Those illegally harvesting ginseng face stiff fines and even possible jail time.

Digging season for wild ginseng began Sept. 1 and ends Dec. 31. Ginseng is an endangered plant in Virginia, and its roots are a valuable medicinal herb. State officials are urging anyone harvesting ginseng this fall to follow the regulations.

“If it’s on your property, you want it to be self-sustained,” said Keith Tignor with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Ginseng Management Program. “Leave some of the plants behind, particularly those that are reproducing this year. The seeds will go into the soil and reproduce themselves. So don’t take everything, only what you need.”

VDACS has several regulations concerning ginseng, designed to help the endangered plant survive in the wild. A VDACS permit is required to buy and sell more than 8 ounces of ginseng annually. Additionally, anyone harvesting ginseng from private land must have written permission from the owner to remove the plants and must have that document with them at the harvest site.

Harvesting ginseng from the George Washington-Jefferson national forests or any Virginia public land is prohibited.

Penalties for removing ginseng from the national forest are a fine of up to $5,000, six months in jail or both. Breaking Virginia’s ginseng harvest regulations elsewhere could result in up to 12 months in prison, a fine of no more than $2,500 or both.

Ginseng roots are a valuable commodity, Tignor said. During the 2017 season, approximately 2,400 pounds of ginseng roots — worth about $1 million — were harvested.

“In Southwest Virginia it used to be called `Christmas money,’ something to buy clothes and gifts for the kids,” Tignor explained. “It’s additional income, not something you’ll make a living from, but good money. We want to make sure it continues to be a resource in the future.”

To learn more about Virginia’s wild ginseng regulations, visit vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-industry-services-ginseng.shtml.

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