To safeguard wild ginseng, only a limited number of ginseng harvesting permits will be issued in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests.
Wild ginseng roots can fetch up to $800 a pound for Asian medicinal purposes. The lucrative picking of wild ginseng on national forest lands threatened the plant’s existence prior to a permit system being put in place several years ago.
A lottery is held to award the limited number of ginseng harvesting permits. The forest service only gives out 136 permits for harvesting ginseng from national forests land in WNC.
In addition to reducing the legal harvest of wild ginseng, the forest service has increased policing and penalties on poaching. Removing a wild ginseng plant or its parts from national forests without a permit or outside of the legal harvest season is considered theft of public property.
Penalties for plant poaching may include a fine up to $5,000 or 6-month sentence in federal prison, or both.
Those who get a permit are limited to a two-week window in September. Pickers are limited to 1-3 pounds, with a fee of $40 per pound paid to the forest service by the honor system.
Permits are specific to the six districts of the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests. Each district may limit harvesting to certain areas to allow the plants to regenerate or to protect natural areas.
The deadline to put your name in for the lottery is July 27. It doesn’t cost anything to enter the lottery, but the only way to put your name on the list is to call the forest service office. 828-634-1031 or 828-689-9694.