Harvesting Wild Roots

I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but I thought I would take this opportunity to write about something that has been occupying my time as of late.

There is something to be said for somebody who can live off the land.  There is also something to be said about somebody who can make money off their land, especially if they do it in a way that doesn’t harm it.  Lately I’ve been on the hunt for valuable roots, specifically ginseng, bloodroot, and yellowroot.  They may go by varying names depending on the region you hail from, but that’s what I call them, so that’s what I’ll refer to them as in this blog.  I will also briefly talk about a 4th option, Mayapple, and explain why I don’t really care to dig Mayapple.  These are all plants that produce roots that can be made into various medicines or supplements, or in my case, sold to a middle man who will pay you cash money, who then sells them to pharmaceutical companies, etc.

Bloodroot is the first one I’ll talk about.  Of the 3 that I dig, it is the least lucrative, bringing $8-$10 USD per pound in my area after it has been cleaned and dried.  It is a plant with a unique shape, and if you know how to spot it, it is, of these 3, the easiest to spot, even early in the year way before it’s time to worry about harvesting the root.  The leaf does however change its appearance slightly as it grows, but retains the same basic shape.  It just becomes more ornate as the plant gets older. Below is a picture of a field of plants, with a bloodroot plant in the middle.  You can see how, if you know what to look for, it stands out from the crowd.
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Now below is a snapshot from a YouTube video of mine.  This is also a bloodroot plant, but it’s a much larger plant.  You can see how it has retained the same basic shape, but has just become more ornate than its smaller self.
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When you dig bloodroot, as with other plants, dig at least 3 to 4 inches away from the plant, because its stalk tends to break off the root easily.  Push your shovel straight down, then lift up the dirt.  This makes it easier for you to pick through and find the root without breaking off the plant and making it hard to locate.  When you remove the root, you’ll know for certain it’s bloodroot if it is red in color.  As far as I am aware, bloodroot plants do not produce any berries or seeds, so when I dig the root, I cut a small amount off the end that is attached to the stalk, and replant the stalk with its now tiny root.  The sap inside the root may dye your hands red for a little while, but it’s not like hair dye, it will rub off on its own probably before you even get home.  The plant may die this year, but the root will continue to live and grow so you can harvest it again in future years.  That’s just part of being a responsible outdoorsman.  You can’t just take take take and not make any effort to preserve or give back, because eventually you’ll find that what used to be a sweet spot for your desired plants or animals has become barren, so always make an effort to preserve the population by leaving a small piece of the root in the ground to continue growing.  Once you’re done harvesting, take it home, use a soft bristled toothbrush under running water to remove any dirt and remnants of roots from other plants that may have gotten tangled in, and then lay it out to dry for about a week.  Once it’s thoroughly dried out, it’s ready to sell.

Yellowroot is the next plant we will discuss.  It’s the middle of the pack in this race; it will sell for more than bloodroot, but not as much as ginseng.  It’s also slightly more difficult to spot unless it has berries.  Below is a snapshot from one of my videos of a yellowroot plant with some berries on it.
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You may not always find plants that have berries on them, even if they are this big or bigger, that’s fine, but if you dig a plant that has no berries, and discover that it has a root large enough for you to keep, then cut the root so a little bit is still attached to the stalk and re-plant it, like I mentioned with bloodroot.  If the plant has berries, simply plant the berries.  Ants will eat the berries occasionally, so size is generally a better indicator of root size than whether or not it has berries, although keeping an eye out for a red berry in an ocean of greenery while you’re in the woods does make it a little bit easier to spot the ones that still have their berries.  When you dig the root, you’ll notice that, like its name, it is yellow, especially if you cut it to be re-planted.  The inside of the root when cut is very yellow.  Follow the same procedure for harvesting this root and preparing it to be sold as you would for bloodroot.

Ginseng is the most lucrative of the 3 roots I look for, but unfortunately, it is also the hardest to find.  Even if you’d never heard of bloodroot or yellowroot until now, all you have to do is buy a can of Arizona Green Tea to realize that ginseng is used in everything from medicine to herbal teas to sexual stimulants.  It sells for about $600 per pound on the low end, and I’ve heard of it selling for $900-$1,000 per pound at times.  Below is a picture of a ginseng plant and its root.
Images courtesy of about.com: http://forestry.about.com/od/alternativeforest/ss/panax_ginseng.htmImage
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A single ginseng plant should only be harvested every 5 years or so at the max, because that’s about how long it takes for the root to mature.  Treat it like you would yellow root when you harvest it.  Plant the berries, or if the berries have been eaten away or have fallen off, then cut the root so a small portion of it is still attached to the stalk and re-plant it, then wash it, dry it, and sell it.

