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Ginseng harvesting laws have changed

Friday, June 23, 2006

Restrictions imposed on Indiana ginseng gatherers in 2005 have been repealed for the 2006 season, according to a local ginseng supplier.

A change in state law aimed at preventing over-harvesting of the root, declared an endangered species in 1979, restricted the digging of younger ginseng plants. The law spelled trouble for Indiana gatherers, who saw an alarming dip in the number of plants eligible for harvest.

But lawmakers have relaxed the restrictions for the upcoming 2006 harvest, which begins Sept. 1.

"It really upset a lot of my diggers, and it did change how people harvest," said Jim Little, owner of Deak's Fur in Staunton and a buyer of locally-harvested ginseng. "We support the law, and we support the conservation of the plant, but going back to the (old system) will ease a lot of my diggers' concerns."

Little purchases ginseng from a network of gatherers, then sells it to a larger root dealer. Locally-harvested ginseng usually finds its way to China, he said, where it is highly prized as an additive to herbal remedies and health products.

He said the gathering restrictions introduced last year resulted in the smallest ginseng harvest in recent memory.

In a good year, some gatherers generate a tidy supplemental income. According to Little, dried ginseng now fetches between $325 and $350 a pound, though he has seen the price climb as high as $500.

The removal of the 2005 harvesting restrictions is especially welcome news in West-Central Indiana, an ideal habitat for wild ginseng, according to Little.

"It likes hilly country, woods, which you have a lot of around here," he said.

Though it's "hardly found at all past Missouri," the plant is prevalent in Clay and surrounding counties, he said.

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