Plant Industry - PCP Ginseng

SPECIAL NOTICE, effective April 25, 2022, The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests will not issue American ginseng harvest permits until further notice due to low population levels observed through monitoring and surveys. Anyone removing wild ginseng plants or its parts on national forest lands without a permit may be fined up to $5,000 or a 6-month sentence in federal prison, or both. For more information, see the press release linked here

Picture of Ginseng Plant

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is a North Carolina native plant that is also found in many parts of the eastern United States as well as parts of Canada. According to NatureServe (2021), this species is ranked as vulnerable in North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia; imperiled in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ontario and Quebec; and critically imperiled in Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

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

Ginseng Root Pile

The majority of wild ginseng harvested in the United States is exported to Asia. 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:

  • Ginseng harvest is legal September 1 to December 31 with landowner permission only. No state permit is required to dig ginseng, only the landowner’s permission.
  • 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.
  • Ginseng may not be harvested on State lands and National Parks.
  • As of 2021, ginseng harvest permits will not be issued for North Carolina National Forests. Ginseng may not be harvested in National Forests.
  • Only 5-year old or older plants may be collected. Five-year old plants are defined as having at least 3 prong (5-leaflet leaves) or, in the absence of leaves, having at least four discernible bud scars plus a bud on the neck (rhizome). Collectors should replant any ginseng seeds from collected plants in the place where the roots are dug.
  • 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, starting in July.
  • 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.

As wild ginseng gets increasingly hard to find, many North Carolinians grow their own. Ginseng may be cultivated in beds with artificial shade, producing larger crops much faster. "Woods grown" and "wild-simulated" ginseng is ginseng grown inground with little or no tending. For more information on cultivating ginseng, contact NC State Extension Specialist Jeanine Davis. Download an Application for North Carolina Ginseng Dealer Permit  .