Mayapple is another plant you can dig, however I’ve chosen not to pursue this one for one main reason, a horrible cost benefit analysis result, 😛  The Mayapple plant comes up very early in the spring and grows fast, and may even be ready to harvest by May.  Starting in July you may start seeing the plants turn yellow and die, so if you wish to harvest it, don’t wait any longer than that.  The plant’s dried root brings a little less than $5 per pound here, but the roots are huge.  The problem is that it’s a pain in the behind to harvest.  The roots are long, and in a patch of Mayapple, you may discover that 3 or 4 plants are all connected to the same root, forcing you to dig away most of the topsoil so you can remove the entire root without breaking it up into pieces and losing parts of it by just trying to yank it.  If it sells for more in your area, then feel free to harvest and sell it, but for me, that amount of effort was not worth the price I would have gotten paid for it.  Below is a picture of a Mayapple plant from one of my videos.
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Mayapple comes up very early in the spring and its leaves will be folded down to its side, so at a distance it may appear to be some kind of mushroom.  It also produces small apple fruit, which is edible, but only in small amounts because it is poisonous if you eat too much, so at the end of the day I would just avoid eating it altogether.

Now the big question is, who do you sell these roots to?  Well that really depends on your area.  We’ve had a local stock yard here for as long as I’ve been alive, and every Saturday morning you can drive down there and there will be a couple of people with little scales to weigh your roots and pay you for them.  Ask around, post online.  Heck call local pharmacies and ask them.  It’s all about learning your area really, because I’ve never seen a chain store that advertised “We buy ginseng!”.  So I hope you have found this blog at least somewhat helpful.  Good hunting, now get out there and enjoy mother nature, 🙂

Here’s a YouTube video I recorded in pieces of myself in the woods harvesting some of these roots.

Here’s a follow-up YouTube video covering the same thing. As of right now, 12:28 AM 16 July 2013, this video is still uploading, but I’m inserting the link here anyway so that once it’s uploaded you’ll be able to watch it from this blog post.

About Gerowen

I’m just a man. I’m probably the strangest combination of a person you’ll ever meet. I’m a country boy, and live in the woods of eastern Kentucky. I’m a veteran of the Iraq war and received an honorable discharge from active duty with the US Army. I’m a son, brother, husband, and a father. I take great pride in providing for my family and myself, and being as self sufficient as reasonably possible. I believe if you can do something yourself, if you can earn something by working for it, then you appreciate it more. I’m a staunch defender of the 2nd amendment and believe in individual liberty and responsibility. I love the outdoors; hunting, fishing, and hiking. I am also a tech nerd. When I was in the Army I was a 25B, which is basically a computer nerd in camo. I enjoy video games, building and working on PCs, CB radios and all things technological. I'm primarily a PC gamer on Steam, Origin, etc. I enjoy role playing games and SOME first person shooters such as Battlefield 1 and occasionally Overwatch. Generally speaking I like playing alone, or if I'm online, it's usually some sort of role playing game.
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7 Responses to Harvesting Wild Roots

  1. I have a wonderful book called Earthways by Mary Summer Rain and within it there are many references to some of these roots and many herbs she goes indepth to some of their uses… I am so pleased you still embrace the old ways .. Ways which will I am sure will keep you safe and in good stead for the future… The future I wish I could say I was more hopeful, but Mankind is going to have a huge wake up call very soon….
    Stay safe and thank you for contributing to the petition… Sue

  2. Craig says:

    That plant you call yellow root, I always called it goldenseal. Same thing?

    • gerowen says:

      I believe it is. I did some Google-ing and when I first wrote this and it appears to be the same thing. Nobody around here calls it goldenseal, but I think “yellow root” is just a local term for it.

  3. Rob Ovitt says:

    Im from northern Vermont. watched appilation outlaws, so started to look for ginseng, its all over the place, WHEN is harvest time????

    • gerowen says:

      I believe it varies from location to location. In Kentucky I believe the season usually opens in September every year. The goal in having a designated season is to prevent people from digging plants that have not yet matured and running the plant extinct by not leaving berries behind to replenish the crop. Ginseng is especially sensitive to irresponsible behavior because it takes ~5 years for a plant to really mature.

      According to this page on vermont(dot)gov, the harvesting of ginseng is a bit more regulated than it is in Kentucky. You can read all the information as it pertains to Vermont here: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/plant_pest/ginseng_certification

    • matt l. says:

      Most states have an opening season of September 1 thru December 1…but after the first frost..the plant quickly dies off and its impossible to see…when you say that its everywhere…make certain that you know what your digging…and also here in Virginia…its got to be at least three prongs or bigger…basically three sets of leaves or more. Happy hunting…also…I’m about 1 hour from those guys on the show Appalachian outlaws…don’t expect to get “show” or “TV” prices…it ain’t gonna happen..that’s all for show..because no wholesaler is ever gonna buy green root..it looses over half its weight once dried out..unless someone places an order for green root…which wouldn’t be much..

  4. Sonofrice457 says:

    Very helpful!

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