Ginseng is growing 2 months early at the Cumberland Gap National Park

11:03 PM, May 3, 2012   |    comments
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A nearly non-existent winter means the increasingly rare wild ginseng is sprouting early in some local national parks.

"They're much more robust.  We had warm weather, we had rain, and that helps the ginseng prosper," said Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Chief Ranger Dirk Wiley.

Ginseng is used for medicinal purposes all over the world. Tennessee and Kentucky are some of the few states that can grow the plant.

When the plant arrives, rangers are hard at work patrolling the grounds for poachers. Ginseng is federally protected in park limits. Wiley has to go by foot through the park to spot any trespassers.

"Disturbing anything in the park, plants, animals, the same law that applies to poaching a deer goes for poaching ginseng," Ranger Wiley added.

A pound of dry wild ginseng can be worth up to $250. The variety is normally ten times more than domestic ginseng which can be found in gardens.

Wild ginseng is popular in Asia, where it is normally sold.

"What (people) need to understand is we're like banks -- we're preserves. Everything that is here, we need to protect," Ranger Wiley said. "When someone steals this stuff, it's not a traditional activity- it's stealing."

Each time someone is caught stealing the federally protected plant, they get a $250 fine, plus pay $15 per ginseng root found.

If caught several times, it could mean jail time.

There is a ginseng harvest season in Tennessee between August 15th through December 31st on private land, NOT the national parks.

For more information, visit the state Department of Environment and Conservation.

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