It's ginseng season in West Virginia! What does that mean? It means lots of fun, dirt, walks through the woods, a treasure hunt and even some money if you're lucky.
Ginseng is a wild plant that grows in all 55 counties in the Mountain State. It has one long slender main stem and depending on how old it is, it could have anywhere from one to four prongs and five leaves on each prong. The mature plants have a cluster of red berries in the center of the main stem. These berries fall off to reseed the plant for the next year.
If you find one of these treasures, carefully dig around the base of the root in a circle approximately the size of a softball. This ensures that you do not chop the roots in half. If there are berries still on the plant, state law requires that you pull them off the stem and replant them in the vicinity of the parent plant. This ensures that the species is reseeded and can come back next year.
A ginseng plant
After you have found all the ginseng plants that you can find, take them home for cleaning. The only thing needed is the root. Remove the root from the stem and clean the roots under water, gently using your fingers to remove any dirt.
The roots then need to dry. I've found that the best way to do this, is to lay them on a screen in a dry place. Depending on the size of the roots, dry time can take anywhere from several days to several weeks.
Once the roots are dry, you can take them to your local ginseng buyer. Usually they are listed in the paper with their contact
You do not need a permit to go ginseng hunting, but be sure and get written permission if you are on someone else's land. According to Superintendent Kevin L. Snodgrass from Kumbrabow State Forest near Huttonsville, it is not permitted to dig ginseng on state forest, state parks or other state-owned land. However, you can get a permit to dig ginseng in the Monongahela National Forest by calling 304-636-1800. There is a fee for these permits.
Ginseng is used for medicines, teas and soups. It can relieve fatigue and prolong life. In China, the roots themselves are often chewed. I have never tried this myself.
Ginseng grows in the woods usually in a place where the sun hits early in the morning. Ginseng season runs from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30.
So, take someone in your family, or a friend and go take a walk through the woods and see what you can find. Ginseng hunting takes practice, so don't be discouraged if you don't find something at first. Even if you have found time spent with your family, you will have found a treasure.