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American Ginseng in Pennsylvania

American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has a long history of medicinal use dating back to early explorers. Ginseng root and other parts of the plant are used to make extractions, teas, and medicinal products. Ginseng has been collected for this purpose since the 1700s.

Because of this history of collection, DCNR has classified ginseng as a Pennsylvania Vulnerable plant, and trade is regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A license is required to export ginseng from Pennsylvania.  

Collecting Ginseng

Many people collect ginseng wild from forests while some choose to grow it in plots. People who harvest wild ginseng must follow these considerations to maintain healthy populations:

  • Collection is not permitted on state lands
  • Collect only mature plants with at least three five-pronged leaves and red berries
  • Collect only during harvest season (September 1 through November 30)
  • Plant seeds near the harvested plant to ensure future ginseng plants
  • Permits are not needed for collection, but you must get permission from a private landowner first
  • Poaching is illegal

Federal Regulation

In 1975, wild American ginseng was added to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). This international treaty protects wild plants and animals from overexploitation and illegal poaching.

CITES requires states and nations to provide evidence that populations of plants and animals being traded are sustainable. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the office responsible for determining if collection and international trade are detrimental to the species. Each year, DCNR reports to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how many pounds of wild ginseng are exported from Pennsylvania. The licenses purchased to sell ginseng out of state are used for this purpose. 

Regulation in Pennsylvania

With proper management, future generations of Pennsylvanians will continue to enjoy ginseng’s long tradition of use.

DCNR regulates the trade of ginseng and reports export information to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes a yearly determination whether to allow export of American ginseng from Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service harvest season reports provide general advice for export of wild and grown ginseng harvested from states with approved export programs, including Pennsylvania. This information is important for understanding and maintaining ginseng populations across the commonwealth.

Vulnerable Plants

“Pennsylvania Vulnerable” -- a classification within the regulation, Pennsylvania Conservation of Native Wild Plants (Chapter 45) -- includes plant species in danger of decline because of frequent removal from their native habitats for commercial or personal use.

They are vulnerable to over-collection due to their beauty, economic value, or use in horticultural trade.

Three species are classified as Pennsylvania Vulnerable:

  • American ginseng
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
  • Yellow lady-slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus)

It is prohibited to trade these plants without obtaining a Vulnerable Plant Commercial License.

Licenses

American ginseng dealers (individuals who sell the plant) must obtain a Vulnerable Plant Commercial License; this action is prohibited otherwise. The license is granted annually provided the applicant complies with requirements.

DCNR oversees this program and uses information collected by licensed dealers to track the quantities of wild ginseng and other vulnerable plants collected for export from Pennsylvania forestlands. These statistics are obtained through buyer-seller transactions. Accuracy of both collector and dealer reporting is critical.

Harvesting -- collecting, growing, or picking -- ginseng does not require a special license. However, harvesters must obtain written permission from private landowners first.

Harvest is prohibited on state lands -- state parks, state forests, or state game lands. All ginseng to be traded must be presented to DCNR officials a state forest office, where it will be inspected, weighed, and certified.

Certificates must be present with the lot of ginseng when it is shipped internationally.

Harvest Dates

The ginseng harvest season is from September 1 – November 30. It is illegal to harvest ginseng outside of this timeframe.

Harvest of mature wild plants is only permitted when the plants have at least three leaves of five leaflets (“prongs”) each and only when the berries are red. This ensures that the ginseng plants will have seeds to replant near the collection site, to allow the population to continue. It is required to replant the harvested seeds.

Possession of Green Ginseng

It is illegal to possess green ginseng roots between April 1 – September 1 of any calendar year. The intent of this rule is to ensure that collection only occurs during the permitted season.

Collecting the plant too early may mean that immature plants are being collected. This hurts wild populations by not allowing seed to set. This practice also may provide an inferior product.

Growing Ginseng

While many people enjoy hunting and collecting wild ginseng, it can also be grown in plots as a supplementary income or a private hobby. Growing ginseng can be beneficial to the species by taking collection pressure off the wild populations, while still providing a good product for trade.

A permit is not needed to grow ginseng; however, cultivated ginseng should be declared as such when it is certified and/or sold. Cultivation of ginseng can range from minimally tended patches in the woods to more traditional “farming” operations.