Ginseng harvest season in the Mountain State opens September 1 and continues through November 30, according to the W.Va. Division of Forestry, which reminds harvesters that observing the legal season and regulations helps preserve Appalachia’s endangered wild ginseng.
Before the plant can be legally harvested, ginseng must be at least five years old and its seed-bearing berries bright red. The slow-growing plant needs to mature for at least five years to reproduce. The plant's age can be determined by looking at the base of the plant stem, where bud scars occur. A five-year-old ginseng root will have at least four scars.
Harvesting ginseng pulls up the root, which ends the plant’s ability to replace itself with new generations; to help the herb’s last seeds grow, the harvester must, by law, plant them at the site where the root was taken.
Ginseng diggers must also have a current forest service permit to dig and collect from national forest lands, and diggers should contact the national forest office in their area regarding ginseng permits and regulations. At present, national forests in West Virginia allow ginseng hunters who have purchased current permits to dig on designated national forest lands. Harvesting is prohibited on national park properties.
This year, other national forests have found their ginseng populations too depleted to allow sustainable harvesting. The U.S. Forest Service announced that in 2021, no ginseng permits will be issued for North Carolina’s Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests and the Cherokee National Forest. The herb’s decline is attributed to poaching, overharvesting, and harvesting without planting seeds to produce a new crop.
Diggers have until March 31, 2022, to sell their ginseng to a registered West Virginia ginseng dealer or to have roots weight-receipted at one of the West Virginia Division of Forestry weigh stations.
Regulations prohibit possession of ginseng roots from April 1 through Aug. 31 without a weight receipt from the division. A weight receipt is a record of the ginseng dug during the current year and the individual who wants to hold it over to the next digging/buying season.
The law requires all diggers to provide a government-issued photo identification to sell ginseng to a registered dealer. Fines range from $500 up to $1,000 for a first offense and $1,000 up to $2,000 for multiple offenses.
Details on ginseng are available on the Division of Forestry website. The site includes a guide to identifying mature ginseng plants, rules for harvesting ginseng, and resources such as lists of West Virginia ginseng dealers and weigh stations.