Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Hunting Ginseng in Appalachia

Handful of ginseng

I got to thinking about hunting ginseng a couple of weeks ago, oh I never hunted it myself, but I know a lot of people who did. One of them was my older brother Steve.

There’s a tv reality show about hunting ginseng. I think some people from my general area are even on it. The show is full of drama with people fighting over ginseng patches.

I never knew of ginseng hunters to have that much drama in their lives.

I don’t think there’s near as many people hunting ginseng, or sang as its sometimes called, as there used to be.

In days gone by folks hunted it for extra money as well as to enjoy being close to the land. I suppose the reasons are much the same for the people who still hunt it.

The video I’m sharing today is about hunting ginseng. I convinced Steve to tell us about the days when he was a ginseng hunter.

I hope you enjoyed the video! I guess this is sort of your first introduction to Steve. I doubt he’ll do as many videos for us as Paul has, but I’m sure you’ll hear from him again.

Help me celebrate Appalachia by subscribing to my YouTube channel!


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  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    September 17, 2020 at 9:59 am

    It was so nice to meet your brother Steve. It was so encouraging to hear him speak of his faith in God. Your father was such an outspoken Christian, and obviously he passed his faith on to his children. If I am honest, the openness of you and your family about your Christianity is what I admire the most. May God forever bless your contribution to Appalachia and your faith.

  • Reply
    September 16, 2020 at 5:32 pm

    My dad hunted sang alot. Where we live up in the mountains, was alot of but not now because everyone has gotten it. I love sang hunting. Just scared of running into a snake.

  • Reply
    Janis Zeglen
    September 11, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    What is galax? I know that there is a town in southern Virginia by that name because I would go through there returning home to South Carolina. Thanks in advance.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    September 11, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    Nice to meet Steve! This was really interesting, Tipper. Keep up these good interviews!

  • Reply
    September 11, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Tipper, yesterday you told the story about Catfish in the story, The Sinner was a Swimmer. Mr. Fears writes a funny story about hunting ginseng and rattlesnakes in the same book, Punky Chipmunk, Jenny and Me. This book has both of these stories along with others , some about other funny things happening in church.

  • Reply
    September 11, 2020 at 11:21 am

    It was nice to ‘meet’ your brother, Steve. Just assumed he didn’t like the ‘limelight’. He sure reminds me of your dad!

  • Reply
    September 11, 2020 at 11:17 am

    My Dad was a big believer in giving back to the earth. A lot of the old homeplace was hilly, and he would replant black walnuts and genseng every year for many years. I do not recall him ever selling, but he ritually replanted when berries came on. Before the farm was sold, Mom’s brothers dug some for her and she sold it They did the painstaking work just out of sheer family love, and their own love of getting out in nature.

    I read about 3 years ago where several were arrested in a county north of us for selling or digging out of season. My exact thought was, “Oh no, what has the world come to.” I cannot imagine all the laws on the books nowadays that take from our pioneer spirit of using what the earth yields. I know it has been a problem and could even become endangered one day, but arresting these mountain men who have learned that way of life just greatly troubled me.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    September 11, 2020 at 11:02 am

    Nice to meet brother Steve! I always enjoy hearing about folks hunting for useful wild things.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 11, 2020 at 10:04 am

    My brother Harold spotted a five prong ginseng plant one time. The root wasn’t just straight like a carrot but split into five separate branches. We had been told that we should dig the whole root because it brought more money if it looked like a human body part. It was said that the Chinese bought our ginseng and would make medicine out of it. If you were having leg problems, for instance, they picked out a root that looked like a leg to make a medicine specifically for you. This root looked like the whole body, two arms, two legs and even a little nob for a head. The “head” wasn’t proportional to the rest of the “body” but the arms and legs pretty much were. We dug and scratched in rocky soil for an hour to get it out whole.
    We dried it and kept it separate from the rest of our hoard. When we took it to the buyer he looked at and said it was “tame” and threw it in with the rest of our treasure. Of course, being just big old boys we didn’t know what to say. We knew where we found it but what were we going to do? He was an adult and an “expert”. And he was the only buyer close by. So we took what he offered us and went on home. That was pretty much the end of our careers as ginseng hunters.

