Growing Wild Ginseng

Meet the North Carolina man who is slowly realizing his vision to plant a hillside in wild ginseng.


| September/October 1984



organic ginseng - flower heads

The bright red berries of organic ginseng.


Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff

My friend Oscar Wood has grown wild ginseng for ten years on a steep, wooded hillside near the top of Balsam Mountain in western North Carolina. This past season Oscar sold his organic 'sang for $60 a pound, while most everyone else (including me) was pleased to get $50. He estimates that his good beds produce about 30 pounds (or $1,800 worth) per 1,000 square feet.

I work hard all through the growing season to nurture my plants and to protect them from potential problems. But Oscar just sits back (well, he does pluck some weeds from his beds once in a while) and lets his 'sang grow naturally. He tolerates some crop damage from disease and therefore may harvest a few pounds less per acre; but on the other hand, he avoids the considerable expense of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides — and he gets a premium price for his organically grown roots.

I asked Oscar to explain how he does it. Once he'd settled himself deep in his favorite recliner, he freely shared his knowledge and experience.

Oscar's Start

"After I got crippled up and couldn't work reg'lar, I had to find somethin' to do," explained Mr. Wood. "I was lyin' in bed one morning, and like a vision, I pictured the whole hilltop back of the house covered up with ginseng! I got up, and my wife asked me what I was goin' to do. I said I was fixin' to go 'sang diggin', replant it, and start growin' it on our mountain.

"I ate my breakfast and took off. Hunted till noon and hadn't found one bunch. I was restin' on top of a ridge when I spied a black snake coiled by the side of a stump. I reached down with my hoe to move the critter, and right there stood a four-pronged bunch of ginseng. I looked again, and there stood another big bunch.

"I dug 118 roots off that ridge in two hours. I 'bout give out, so I gathered the 'sang up and brought it home, rested awhile, and then planted it. I spent two more days diggin' at the ridge, and then hunted for plants all over that area that fall, which was in 1974.





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