View list of permitted Ohio ginseng dealers.
American ginseng is a slow-growing perennial herb. It reaches a typical height of 8 to 15 inches. Ginseng prefers mature woodlands, frequently on slopes, where it favors rich soil and dense shade. American ginseng occurs from Quebec, Canada, west to Minnesota and south to Georgia and Oklahoma.
Plants produce flowers during June and July. These flowers develop into green fruits. In August and September, the fruit ripens into bright crimson berries and drop. Each berry contains two to three seeds. Seed germination takes place in 18-22 months. Seedlings normally appear in May and during their first year have only one small leaf comprised of three leaflets. During the second growing season, the plant will develop a central stem with one compound leaf comprised of three to four leaflets. With each growing season, the plants will continue to add leaves and leaflets.
The size of the plant, number of leaves, and number of flowers increases with the age of the plant. The development of additional leaves and flowers is not annual. The rate of growth is controlled by soil conditions, available light, seasonal weather variations and damage by humans and animals. The life expectancy of ginseng is uncertain, but 20-75 years is considered probable. After about 18-20 years, the roots often become diseased and succumb to root rot.
How to Age Ginseng
At the beginning of each growing season, the plants send up a main stem from a special underground root, called a rhizome, which sits atop the main root. At the end of each growing season, the main stem leaves a scar on the rhizome. By counting the number of scars on the rhizome, the approximate age of the plant can be determined.
The size of the highly prized root enlarges with age. By the fifth growing season, the roots are usually the size of a little finger. Mature roots are much larger, spindle-shaped, and often forked. Aged and slowly-grown roots bring the highest prices. The best roots are those that are old, variously shaped and forked; moderate in size, stubby but tapering, off-white; light in weight but firm when dried; and which have numerous closely formed rings of wrinkles.
How to Dig Ginseng
To remove ginseng roots, remove soil in a five-inch radius around each individual plant. Remove the clod and then loosen the soil around the root. Gently remove the loose soil from the roots, taking care not to break off parts of the root. Remember to plant the ripened fruit!
After harvest, roots must be washed. A soft brush is best to remove the excess soil from the root. For larger batches, spraying with a garden hose or rinsing the roots in a bucket of water usually achieves this. At this point, the ginseng may be sold to a licensed ginseng buyer. Green ginseng is typically sold at a third of the price of dry ginseng.
When drying ginseng, good air flow around the roots and consistent temperature and humidity are the main factors. Do not dry ginseng in direct sunlight. Many diggers build drying boxes to achieve consistent temperatures and humidity. Drying boxes are usually made of screen to achieve sufficient airflow to the roots. Roots should be placed on screens in a single layer to ensure that air can get to all sides of the roots. Fans can be used to keep air circulating. Optimal drying temperature is around 85 degrees. Sufficient drying should take around two weeks’ time. Roots are dry when they cannot be bent. They should break cleanly, revealing a white interior.
Get Permission to Harvest
When digging on private land, written permission from the landowner or their designee is required. Digging ginseng is prohibited on state-owned lands and on national park property. A permit is required to collect ginseng in the Wayne National Forest. Contact the Forest’s offices for information:
Overview of Ohio's Ginseng Laws
The Ohio Administrative Code, the set of laws that govern the state, lists all of the laws regarding the harvesting, selling, and buying of ginseng. Below are some of the basic rules. Anyone interested in ginseng trade should contact their local Wildlife District Office or their county Wildlife Officer, or call 1-800- WILDLIFE for more information.
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1. Ginseng harvest season is from September 1st to December 31st annually.
2. The ginseng plant must have at least 3 prongs (stems) to be harvested.
3. A ginseng collector/digger must have landowner permission to hunt and harvest on private and public lands.
4. Collectors/diggers must keep accurate harvest records by county and collection date.
5. Collectors/diggers must immediately plant the seeds from collected plants at the place where the plants were collected.
6. Dealers and buyers shall obtain certification from a state inspector of the Division of Wildlife that the ginseng was legally collected before it can be exported from Ohio.
7. Your certification document must state the exact, correct weight of the ginseng root being certified.
8. The fee for ginseng certification is $3 per pound.
9. Dealers may not buy dry, uncertified ginseng between April 1st and September 15th.
10. You cannot buy or sell wild green ginseng that was collected between April 1st and August 31st.
11. Dealers must get a state dealer’s registration permit that expires August 31st annually.
12. When you buy ginseng root, make sure you obtain: the seller’s name and address, the dealer’s state registration permit number if applicable and ginseng certification number, the weight of ginseng root collected by county, and the date of the transaction.
13. You must provide all of the above information when selling ginseng root.
14. Dealers and buyers must display educational materials provided by the Division of Wildlife.
15. Dealers and buyers shall show proof of certification to any out-of-state purchaser.
16. You must keep accurate records on all ginseng sold and purchased. These records are open to inspection by authorized Division of Wildlife employees.
17. Dealers and buyers must submit for weighing all uncertified ginseng on hand as of March 31 to the Division of Wildlife and they will receive a receipt for it.
18. A person may only possess ginseng from a state that has a ginseng management program that has been approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
19. You cannot export uncertified ginseng out of Ohio.