Ginseng City, USA

Beer City, Bike City, Bee City … But did you know that Buncombe County also produces the most ginseng in the state? Compared to the materials behind those other appellations, however, the ginseng trade is a more fragile instance of local manufacturing. Despite restrictions on its harvest and distribution, ginseng is the center of a widespread and ultimately destructive clandestine market.

As Jake Frankel reported in “Botanical Bandits,” the Sept. 4 cover story, “Last year, Buncombe County led the state in ginseng production, with 1,268 pounds of dried roots, the Department of Agriculture reports.

“Haywood County came in second, with 1,074 pounds. Almost all of the 8,994 pounds harvested statewide came from WNC and eventually made its way to China. The state agency has no way to determine exactly how much of that was illegally harvested, but at $800 a pound, that translates into more than $7.1 million going into the pockets of those rummaging the hillsides.” (For more about the traditions and tribulations of local ginseng harvesting, see the full story at

A few readers commented on the inadvertent horticultural guidelines provided by the article’s images and general information on plant harvesting. Others felt that the piece helped generate awareness of the “severity of the poaching problem.” What do you think? Let us know at


Is there a way to do this story without telling people how much they can get for ginseng; telling them where it grows; and putting a damn picture of it on the cover, next to a shovel?!? Just a thought…  — bsummers

You're right. This is a veritable “How to Find and Poach Endangered Ginseng for Profit.” — Dionysis

Excellent article. Do you really think that poachers are going to get information from this article that they already don't have? How silly. This article is meant for the rest of us — to inform us of the severity of the poaching problem — it's not some quaint Appalachian folkway we can be amused by — it's darn harmful. Keep writing informative articles like this. — Marcianne

No, of course not. It's about creating brand-new poachers. I was at work about 10-12 years ago when a similar article came out in the Asheville Citizen-Times. When someone read it out loud, another co-worker went up and said, "$1,000 a pound? Let me see that!" He ripped out the photograph and walked away muttering about borrowing a shovel after work. — bsummers

In some cases, yes, they would. So if the article is "informative,” why do you think potential poachers would not find it so as well? That notion is what is "silly." — Dionysis

Via Facebook

Although I find this article interesting it probably shouldn't be plastered on the front of the Xpress as it will likely tempt several other people to go dig up the root. — J Christian Smilanic

Thanks for this informative story. I've always heard rumors about the 'sang trade, but never understood the economy behind it. $800 per pound is mind-blowing. — Brian Sarzynski

Thanks for the heads up! Heading out today. Seriously though, the pic seems a little over the top. Good reporting, but it could possibly have been just as good without the info on the price, and the detailed pic of the plant top. I know where some is, and leave it there. I've been aware of it for years, however, this is the first I've heard of $800 a pound. I'm sure that info would be enough for a lot of people to pull it up, when they'd otherwise leave it alone. — Jeff Hyatt


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