  • Reply
    September 11, 2020 at 9:33 am

    Nice to meet you Steve! It was almost like watching and listening to Pap as I stayed glued to every minute of the interesting video. When I was growing up it was common for just about everybody to hunt sang. Mom was vising here some twenty years ago and got so excited when she spotted the sang berries while we were walking in the woods. She tied a ribbon around the plants to make them easy to find later. She had plans to dig it in the fall, but someone else found it first. This post makes me want to go sanging today.

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    September 11, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Yeah, all those “reality” shows are so scripted. I’m sure that everyone gets together after filming is done and has a good laugh. That’s surely the case with the “reality” show “Moonshiners.” I do have a bit of an issue with the way those shows depict folk from our area of the country, though. I have folk up here in Michigan ask me if everyone “down south” is so uneducated and argumentative.

  • Reply
    September 11, 2020 at 9:15 am

    Oh, thank you! It is so great to hear from your brother, Steve, bringing yet another aspect of life in Southern Appalachia.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    September 11, 2020 at 8:58 am

    Nice to meet you, brother Steve- the ginseng man! An 8 ounce root? Who wouldn’t want to get a gander at that? As we ALL know, television anymore down right is not worth watching! It’s all garbage and the weirdest, most demonic crap I never wanted to see so I turn that contraption off most of the time which is becoming much more as time goes by. I tell my husband it’s only a matter of time til I put my highest spiked stilettos on and I drag that square devil box outside kicking and beating the ever chaotic guts right out of that useless aggravating lie box of hells making! Ever wonder why it is called PROGRAMMING???? Anyway I know of a ginseng patch ( on the north face strangely enough) that I will never tell a single soul about! Its a humdinger too! I know where there’s a burial mound too of my ancestors and I’ll take that to my grave too! Lol. Ginseng is highly prized in Chinese medicine. Ever notice how folk medicine is talked down in USA yet GRANNY CLAMPETT knew more than any doctor I know.Take it from a RN, these doctors don’t know much but their big egos sure do! Lol

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    September 11, 2020 at 8:35 am

    My great uncle hunted for ginseng. He would sell it…but I’m not sure he made the kind of money tv lets on about.

    I agree with Tipper, I think there is a lot more about getting out in the woods. Where I’m from, mushroom hunting is a big deal. I went with my grandfather when I was little, my dad and uncle later. In high school, a bunch of us wild boys with our mullets with go hunting mushrooms all weekend. It was always more about an excuse to get out in the woods and away from everything for a bit.

    To be honest, I need to go hunt either ginseng or mushrooms or even fairies at this point. Some time in the woods would do me good.

    • Reply
      Kat Swanson
      September 12, 2020 at 4:01 pm

      My Daddy was a sang digger…loved the woods of Wise Co. , Va…..gathered it and put on an old metal tray and kept it in that drawer at base of the stove. If Mommy was baking biscuits or corn bread, that heat was drying Daddy’s sang. It would take him all fall, but he loved it when he would have about a pound and took it to sell….He would buy us kids a big ol SUGAR DADDY SUCKER ON A STICK…..I still remember the smell of drying ginseng. …and I sure wish I had one of those sugar daddy suckers right now!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    September 11, 2020 at 8:18 am

    I use to enjoy ginseng hunting with my Dad but haven’t been seng huntin in over 9 years, not since his death.
    I read an article a few years back about some young men in the Ozarks of Missouri digging lots of wild ginseng. They were rappelling over cliffs into hard to get to spots. I’ll bet a person could find a lot of ginseng in E.KY. by rappelling over cliffs. We have so many high cliffs and much of Appalachia does also. I thought about trying that but decided I was too old for that kind of foolishness and was better off being an arm chair adventurer. Gardening, and having to fight deer, groundhogs, and coons is enough excitement nowdays.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 11, 2020 at 8:16 am

    Drama, that is the failing of both ‘reality’ tv and so-called reporting. It is the reason I can’t hardly watch reality shows. They are not real and fake doesn’t interest me. I like your cardboard cutout analogy as it really fits.

