Miracle Plant: MTSU workshop focused on increasing interest and demand for American Ginseng

Caitlin Elam with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation/Division of Natural Areas, discusses ginseng regulations and harvest in Tennessee. She spoke during the annual Tennessee Ginseng Growers Workshop November 5 at Barfield Crescent Park’s Wilderness Station. (PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Heidt for MTSU)

REGIONAL NEWS | Murfreesboro — Folks don’t just harvest ginseng. In the American South, and especially in Appalachia, folks hunt it. The “miracle plant” as its been called is believed to help with everything from fatigue to depression and according to one speaker at a recent MTSU workshop the only way to conserve it is to cultivate it.

Middle Tennessee State University senior Robert Eichas played an important role in the Tennessee Ginseng Growers Workshop by collecting research that was shared during the event. The plant and soil science major spent two months and 100 to 120 hours assembling fungicide data for Eleanor Lopez, an extension assistant with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture at the Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Lopez’s presentation about plant pathogen management in American ginseng wrapped up the one-day conference at the Barfield Crescent Park’s Wilderness Station. Other experts included Bob Beyfuss, Caitlin Elam from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and MTSU professors Nate Phillips and Iris Gao.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Barfield Crescent Park, the recent event gathered potential growers, an herbalist, traders and exporters of ginseng, according to Director of MTSU’s International Ginseng Institute Gao. The Institute provides growers, industry and conservationists with information and resources needed to promote a sustainable harvest now and for future generations.

Attendees came from Middle and East Tennessee to glean more information. Ginseng primarily grows in the wild on hilly, mountainous areas across the region and Appalachians. People take American ginseng by mouth for stress, to boost the immune system and as a stimulant. Plants usually mature and produce seeds after five to 10 years.

Research reveals fungicide data

The study by Eichas, 28, formerly of Cocoa Beach, Florida, now living in Murfreesboro, divulged 10 organic and 20 inorganic fungicides labeled for use on ginseng in Tennessee.

“I gained a greater appreciation for testing pathogen-tracking systems in states,” said Eichas, who wants to pursue a job opportunity with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a subbranch of the USDA, when he graduates in December.

A May plant and soil science graduate, Alaina Farmer of Franklin, is considering growing ginseng on her family’s 150 acres in Williamson County.

“I feel more confident planting our own ginseng,” said Farmer, who attended with her mother, Angela Farmer, also an alumna. “I knew the location process. I learned about calcium and nutrient requirements and soil testing. If I have questions, I know who to call.”

Expert: People must grow ginseng

Beyfuss, a retired New York State ginseng specialist for the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, said his “conservation through cultivation” message at ginseng workshops is that people need to grow it.

“That’s Eric Burkhart’s mantra and that’s my mantra, too,” said Beyfuss, referring to the prominent Penn State ginseng researcher. “I am obsessed and haunted with ginseng. I think it’s the most wonderful medicine on the planet. It’s going to keep people healthy. … I think the only way that it’s going to remain is if people start growing it.”

“Between all the natural threats to it — climate change, invasive species and what I consider the biggest threat, deer — that we can’t do much about, we need to grow it and that’s the only way it’s going to be preserved year-round,” added Beyfuss, who does not consider poachers a threat to the plant’s existence.

The success of the event was made possible by collaboration between the TDEC, Barfield Crescent Park and MTSU, said Gao, adding the presenters shared the latest science, best practices and opportunities related to the ginseng industry.

The ginseng institute will host another fall workshop next year and present at the Organic Growers School in North Carolina in the spring. For more information, call 615-898-2430 or follow on Instagram. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}