Ginseng in North Carolina

What is American Ginseng?

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is an herbaceous perennial plant in the ivy family, commonly used as an herb in traditional medicine, including traditional Chinese Medicine. It is native to eastern North America.  American Ginseng can be found in much of the eastern and central United States and in part of southeastern Canada. It is found primarily in deciduous forests of the Appalachian and Ozark regions of the United States. American ginseng is found in full shade environments in these deciduous forests underneath hardwoods. Due to this very specialized growing environment and its demand in the commercial market it has started to reach an endangered status in some areas. It can be found throughout eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.

Ginseng trade is monitored by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to ensure the wild American ginseng doesn't go extinct through over-collection. In North Carolina the agency overseeing the ginseng trade is the Plant Conservation Program in the Plant Industry Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS). In 2019, the NCDA and NCWRC entered into a memorandum of understanding to allow the NCWRC Law Enforcement division to investigate and prosecute ginseng violations. 

Ginseng Regulations

Ginseng is a legally protected plant in North Carolina and is subject to certain regulations.

  • Wild ginseng collection in the state is prohibited from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31. This allows the plants to set seed. During the harvest season Sept. 1-Dec. 31, collectors should replant any ginseng seeds from collected plants in the place where the roots are dug. It is unlawful to possess ginseng roots and ginseng berries(seeds) simultaneously.
  • To collect ginseng from another's land the collector must have written permission from the landowner, signed, dated and valid for no more than 180 days. The document must be on the collector's person when digging ginseng on that land. This requirement applies to both public and private lands. In National Forests, district offices are responsible for such permits. State and national parks, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, state forests and state game lands do not allow ginseng collection.
  • No state permit is needed to dig ginseng on private property, only the landowner's written permission. The season of Sept. 1 - Dec. 31 applies to private and public lands.
  • Taking ginseng from another's land with intent to steal (without written permission) is a felony.
  • Diggers should collect only 3-prong plants or larger. Only roots 5 years old or older can be sold. Plants with three prongs are usually at least 5 years old; 1- or 2-prong plants are too young and should not be dug. This applies to wild and "wild-simulated" ginseng. Diggers need to check about current restrictions each season before digging wild roots, as rules may change. 
  • No permit is needed to grow ginseng to be harvested only for the roots.

Ginseng Dealer's Permit

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. The dealer must follow state regulations on buying, record keeping and export certification. Any ginseng leaving the state must have an export certificate, issued by the local NCDA&CS Plant Protection Specialist. There is no fee for export certification.

A ginseng grower or digger needs a North Carolina ginseng dealer's permit if the grower/digger intends to sell roots directly to an out-of-state buyer rather than to a North Carolina-registered dealer. The permit is needed only when the ginseng is to be sold.

Nursery Dealer's Certificate

A nursery dealer's certificate is required for anyone who collects or deals in live ginseng plants intended for replanting. Growers should keep records to show that their ginseng is not wild, since there is always the possibility that future regulations may restrict the sale of wild ginseng.