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How to Hunt for Wild Ginseng

Two Methods:Finding and Harvesting GinsengAbiding by Ginseng Laws and Regulations

The root of the ginseng plant has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and is highly sought after. American ginseng is listed as an Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and is often harvested and exported to Asia where the best quality roots can sell for hundreds of dollars per pound. Because of the high demand, wild ginseng harvesting is regulated. **It is important that you use sustainable harvesting practices to ensure the long-term survival of the wild ginseng population.**

Method 1
Finding and Harvesting Ginseng

  1. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 1
    Hunt during the season. The harvest of wild ginseng is regulated in 19 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin)[1],and is restricted or prohibited in all other states where it occurs. All of the 19 states have a designated harvest season, which is from September 1 to November 30. Plan your harvesting accordingly.
    • If you have questions, contact your state natural resource or agriculture department for more details. The American Herbal Products Association is also a resource for state laws and regulations.[2]
    • In Canada, it is illegal to harvest wild ginseng, and it is classified as endangered both nationally and in Ontario and Québec. The export of wild roots in Canada is prohibited.
  2. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 2
    Go where the ginseng grows. Ginseng is native to hardwood forests of North America, from southern Canada (Ontario and Quebec), west to South Dakota and Oklahoma, and south to Georgia. It usually grows in well-shaded areas (especially north- or east-facing slopes) of moist hardwood forests.[3]The more mature the forest (with large hardwood trees and a full canopy that shades out most shrubs, briars, etc.), the better for ginseng, as a thick understory of smaller plants will overshade or compete with ginseng plants.
    • If you are interested in a certain area, check the USDA map[4] to see if ginseng has ever grown there before. This will greatly increase your chances of finding some ginseng.
    • Remember that the combination of shade and moisture create the best environment for ginseng to grow.[5]
    • Go to forests that have Beech Trees, Maple Trees, Hickory trees, Oak Trees, Basswood Trees, and Tulip Poplar Trees. Ginseng grows well in the shade of these trees.[6]
    • If you begin to harvest late into the season, you may have more difficulty finding ginseng.
    • Look for deep, dark soil that is loose and covered with leaf litter.[7]
  3. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 3
    Look for companion plants. One indicator that you may be in an area where ginseng grows is the presence of "companion plants." These plants favor the same habitat conditions as ginseng and are sometimes found growing among ginseng. Finding these plants does not guarantee that you'll also find ginseng, but it is a good place to start.
    • These companion plants include trillium (Trillium spp.), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides -blue, Actaea racemosa-black), [8]jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum ), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum).
    • Poison Ivy is not considered a companion plant.
  4. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 4
    Identify the ginseng plant. The ginseng plant has a single stem that ends with a whorl (i.e. single point that the leaves originate from) of 1 to 4 leaves. Each leaf usually has 3 to 5 leaflets (i.e. smaller leaves).[9] If the plant is mature, you will see a cluster of 6 to 20 whitish green flowers. The flowers will eventually produce red berries.[10]
    • Ginseng can be hard to spot. However once you find the first plant, it will be easier to find more.[11]
    • Ginseng changes as it develops. If the plant is immature, you will see a single stem with only 3 leaflets total. As the plant matures, each leaf will consist of 3 to 7 leaflets. A ginseng patch will have plants of all different stages of growth.[12]
    • You can find ginseng in both small groups and as solitary plants.[13]
    • It may be helpful to look at pictures of the ginseng plant before you go hunting or take a more experienced hunter with you.
  5. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 5
    Harvest only mature plants with red berries. If harvesting wild ginseng is allowed in your state harvest only mature plants with 3 or more prongs (leaves), and only when there is a sizeable population (leave at least 2/3 so that they can continue to reproduce, as well as any immature plants). Because wild ginseng is threatened, make sure to pick any ripe, red berries and plant them, separately, 1/2" to 1" deep in loose soil, 2 to 10 feet from the parent plant. You should protect these plants from other harvesters by clipping the stems from all 2-, 3-, and 4-pronged plants (making sure to plant any ripe berries).
    • For more information on sustainable harvesting methods, see:[14]
  6. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 6
    Dig carefully. When you find a mature plant with 3 prongs (i.e. leaves) (or 4 prongs (leaves) in Illinois), carefully dig the root out so as not to damage it and the neck. Use a pitchfork or needle-nose spade to dig under the plant, and leave plenty of space (about 6 inches/15 cm) between the plant and where you push the pitchfork or spade into the ground.[15]
    • Be respectful of nearby plants and try not to disturb them. If the plant is close to immature ginseng plants, use a smaller tool such as a stout flat blade screwdriver about 8 or 10 inches (20.3 or 25.4 cm) long, and work with extra care.
    • If there is any risk of damaging the roots of adjacent immature ginseng plants, do not attempt to harvest the plant.
    • After you have dug the root out, squeeze the red fruits into the palm of your hand and plant the seeds about 1 inch (2.5 cm) under the soil near the harvested plant. Never remove ginseng seeds or immature plants from the woods.[16]
  7. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 7
    Wash and dry the root(s). When you get back home, briefly soak the roots in a bucket of cool water to remove excess soil. Do not wash them under a sink faucet or with a hose. Do not scrub them or wash them vigorously as some soil is desirable by the buyer and the surface of the root can easily be damaged. Then place the roots in a single layer on a screen tray or wooden rack to dry.[17]
    • Make sure the roots are not touching and let them dry on a wooden rack or screen tray in a well-ventilated room between 70–100 °F (21–38 °C).
    • Never dry your roots in the oven, microwave, direct sunlight, or in a car window (i.g. placing the root near the back window of your car).
    • Check your roots periodically as they are drying. If you see any mold or discoloration, adjust the temperature or airflow.
    • Roots should easily snap into two pieces when they are completely dry.
    • It will probably take 1 to 2 weeks to dry your ginseng roots.

