I have had a burning desire to go out and learn about the harvesting of wild ginseng that grows deep in the forests here in the Catskill Mountains. At long last, today was the day. I was to meet my guide in a parking lot and then follow him to our clandestine destination, where the wild ginseng grows. I was sworn to secrecy. Sure, I'm not in the buying and selling ginseng market but many are, as I would soon find out. Who knew?
It's not often that i find myself in a forest bed digging in the dirt on my hands and knees with a grown man by my side. It had that- we were secret agents out solving a mystery- kind of feeling. My mountain-man guide encouraged me to wash my hands in the dirt and then smell the earthy sweetness while we dug for the elusive wild ginseng. My kind of guy! He was weathered like the ancient root of a ginseng and showed humble reverence for his lands that had been passed down to him. I was transfixed by his knowledge of plants and the nature that surrounded us.
The ginseng plant cannot be legally harvested until it is 5 years old in New York State. In China the older the ginseng, the more valuable, due to it's increased medicinal properties with the aging process. It is known as an adaptogen, which means it enhances the immune system. The roots grow at a 45-degree angle, most likely to stay deeply rooted and to obtain all the qi from the soil, I thought to myself. Ginseng likes tree cover without direct sun, good drainage, so-so soil and to be left alone to grow. Wild turkeys love to eat the roots and field mice get high on the berries. Natures very own rave.
My guide showed me how to identify the leaf, to observe the berries and finally how to harvest this powerful plant. We harvested a 5-year-old ginseng plant, you can tell by the "scars" on the neck of the plant, I learned. My mountain-man rinsed the root in a near by creek before he split down the middle, giving me half. We chewed on our half of this tiny powerful root, savoring the bitter earthy juice.
Later, I felt my energy lift, my mind become clearer and an improved sense of well-being. Herbs can keep our life force strong and this was apparent with this mighty, earthy root.
The federal government now protects this endangered plant. There are specific times and guidelines as how and when to harvest ginseng. Ginseng is big business for the traders of this hot commodity and hence the government regulation surrounding this healing powerhouse medical herb. There is a shroud of mystery, and a secret culture that surrounds the harvesting of ginseng. There are many that will take what is not theirs aka, poacher and illegal traders, so i was sworn to secrecy around our "harvesting" adventure. This secret is safe with me. I'm in it for the healing aspects and protecting this powerful force of a plant.
My education as an herbalist was looking and learning about the herbs in books or working with them in our Chinese Medicine School's herbal pharmacy while preparing formulas. The herbs were dried Chinese herbs. My senses were filled with intoxicating scents of barks, berries, bugs and roots, each life-enhancing herb brought is own unique property, texture and long recorded history with it.
But I never encounter these herbs growing in nature. Now, I find myself wanting to know more about the medicinal herbs that are right here in my upper Delaware backyard. Nature gives us what we need to sustain life; healing plants, pure water. I feel blessed to live near all this life-sustaining wonderment.