Plant Industry - Plant Protection Section -
Plant Conservation Program
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a North Carolina native plant that is also found in many parts of eastern United Sates as well as parts of Canada. According to NatureServe (2010), this species is imperiled throughout its Canadian range, and vulnerable throughout all eastern states with the exception of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama.
American Ginseng bears great resemblance to East Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) which has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Heavy exploitation of East Asian Ginseng has apparently caused the near complete disappearance of the plant from its native habitat in China and the Korean peninsula. However, demand for Ginseng and Ginseng-derived products appears to be growing. Because American Ginseng roots (see picture below) appear very similar to the East Asian, the plant is highly prized and is likely filling the gap in Asian market left by the collapse of the wild populations East Asian Ginseng.
American Ginseng has been harvested for generations in North Carolina, apparently extending back to Cherokee days. “Sang” has probably always been most abundant in the mountain region although small populations are known in scattered locations in the Piedmont, and have even been reported from the Sandhills and Coastal Plain. However, there has been little documented harvest outside the mountains in recent years. Readers may learn more about responsible harvesting and selling here.
Due to concern over the native status of American Ginseng, roots and part of roots are listed under the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Essentially this international agreement allows for export and trade in species as long as such trade does not jeopardize the continued existence of the native species (as apparently occurred for East Asian Ginseng in Korea and China). As a result, export of American Ginseng is only allowed from states under agreement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This USFWS website has more information on international export.
Each year the USFWS determines if there is sufficient evidence to continue to allow exports to occur from a given state. This determination is based on a number of factors, including protective measures and regulations adopted by each state, as well as evidence of the status of wild populations in each state.
For those interested in harvesting wild ginseng in North Carolina, please note that ginseng harvest is legal September 1 to December 31 with landowner permission only. Ginseng may not be harvested on State lands and National Parks. A permit is required for ginseng harvest in National Forests. 3-prong or larger plants may be collected; one or two prong plants should be left. Selling or trading ginseng requires a dealer permit.
- Current NC Ginseng Dealer List
- Current NC Ginseng Harvest Information
- Historic NC Ginseng Harvest Information