Ginseng Permits

Permit Requirements

  • Permits are required for digging and collecting ginseng on Monongahela National Forest.
  • You can purchase a permit for $20 at one of the six Ranger Stations or the Supervisor’s Office in Elkins. 
  • State law limits harvest seasonto Sept. 1 - Nov. 30.
  • The total harvest limit per permit for the entire season is 95 individual plants.
  • You may harvest no more than 24 plants per day, and you may have no more than 24 plants in your possession while you are on National Forest land. 

Highlights for the 2023 Harvest Season 

  • You can purchase a permit at each of the ranger stationsor the Supervisor’s Office on Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. starting August 28. 
  • You may buy a permit for any part of Monongahela National Forest from any of our six Ranger Stations or  Supervisor’s Office
  • If you purchased a ginseng collection permit  \last year, you must have returned your removal record last year to be eligible to purchase a permit this year. 
  • Plants must have produced fruit this year to be legal for harvest. 
  • As always, you must plant the fruit at the harvest site. This will increase the chances that new ginseng plants will take root and help to ensure this species will be around for generations to come. 
  • You must keep the entire plant, except the fruit, intact until you have transported it off National Forest land. 
  • When you are done harvesting or no later than Dec. 31, 2023, mail your completed Product Quantity Removal Record to the office where you purchased the permit. You must return your completed Product Quantity Removal Record even if you did not harvest any ginseng, just show 0 plants harvested. If you do not return your removal record this year, you will not be allowed to purchase a ginseng permit next year. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is required to harvest ginseng on Monongahela National Forest?

A: You must obtain a permit from one of our six Ranger Stations or Supervisor’s Office. A $20 fee is charged for each permit.

Q: Where can I harvest ginseng on Monongahela National Forest?

A: Each permit allows you to collect on one Forest district. If you wish to harvest on another district, you must purchase another, separate permit for that district. Your permit specifies certain areas within the district that are off-limits to ginseng harvest. For example, you cannot dig ginseng within Fernow Experimental Forest, designated Wilderness, or developed recreation sites. Be sure to read and follow all conditions on your permit and make sure you are not digging in an off-limits area..

Q: Why is the ginseng harvest season so short?

A: The season is timed to coincide with the ginseng fruits (berries) ripening. Research has shown seeds from ripe fruit germinates at a much higher rate than seeds from unripe fruit. Limiting harvesting means most fruits have a chance to ripen and plants have a better chance of reproducing before they are harvested.

A three-pronged ginseng with ripe fruit.

A three-pronged ginseng with ripe fruit.

Q: How can I tell if a ginseng plant is legal to harvest?

A: A legal plant has three or more prongs. A prong is a compound leaf made up of a stalk and five leaflets (occasionally leaves will have only three leaflets). Also, the plant must have produced fruit this year to be legal for harvest. If the fruits have already dropped, the stalk bearing the fruit should still be visible. To be legal for export, the “neck” at the top of the root must have at least four bud scale scars, which prove the plant is at least five years old. At right is an illustration of a typical legal plant.

Q: Why do I have to plant the fruits?

A: Planting the fruits ensures a new crop next year, which is the best way to protect wild ginseng for future generations. Plant all fruits at the harvest site and place them approximately 1 inch deep—this greatly increases seed germination.

Q: Why do I have to keep the entire plant intact until I leave National Forest land?

A: You may encounter a law enforcement officer and, if you do, you must have the entire plant intact to show that you harvested it according to the permit conditions. You need to store and transport the plant in such a way the root, neck, stem, leaves, and fruit stalk all stay intact and connected until after you leave National Forest land.

Q: Why do I have to fill out and return the Product Quantity Removal Record?

A: The Product Quantity Removal Record helps you keep track of progress toward your total 95 plant permit limit, and protects you by showing you are harvesting legally. If you have ginseng plants in your possession that do not correspond to an entry in the Product Quantity Removal Record, you could be cited for illegal harvest. Removal records also help us track how much ginseng is being harvested from the National Forest, which enables us to monitor ginseng population trends and ensure a sustainable harvest. Please return your Product Quantity Removal Record to us at the end of the harvest season. If you don't return it, you won't be allowed to obtain a ginseng permit next year.

Q: What else can I do to help protect and increase wild ginseng populations?

A: We’re glad you asked! Here are some things you can do to protect wild ginseng:

  • Harvest no more than 25 percent of the legal plants in each ginseng patchResearch suggests harvesting more leads to population declines.
  • Plant all ripe fruit in the patch, not just fruit from what you harvest. This leads to increased germination rates and helps the population increase much faster than if left to natural processes.
  • Prevent accidental overharvest of the patchWhen you are done in a patch break off, or preferably, snip off with a knife or scissors, the stem and leaves of any remaining ginseng plants to deter other people from harvesting in the same patch. At this time of year, the green part of the plant is nearing the end of its annual life cycle anyway, so this will not hurt the plant.
  • Plant only wild WV berries on wild WV landIt is true, ginseng seeds are available from many websites and other sources, but those seeds come from cultivated plants which are genetically different from wild populations. Cultivated seeds may do fine in cultivated growing operations but are not as well adapted to survive in the wild. That is why mixing cultivated genes in with wild populations may over time reduce wild populations’ ability to survive and thrive, and reduce our wild ginseng harvest. Keep wild populations wild.

Contacts

Mike Elza: 304-456-3335 x112 or michael.elza@usda.gov