant in the history of the world; the local hills remain some of the finest haunts for the treasured herb. None other than George Washington himself dug for the white carrot-like roots. So what’s the story for this year’s September 1 digging season kickoff?
In short, there should be some renewed interest a la 2013 if those hefty average prices of $750 per dried pound hold up! It should come as no surprise then that the West Virginia harvest increased by half again to 7,359 pounds last year over the prior several years’ running of around 5,000 pounds per annum.
The West Virginia Division of Forestry’s (DOF) Robin Black is the official keeper of the ginseng count. I pressured her for a 2014 price estimate but she wouldn’t give, preferring instead to stick to the known facts from the prior years. However, she did offer that prices kind of run up and down with the market. So in effect, last year’s increase in production may have served to satisfy demand to some extent.
But again, there were no guarantees from DOF. Instead, Black encourages folks to follow the rules, especially by not digging prior to the season and to plant the reddish seeds right back at the digging site in season. That’s to assure the forb is sustained for future generations. The fairly recent digging season change from the prior August 15 to the present September 1 was set to all but assure that the seeds are ripe.
The weather and overall conditions for the digger should also be a notch cooler and better around September 1. What’s more, the Mountain State’s best counties for digging are essentially the same as the famed bow-hunting only for deer quad with the top four in effect having the familiar ring of Wyoming, Mingo, Logan and McDowell, in that order. Bordering Boone and Raleigh counties took up the fifth and sixth slots, respectively.
Per the DOF web-page 2012 year poundage, the bow-hunting only quad alone (of the state’s total 55 counties) accounted for 44 percent of the West Virginia crop! If you throw the Boone and Raleigh county production into the mix, that number increases to a whopping 58 percent. These decidedly coal resource counties may have somewhat of a monopolizing ginseng reserve as well. The moral here is that you don’t have to go too far from your very own backyard mountain to find a little ginseng.
So for big bucks, ATV riding, and even ginseng; this is the place. In a few years, you may very well be able to add elk into that exciting outdoor equation. With the declines in coal mining, we must nurture these outdoor amenities further. A decided plus, they are renewable and should be around forever if we manage them properly.
For more info on ginseng, visit wvforestry.com or contact DOF at 304-558-2788. The lists of some ten official weigh stations for ginseng carried over past the season and some three dozen licensed root buyers should be available online just before the season. The latter may be the best bet for current market prices.
It’s just about time to stretch those knees and get that sang hoe and walkin’ stick ready for this year’s action…