Ginseng Hunting is a real thing

The editor’s email had a subject line of “upcoming assignments.” One of the topics was ginseng hunting. The text message back to the editor bluntly said, “that’s a thing?” While it may be difficult to convey surprise by text message, that was a pretty good effort.

Turns out that ginseng hunting is not only a real thing, it can be financially lucrative (not without a lot of hard work over time) and it’s even regulated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Ginseng is a natural resource that grows in the wild and people in the Far East are willing to pay a good amount of money for the root of a ginseng plant. John Peterson of Rushford is someone who’s been ginseng hunting for a long time. He got into it through another outdoor activity.

ginseng hunting

Wild ginseng hunting was the strangest story subject I’ve ever received, but it was also one of the more interesting. Ginseng hunting is the most popular outdoor activity in southeastern Minnesota that no one talks about. (Photo from owlcation.com)

“I’m a trapper,” Peterson said. “Trappers dig roots. Every October, when I return from a North Dakota pheasant hunting trip, I’m in the woods every day until February. I don’t miss a day and my wife will attest to that.”

The ginseng hunting season opens on Friday, September 1. Hunters can go out and dig up ginseng plants until the first frost. After that, the leaves drop off and only the stem remains. Then, you really have to know your plants in order to dig up the right roots. When John was more of a regular hunter, he used to clear a good amount of money to supplement his income, but it took a long time to get to that point. Peterson got started years ago by listening to what he called the “old-timers” as they were talking about it.

“One night I was out raccoon hunting,” Peterson recalled, “and I saw a plant with red berries on it and the guy I was hunting with said ‘that’s ginseng.’ I cut it, dug it out, took the root home and pressed it. Then, I walked around the woods carrying that root in my hand and matching it up.”

You have to know what you’re looking for as certain other plants look a lot like ginseng. There have to be a certain number of leaves on the plant before they’re legal to be picked. In fact, unlike Minnesota, people in Wisconsin who harvest ginseng are required to bring in the entire plant to make sure everything is legal.

“By harvesting it, you’re spreading the seeds around,” he said. “We also rely on deer eating the berries. They’ll pass right through a deer and it gets replanted that way. That’s why you walk along a lot of deer trails, looking on the downhill side of the trail. You learn things like that over the years.

“If you’re in the woods with a lot of chipmunks, chances are good there’s some ginseng in there,” he added. “Chipmunks will bury those things all over and they’re a lot like squirrels, they only remember about half of them. It’s another thing we’ve learned by trial and error.”

Peterson said the hunters who’ve been doing this a long time will also make sure to take seed into the woods and replant them. He said the ideal way to run the season would be to charge people for a license to pick the plant, and then hunters would pay for a pound of seed to replant ginseng out in the woods while the pick it. It’s important to keep planting it so ginseng hunting opportunities are there for future generations.

“Don’t forget that when you pick the plant and dig up the root, keep the root whole,” he said. “Customers don’t want it broken. When it gets to the Far East countries, including China, if those folks can dry the root out and get it to look like a human being, they’ll make things like necklaces out of them.”

Buyers in the Far East also pulverize ginseng and use it for medicinal purposes, putting it in capsulated pills. Peterson’s brother, Ron, takes ginseng for his joints and says it helps. A Google search turned up a medicalnewstoday.com article that says ginseng is thought to boost energy levels, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and helps treat both diabetes as well as sexual dysfunction in men.

There are a lot of people in Rushford that dig up ginseng, but Peterson said, “You’d never know it.” He said they’re a pretty tight-lipped group that “trusts their camouflage” when they’re out digging up roots. Peterson has seen people walk right past him and never knew he was there. There’s also a gentlemen’s agreement when hunters do meet each other in the wild that they don’t ask each other how much they’re digging up, either.

“When I start looking for ginseng on a particular hill,” he said, “I go across it (horizontally) anywhere from 4-6 times going up to make sure I cover every inch of it. There’s no rush, so I walk slowly. The only thing you need to worry about out there is rattlesnakes. You will find patches that have snake dens. You have to respect the snakes and be careful.”

The other hazard is ground bees, especially if a hunter is allergic to bee stings. Peterson got himself into a patch of ground bees one day while on his hands and knees, digging up some ginseng roots. It was a hard way for Peterson to find out he was allergic, so now he carries epinephrine while in the woods.

“If you want to get started, you have to learn your plants,” he said, “as well as what grows with it. Ginseng loves company. When you find a plant in the woods (ginseng doesn’t like sunlight), don’t move. Just look around and you’ll probably see 30-40 more plants.

“If you like to exercise, dig roots,” he added, “because you’re going to get it.”

 

 

 

 

 

April Weed of the Month: Prescribed Burns

MDA-logoMany management strategies, including prescribed burns, can be used against invasive plants.

In most cases, no single strategy used by itself will provide the desired long-term solution that landowners and managers seek. However, when used together as part of a larger integrated strategy, they can provide significant benefits for achieving successful, long-term management.

A prescribed burn is used as an invasive plant control tool, and to manage native plant communities and large landscapes.

At the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), one goal of prescribed burns is to improve the health of desirable vegetation. Ken Graeve with MnDOT says they use prescribed burns to promote the growth of desirable vegetation in combination with other treatments such as herbicide applications. With these combined methods, a healthy ecosystem is better able to outcompete invasive plants.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) uses prescribed burns not just for managing native plant communities, but also for controlling woody invasive plants.

Prescribed Burns

An autumn prescribed burn is used to improve the health of native vegetation at a wetland mitigation. (Contributed photo)

For example, after initial work of cutting and treating with herbicide application, the DNR may use prescribed burns in subsequent months and years to help control infestations of buckthorn, honeysuckle, or Japanese barberry. Shawn Fritcher from the DNR says prescribed burns can be effective against these invasive woody plants because burns can cover large areas faster than cutting and treating can. Multiple burns are often needed to reduce the vigor of woody invasive species.

Fritcher also says it is important to note that repeated fire is most appropriate in fire-dependent woodlands.

At both MnDOT and the DNR, staff who work on prescribed burns go through training. They learn about fire behavior, weather prescriptions, and how to design and write an effective burn plan. Fire breaks, or the breaks in combustible material, are often established ahead of time using a variety of equipment like tractors, mowers, ATVs, rakes, and leaf blowers. Fire breaks are controlled using trucks or ATVs that carry water, or with hand tools where access by ATV is limited. The appropriate permits must be acquired, and traffic control measures are utilized for burns along roadsides.

Timing prescribed burns depends on the management objective. Desirable plant species often respond well to early spring burns. Smooth brome and other cool season grasses can be managed with late spring burns. Burning woody invasive species after leaf-out may be the most effective since much of the plant’s energy is invested in new above ground growth. Summer burns can be effective at controlling brushy species in prairie areas. Fall burns provide another opportunity to target some invasive species.

For landowners thinking about utilizing prescribed burns, they must first get a burn permit.

Prescribed burns

Farmers use prescribed burns intheir fields to encourage growth by removing competition from weeds (Photo from farmprogress.com)

Proper planning for the burn is critical to success. The landowner needs to think about many factors such as fire break location, wind direction, smoke, control measures, and many other parameters to make decisions for the burn plan. There are multiple resources through the DNR website (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rxfire/index.html) to assist landowners with planning prescribed burns.