Catch Appalachian Outlaws? Don’t forget American ginseng!

History Channels "Appalachian Outlaws" is about wild ginseng diggers and buyers in the Appalachian mountains and the resulting frenzy given increased demand in Asia. Credit: USFWS
History Channels "Appalachian Outlaws" is about wild ginseng diggers and buyers in the Appalachian mountains and the resulting frenzy given increased demand in Asia. Credit: USFWS

History Channel’s “Appalachian Outlaws” is about wild ginseng diggers and buyers in the Appalachian mountains and the resulting frenzy given increased demand in Asia. Credit: USFWS

As any writer knows, what grabs the reader’s interest in a story is conflict – Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, David and Goliath, Sheldon and Kripke. Reality TV show producers know this too, so the History Channel’s Appalachian Outlaws, which premieres tonight, about the harvest of American ginseng in the Appalachian Mountains follows “people [who] will fight each other, steal it and risk jail time—or even their lives—to get their hands on it.”

While this sort of drama and conflict can make for compelling TV, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the American ginseng plant itself.

American ginseng has been used for medicine for hundreds of years, and according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, research suggests it may be of benefit in treating everything from colds and flu to diabetes and cancer. It is highly valued in Asia, and the show says it is worth about $1,000 a pound.

Because harvest kills the American ginseng plant, state and federal laws govern its harvest to ensure that trade in ginseng doesn’t wipe out an important piece of the U.S. ecosystem and a multi-million dollar industry. For instance, you can’t harvest a plant when it is too young or before its fruits are ripe, and a plant needs to have at least a certain number of leaves depending on which state you are in. You also can’t harvest ginseng from many areas, such as national parks, which helps ensure its future. … Finish reading this blog at our national Tumblr page!

 

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