American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) grows in rich woods through most of the eastern United States, including the mountains and upper Piedmont of North Carolina. Ginseng has a long history of use in herbal medicine. The buying and exporting of wild-collected ginseng brings in over three million dollars per year to North Carolina, with over 3000 collectors of the native plant receiving $200-$300 or more per pound of dried wild-collected roots. The collectors sell to the over 40 registered ginseng dealers in the state, who in turn export the majority of the ginseng to Hong Kong and Singapore.
A pound of wild ginseng is not easy to come by, as the plant is by no means abundant and it takes on average over 300 dried roots to make a pound.
As wild ginseng gets increasingly hard to find, many North Carolinians grow their own. Ginseng may be cultivated in beds with artificial shade, selling for far less than wild roots but producing larger crops much faster. "Woods grown" and "wild-simulated" ginseng, grown in woods with little or no tending, take more years to harvest size but fetch prices approaching those of truly wild roots.
Ginseng trade is monitored by state agencies in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to watch that the wild American ginseng doesn't go extinct through overcollection. In North Carolina the agency overseeing the ginseng trade is the Plant Conservation Program in the Plant Industry Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS).
Ginseng is a legally protected plant in North Carolina, ranked as Special Concern, and is subject to certain regulations.
- Wild ginseng collection in the state is prohibited during the growing season of April 1 to September 1. This allows the plants to set seed. During the harvest season September 1-April 1, collectors should replant any ginseng seeds from collected plants in the place where the roots are dug.
- To collect ginseng from another's land the collector must have written permission from the landowner, dated and valid for no more than 180 days. The document must be on the collector's person when digging ginseng on that land. This requirement applies to both public and private lands. In National Forests, district offices are responsible for such permits. State and national parks, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, do not allow ginseng collection.
- No state permit is needed to dig ginseng, only the landowner's permission.
- Taking ginseng from another's land with intent to steal is a felony.
- Diggers should collect only 3-prong plants or larger. Only roots 5 years old or older can be sold at this time (1999 -2001). Plants with 3 prongs are usually at least 5 years old; 1- or 2-prong plants are too young and should not be dug. This applies to wild and "wild-simulated" ginseng. Diggers need to check about current restrictions each season before digging wild roots, as rules may change.
- A ginseng dealer's permit is required for anyone who buys North Carolina ginseng roots, wild or cultivated, for resale, or who intends to sell roots out of state. The Plant Conservation Program issues the permits annually. The dealer must follow state regulations on buying, record keeping and export certification. Any ginseng leaving the state must have an export certificate, issued by the local NCDA&CS Plant Protection Specialist. There is no fee for the dealer's permit or for export certification.
- A ginseng grower or digger needs a North Carolina ginseng dealer's permit if the grower/digger intends to sell roots directly to an out-of-state buyer rather than to a North Carolina-registered dealer. The permit is needed only when the ginseng is to be sold.
- No permit is needed to grow ginseng to be harvested only for the roots. If intending to sell live plants, the grower needs a nursery certificate, issued by the local NCDA&CS Plant Protection Specialist. Growers should keep records to show that their ginseng is not wild, since there is always the possibility that future regulations may restrict the sale of wild ginseng.
- Anyone collecting or dealing in live ginseng plants intended for replanting must obtain a Collected Plant Certificate and/or Nursery Dealer Certificate from NCDA&CS. Live ginseng plants are subject to plant pest regulations.
A good source for information on growing ginseng is
Dr. Jeanine Davis
Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center
2016 Fanning Bridge Road
Fletcher, NC 28732-9216 Phone (828) 684-3562
Dr. Davis's ginseng publications are available on the Internet at
For a current list of North Carolina ginseng dealers or for further information on the North Carolina ginseng trade, please contact our office at the address above, or e-mail Lesley.A.Starke@ncagr.gov or Rob.Evans@ncagr.gov