    My brother and I used to dig ginseng when we were in our teens. A friend of the family taught us to recognize it. We never got into it in any big way. Where we lived was not the best habitat because much of the ground was dry and infertile. I think we sent some off (to F C Taylor Fur Company I think) two or three times and never very much. Once it dried we were into ounces instead of pounds.

    I will look for it still when I am in the woods just because I enjoy finding it. The man who taught us also taught us to recognize “sang sign” which is a fern (called also Virginia grapefern). It was considered an ‘indicator plant’, easy to identify and growing in habitat suitable for ginseng. It isn’t foolproof but can be useful.

    Ginseng hunting is all about “pattern recognition”. Like all such things, it is ‘getting your eye in’ to pick it out from all the other green things it grows among. Every time that calibration has to come, find the first one so the others can be seen. It is similar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, matching color, texture and shape. And it also involves looking at the right height, not focusing above or below the plane of the ginseng leaves. I almost overlooked a four-prong once because it was about knee high and I was focused on three-prongs about lower calf high. Every ginseng hunter has probably had that experience and as a result has probably bypassed a few plants by simply looking without seeing.

    Somewhere I read that the Cherokee name for ginseng meant “he climbs the mountains”. I don’t know what that meant to them but what it makes me think of is one never knows where ginseng might be found. It will turn up in poor habitat on occasion. I have found it among old-field pine for example.

    A final note, the same ginseng plant does not come up every year. I have no idea why. But anyway it means that it doesn’t all get dug in one visit. Maybe that is a reason it has never disappeared.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 11, 2020 at 8:13 am

    The Deer Hunter’s Dad had a friend named Johnny Jones who went to the mountains and stay for weeks at a time digging ginseng. Johnny camped alone and hunted. He would cut the leg out of old blue jeans and tie a knot in one end and that would make a bag for storing the ginseng. When the “bag” was full he’d hide it under the floor of his tent, then start on another bag.
    Johnny did that every year. He didn’t drive so someone would drive him to the mountains and he would stay there alone for several weeks digging.
    Johnny was a funny kind of guy. He liked to spend time alone. He had a battery radio he’s listen to at night.
    The mountain people are just a different people!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 11, 2020 at 8:01 am

    Daddy was the best at finding Gensing. One time Me and Harold went with Daddy up Powderbrrnt and on the way to Piercy Creek, that is where the Spcckled Trout Was. Daddy had us to get a stick and peck on trees, in case we got lost or something diggen’ the sang. Mainly tho, it was so he could keep an eye on us.

    Steve mentioned Ronnie Mason, I knew his daddy, Bob Mason, and his mama, Stella, his older brother, Hal, and his younger brother, Lanney. I see his baby sister, Gaye at Ingles from time to time. She works at that Bearing Place near Wal-Marts. They are all good people.

    Daddy called us by our Nicknames: I was Rabbit and Harold was Giant. Daddy told us when to start hunting and told Giant to Dig that two prong between his legs and not mash any down. He already had a heaping pocket full of berries to plant soon as we got home. He could spot that stuff several feet away, I always wondered how he could see that stuff so well and he said “there’s nothing looks like it in the woods.” Harold was embarrased to be so close to wild Gensign, but he went on to become a Good hunter of Gensing and later found a Big 4 Prong with Berries. It reminded me of a big Carrot. …Ken

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    September 11, 2020 at 7:54 am

    I’m considering planting some ginseng in Mississippi. My wife and I love herbal teas, and for so many medicinal blends, I see ginseng is an ingredient. Keep up the good work!

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