It is the time of year when many people in the hills of Kentucky, West Virginia and southeastern Ohio are busy harvesting a potentially lucrative cash crop that they didn’t even plant. In other words, it’s ginseng harvest time.

To be exact, the digging season for wild ginseng began in Kentucky on Aug. 15 and runs through Dec. 1. In West Virginia, the season began Sept. 1 and continues through the end of November.

Ginseng, which has never been successfully cultivated, grows wild throughout the eastern United States, but it is most plentiful on Appalachian hillsides because it flourishes in a moist, shady environment.

To be successful in harvesting ginseng, you have to know where to look and how to recognize healthy ginseng. Moist areas on north- or northeast-facing slopes are considered the best locations to find the wild herb.

Kentucky leads the nation in the harvesting of ginseng. Nearly 9,400 pounds of ginseng were harvested by those traipsing through the forests of this state in 2005. That’s nearly double the 4,800 pounds dug up in neighboring West Virginia.

Most ginseng harvested in the U.S. is shipped to foreign countries, particularly in Asia, where it often is brewed in teas to cure digestive ailments, headaches or act as an aphrodisiac. Whether the curative powers of ginseng are real or imagined makes little difference. Asian consumers believe in the powers of the herb, and they are willing to pay top dollar for it. That in turn, helps to put cash into the pockets of ginseng diggers.

In fact, for those who know what they are doing — and there are a number of such people in this area — digging ginseng can be a rather lucrative source of added income. That really impresses those of us who don’t have the slightest idea where to look for ginseng and probably could not identify it when — and if — we found it.

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