The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Ginseng and goldenseal in the forest garden

GoldensealGoldenseal and ginseng both grow wild in our woods and are harvested for their medicinal roots.  Ginseng, especially, is much sought after, bringing hundreds of dollars per pound when dried.  Years ago, I planted some ginseng in my woods, hoping the $100 worth of seeds would grow into $10,000 worth of plants over the next decade.  Sadly, my neighbors came and stole the plants before they'd matured.  I don't really blame my neighbors since they probably figure I was too much of a city slicker to know what ginseng is, and it's hard to turn down hundred dollar bills you walk past on the forest floor.  Still, the failed experiment ensured I wasn't going to plant any more ginseng in the back forty.

Goldenseal roots aren't quite as highly priced, which is probably why my patch of goldenseal (not planted by me) is still around.  I'm most interested in the medicinal Goldenseal rootqualities of goldenseal since the roots contain a strong antibiotic that complements the echinacea growing in my garden.  My doctor sister once explained to me that echinacea is best above the belt and goldenseal below, and a few minutes of research confirms that goldenseal's effectiveness is due to increasing the secretion of mucous membranes (thus helping with problems like urinary tract infections.)  All of that said, the few times I've wanted to chew on some goldenseal roots, I felt too sick to climb up to the top of the hill to harvest them.

Planting goldensealWhich is all a long way of saying that when my mother gave me some ginseng seeds and goldenseal roots, I thought, "Why not try them out in the forest garden?"  The forest garden island around my kitchen peach has the high organic matter and mycelium-rich soil that woodland herbs crave and has been a good home for Burdick's Wild Leek.  I figured ginseng outside my kitchen window definitely won't get stolen, and goldenseal in that location will be close enough to dig no matter how bad I feel.  I'll let you know how the herbs do in their semi-cultivated location next year.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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You're much more understanding than I would have been of neighbors who trespassed on my property and took something of value.
Comment by Heath Wed Nov 30 21:23:34 2011

Well, I don't know which neighbors it was, so it's tough to do anything about it. And it's a bit of a complex topic --- people around here have been making significant portions of their income hunting ginseng for hundreds of years. Even though we own the property now, some of our neighbors' grandparents had a homeplace right where we now live. They might have learned the ginseng spots from them and been digging them for generations. There were a few wild plants in the same area I planted my seeds and most people around here only gather wild ginseng, so they probably didn't even realize the stand was planted.

Here's the thought problem I threw at Mark: If you were walking on someone else's property and a mudslide had exposed a Native American artifact that you knew was worth thousands of dollars, would you pick it up and take it home? What if you knew the owner of the property rarely walked in that area and the artifact would get covered up by leaves and undergrowth shortly and disappear into the ground? What if you didn't think the owner of the property would even recognize the artifact as anything other than an old bowl?

Which is not to say I wouldn't prefer it if people left my ginseng alone... :-)

Comment by anna Thu Dec 1 10:24:07 2011
well, if it is a matter of people not realizing it is planted you could mark the area as planted with seed tags, then at least the more honest would not dig up your plants.
Comment by Anonymous Thu Dec 1 13:28:22 2011
Anonymous --- I was pondering that option, but I couldn't quite decide if a sign would make matters better (scaring off honest ginseng hunters) or worse (drawing the eye of less honest hunters.) I guess I must not believe in the inherent good of the 'seng hunters as much as I thought I did.... :-)
Comment by anna Thu Dec 1 16:18:35 2011
I had no idea that stuff was worth that sort of money. I wouldn't know what one looked like to save my life.
Comment by Heath Thu Dec 1 20:15:08 2011
People dig ginseng to sell to folks in China who pay top dollar for it. As a result, ginseng in pretty rare in the wild, so it's quite possible you've never seen it.
Comment by anna Thu Dec 1 20:26:56 2011
Over twenty years ago, wild ginseng was selling for around $500 per pound.
Comment by Errol Fri Dec 2 10:34:27 2011
From what I hear, the price nowadays ranges from around $300 to $600.
Comment by anna Fri Dec 2 10:51:51 2011

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