A week­end ex­cur­sion to Ohio

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - Bob Bey­fuss lives and gar­dens in Schoharie County. Send him an e-mail to rlb14@cor­nell. edu.

My col­umn last week about gin­seng elicited more emails than any col­umn I have writ­ten in many years. I am de­lighted to see such in­ter­est in my fa­vorite plant and my life­long pas­sion. Last week I went to South­east­ern Ohio to visit some friends and present a work­shop about gin­seng for the United Plant Savers fall in­terns, at the UPS head­quar­ters, which is near Athens, Ohio. I also got to go on a gin­seng hunt with some close friends.

Al­though I was away from here only six days, I was pleased upon my re­turn to see that we are fi­nally get­ting some fall col­ors in our woods. Nor­mally, our peak fall col­oration is the week­end clos­est to Oct.10, but at my house in Conesville, I would guess that the sur­round­ing for­est is only 50 per­cent of peak color right now. There are lots of fallen leaves though due to the leaf shed­ding dis­eases we ex­pe­ri­enced in mid­sum­mer, when it rained every day for about three weeks. Still, there are still plenty of beau­ti­ful col­ors in the woods to ob­serve as we en­ter the last two weeks of the month.

While I was in Ohio, I went gin­seng hunt­ing at a Na­tional For­est. This for­est is one of the few pub­lic lands in the U.S., where small quan­ti­ties of gin­seng may be legally har­vested af­ter buy­ing a per­mit. In New York State there is no le­gal har­vest of wild gin­seng on any state, fed­eral, or other pub­li­cally owned lands that I am aware of. The $20 gin­seng per­mit I pur­chased al­lows the dig­ger to har­vest up to 95 roots dur­ing the le­gal har­vest sea­son, which runs from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31. Ohio roots from that part of the state av­er­age about 300 per dry pound, so that al­lows for about 1/3 pound dry weight.

The Ohio woods were some­what strange to me. That part of the coun­try was never glaciated, so the di­ver­sity of plant life far sur­passes ours. Most, but not all of the tree species were fa­mil­iar. There were huge red and white oaks as well as black wal­nut, some but­ter­nut, mas­sive tulip po­plar with 3-foot di­am­e­ter trunks, sy­camore, a lot of dy­ing white ash (due to Emer­ald Ash Borer), sev­eral species of hick­ory, sugar maple, mag­no­lia, beech (no sign of beech bark dis­ease) and Buck­eye in the up­per canopy. The sound of fall­ing nuts all around me was con­stant and I was half ex­pect­ing to get conked on the head by an acorn, buck­eye or hick­ory nut at any time, hope­fully not a black wal­nut!

There was lots of spice­bush and paw­paws as well as far too many bram­ble thick­ets to please me. Mul­ti­flora rose ripped my bare arms and Ja­pa­nese stilt­grass in­vaded down the hol­lows from the ubiq­ui­tous ATV trails. There were also a lot of plants I don’t know, both on the ground and grow­ing as shrubs. There were big patches of gold­enseal ev­ery­where, as well as gi­ant blood­root, wild gin­ger, maid­en­hair fern, both blue and black co­hosh, sting­ing net­tle, poke­weed, and a hand­ful of other plants as­so­ci­ated with north­ern gin­seng habi­tat, that I do know. Al­most grow­ing as a ground cover, there was lots of wa­ter weed, clear­weed and a gold­enseal look-alike that I for­got the name of. The di­ver­sity of flora was amaz­ing and per­haps that kept my eye from spot­ting the gin­seng my com­pan­ions all seemed to see in­stantly from far off. I was hav­ing a very hard time find­ing any gin­seng at all.

Af­ter a few hours of hik­ing, the sky dark­ened omi­nously, as big clouds rolled in, but with that dra­matic change of light, so did my per­cep­tion of the for­est floor change. The gin­seng plants took on a yel­low “glow” in that twi­light that I have come to rec­og­nize, usu­ally as the day ends and I am hus­tling to get out of the woods be­fore dark­ness falls. I started see­ing gin­seng al­most ev­ery­where I looked, as if my eyes had a cloak re­moved. Folk­lore re­gard­ing gin­seng is that the plant “glows” due to some sort of ra­dioac­tiv­ity. I think I surely does ap­pear to glow un­der cer­tain light con­di­tions, but that may be due to phos­pho­rus me­tab­o­lism and not ra­dioac­tiv­ity.

Af­ter a 10 hour, 6-plus­mile hik­ing day in the for­est, I ended up with a dozen or so small gin­seng roots, my com­pan­ions had 20 or 30 each, al­though I was pleased to no­tice that they left be­hind far more than they dug. The roots are cer­tainly not worth much money, cer­tainly less than my per­mit cost, but the ex­pe­ri­ence was price­less.

Bob Bey­fuss Gar­den Tips

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