The roots of American ginseng have been harvested from the hardwood forests of the eastern U.S., alongside timber, since the mid-1700s, but little is known about this non-timber commodity relative to timber. In 2009, the AHPA-ERB Foundation funded a research project to quantify the economic value of wild American ginseng in comparison to the economic value of timber over the same geographic area and time.
The project culminated in a research article titled "Understanding the Relationships Between American Ginseng Harvest and Hardwood Forests Inventory and Timber Harvest to Improve Co-Management of the Forests of Eastern United States," published in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry. The article estimates that the annual wholesale value of American ginseng is approximately $26.9 million compared to annual stumpage value of harvested hardwood timber of just over $1.27 billion.
"The harvest of ginseng correlated positively and significantly with hardwood forest area, hardwood growing stock volume, and timber removals. Also, it correlated with hardwood growing stock on public forest lands in the region," write the report's authors James Chamberlain of the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station, Stephen Prisley, an associate professor of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's College of Natural Resources and Environment and Michael McGuffin president of AHPA.
In addition to defining the value of wild American ginseng, the article:
• identifies where ginseng is reportedly harvested
• illustrates the spatial distribution of the wild harvest
• demonstrates the clear relationships between hardwood forests of eastern U.S. and ginseng harvests
• helps develop a more comprehensive valuation of U.S. forest resources.
"This coarse analysis could be instrumental for targeting management efforts to places where ginseng harvest demands and value are greatest," the report states.