Another grower, Larry Harding, the proprietor of Harding’s Wild Mountain Herbs in Western Maryland, raises wild-simulated ginseng on more than 50 acres, making him a sort of ginseng kingpin.
Both growers realize that their bottom lines could benefit from the ban, but as part of a tightknit ginseng economy, they also realize that their operations could be beneficial to the wild plants.
“We can take some of the pressure off,” Harding said. “We’re the next best thing.”
McKnight, the Ginseng Grinch, is hoping that’s what happens. Otherwise, the next step could be a total ban on wild ginseng harvesting, which at least 15 states have done. Miller and other ginseng hunters fear that such a decision is near.
But state officials hope that over time, with a ban in place on state land, the plant will recover, much as rockfish did in the Cheseapake Bay after a five-year moratorium on taking rockfish ended in the early 1990s.
“We really hope to be able to see a recovery on state lands,” McKnight said.
By the time that happens, there might not be anyone left in the ginseng economy, which is populated primarily by a graying, older, non-smartphone-using population — people who like to get their hands dirty and experience nature while actually in nature. There aren’t a lot of young people interested in ginseng, except to slurp up in an energy drink.
“The next generation isn’t as interested as we are,” Galloway said. “They aren’t as interested in hunting. They’d rather sit behind their computer and play Atari. We’re losing part of this culture.”