The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

November 5, 2005

Teen finds 12-prong ginseng plant

Bobby Hagerman, 16, of Turkey Creek happened upon what is a difficult plant to find — a wild, 12-prong ginseng plant.

“It’s ve-ry unusual, but not unheard of,” said Bob Mc-Bride, assistant district forester for the West Virginia Division of Forestry. “I’ve never seen one myself.”

“It’s a very old plant,” said Bob Dameron, district forest ranger, after examining a photo of the plant. “I’ve only seen a couple of others, and they were both cultivated.”

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Bobby Hagerman has been digging ginseng since he was 6 years old. His father, Dave, can no longer participate in the hobby because of a serious back injury that happened a few years ago.

“He said, ‘Dad, you’re not going to believe what I found!’” the elder Hagerman recalled of his son’s return from digging ginseng that day.

He found the 12-prong plant about a half mile from his home, high in the mountains, after climbing through torturous briers.

He said the plant had about 28 smaller plants under it, indicating the seeds had fallen off and planted themselves.

- - -

Dameron added older plants are difficult to find because digging ginseng is so popular in the region and can be very profitable. For centuries, Asian cultures have used ginseng root as a cure-all for everything from high blood pressure to arthritis to mental problems. Today’s renewed interest in natural remedies makes ginseng a popular crop.

Federal and state laws are changing the way ginseng is harvested, however. Now, because of federal laws, plants less than 10 years old cannot be exported. Harvesting younger plants does not allow enough time for the crop to renew itself, officials believe.

The season now runs from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30. The seeds have usually fallen off by Sept. 1, according to officials.

Harvesters cannot dig a plant that has fewer than three or four prongs because fewer prongs indicate the plant is less than 5 years old.

- - -

The root from Bobby Hagerman’s ginseng plant probably weighs about 3 ounces, Dave Hagerman estimated, or is worth about $15 at current market value.

“I haven’t been able to do this since I was injured,” he said. “I miss it; I miss my hobbies.

“I liked the thrill of finding the big bunches. It wasn’t the money.”

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