Method 2
Abiding by Ginseng Laws and Regulations

  1. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 8
    Get a permit or license, if necessary. Some states require you to have a state-issued permit to harvest.[18] If you are harvesting on private property, get permission from the property owner before you start.[19] Always take your permit with you when are out harvesting. You are required to show your permit if you are requested to do so.
    • Some U.S. Forest Service National Forests issue harvest permits for wild ginseng while other National Forests prohibit the harvest of ginseng. Check with the National Forest in your area to know whether ginseng harvesting is allowed.[20] The harvest of wild ginseng on U.S. National Parks is strictly prohibited.
  2. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 9
    Identify mature ginseng plants. You are only permitted to harvest mature ginseng plants. Mature ginseng plants are at least 5 years old and have 3 or 4 prongs. Also, look for plants with red berries. You can also count stem scars to determine the age of the plant.[21]
    • For every year of growth, a stem scar will appear on the root neck of the plant. The plants you harvest should have at least 4 stem scars.
    • You don't need to remove the plant from the ground to count stem scars. Simply, remove the soil from around the area where the root neck is.[22]
    • If the berries are still green, the plant isn't ready for you to harvest.
  3. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 10
    Sell and export your ginseng. You will need a license to sell and/or export your ginseng. If you plan to ship your ginseng out of state, it must be certified by the State or Tribe where you harvested the roots. If you plan to ship your ginseng internationally, apply for an export permit from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.[23]
    • Your international shipments will only be permitted if you harvested the roots according to all regulations and the shipment is not detrimental to the survival of the American ginseng population.
  4. Image titled Hunt for Wild Ginseng Step 11
    Export ginseng internationally. If you plan to export your ginseng, you must apply for a permit through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.[24] There is a form for multiple commercial shipments and a form for for a single shipment. In addition to your permit, you must have State or Tribal documents that certify that you legally harvested the ginseng.[25]
    • Once your application is approved, your Master File is established. You will then have to get single-use permits for each of one your exports.
    • Your application to export wild ginseng will be valid for one year.


  • Wild plants can take many years to flower and set fruit. The flowers produce berries which turn from green to red when ripe in the fall.
  • Ginseng plants can live 30 to 50 years. Additional leaves or prongs grow, each with 3-5 (usually 5, but occasionally more or fewer) leaflets and a mature plant may have a stem up to 20 inches (50.8 cm) tall with 3-4 rarely 5 or more prongs.


  • To ensure survival of the species (and to avoid being fined or imprisoned), always follow your state’s laws regarding the harvest of wild ginseng and the growth and sale of wild and wild-simulated ginseng.
  • Exercise caution to prevent poaching. The best defense against poachers is secrecy. Make sure your crop is on your private property, well-hidden and unlikely to be disturbed. Don’t talk about it any more than necessary, and only deal with reputable suppliers and buyers. As plants approach maturity, be especially watchful. Should you catch poachers, try to deter them and have them apprehended by law enforcement officers.
  • Be careful when confronting potential poachers, and avoid using force or violence to repel them.

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