Collecting Plants

Collecting plants has become so popular on the Wayne National Forest that a permit system is required to protect these resources from over-collection. The permit system allows forest managers to be aware of how many collectors are using the land and which of the six allowed species are being collected. The only exception to the requirement for permits are small amounts of forest products for personal use such as blackberries, pinecones, mushrooms, or rose hips. If you have any questions whether a particular activity requires a permit, please contact one of our offices.

Plant collectors are required to state which species they will gather.

The six allowed species are:

  1. Blue cohosh
  2. Black cohosh 
  3. Snakeroot
  4. Yellowroot or Goldenseal
  5. Bloodroot
  6. Wild Ginger

Ginseng permits are sold seperately (see below) Other species are folded together into a $20 permit fee that is valid for the unit of the forest where you bought the permit. Each person is eligible for only one permit. It is the same price regardless of the number of species that are collected. The permit includes a map showing areas open to plant collecting. It is the permittees' responsibility to ensure they are in the correct location. Remember, collecting plants on someone else's land without permission is trespassing and constitutes theft. Maps are available from Forest Service offices which show national forest ownership.

Plant collecting permits are valid for one year. A prospective permittee is required to show identification, such as a drivers license, when applying for a permit. Each permittee must also provide their phone number, vehicle make, and model. 

Conservation of Wild Plants

Please conserve the plant species you are collecting by always leaving some plants in the area, and collecting only mature plants. Leave the juvenile plants to grow and reproduce, ensuring a continued supply of these valued natural resources. For current information on federal and international laws relating to ginseng you may want to access the Fish and Wildlife Service website. Another good website to review is on on Good Stewardship Harvesting of Wild American Ginseng from which you can download and print brochures on good practices for harvesting and on your local state laws and regulations.

Ginseng Conservation

Ohio has set specific laws controlling the harvest of ginseng.  The purpose of these laws is to insure a healthy ginseng population for the future. Click here for a brochure on ginseng in Ohio. (thanks to the American Herbal Products Association for allowing us to reference this brochure).

The Wayne National Forest will begin annual wild ginseng root collection permit sales on August 1. Permits can be purchased for $20 and will be sold through the harvest season, which starts on September 1 and ends on December 31. 

Due to the increased harvest pressure on this species, and in order to more effectively track the harvest of wild ginseng on the Wayne National Forest, two important changes have been made pertaining to root collection permits. First, ginseng root permits are now stand-alone permits and no longer combined with the general root collection permit. Secondly, ginseng root permits are now sold separately for each administrative unit of the Wayne National Forest (Athens, Ironton, and Marietta). This means, for example, a permit purchased for ginseng harvest on the Athens administrative unit cannot be used to harvest ginseng on the Ironton or Marietta units. These changes were made to improve population management of wild ginseng and ensure it is being managed sustainably on the Wayne National Forest.

The permit is available at any of the three Wayne National Forest administrative offices (Nelsonville, Marietta, and Pedro) between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays.  Permit purchases may be made by credit card, cash, check or money order (made payable to “USDA Forest Service”). Those purchasing permits will need to provide one form of identification.

Collection without a permit is punishable by law. Ohio law requires that with ginseng only mature roots-those with three leaf stems-be harvested. It also stipulates that harvesters replant the berries dug up with the root.

Use of Ginseng

In many cultures ginseng is used as an aphrodisiac or as a general cure-all. This is particularly true in China and other Asian countries. Ginseng species native to Asia are now on the brink of extinction due to over-harvesting. Increasing quantities of North American ginseng are being shipped to Asia.

The Plant
Ginseng is found throughout Ohio in shady hardwood forests. The plant prefers moist, rich, well-drained soil. It may be found in small groups or as solitary plants. Ginseng has a single stalk with one to five leaves. Each leaf, or prong, is made up of three to five leaflets. First year plants are only about two inches tall with one leaf of three leaflets. By the fourth year, plants are 12-14 inches tall and have 2-3 leaves with five leaflets, the lower two leaflets are smaller than the other three. As the plant matures, it may have more leaves, each with five leaflets.

Ginseng cannot reproduce until it is 4 or 5 years old. At this time it bears a round cluster of pale green flowers. These flowers produce a fruit cluster which turns bright red in mid-August when they ripen. The plant has a tap root with small tails forking off the main root. It is the root which has economic value and only older plants have developed large roots.