# 33 19-Oct-86 0152 MST Sb APal 10/18 SIS-Ginseng Root Fm Executive News Svc. [72135,424]
19-Oct-86 01:52 MST
Sb: APal 10/18 SIS--Ginseng Root
Fm: Executive News Svc. [72135,424]
By JOHN SANDLIN
Daily Mountain Eagle
JASPER, Ala. (AP) -- Scientists say the legendary benefits of the
ginseng root that grows wild in parts of north Alabama are just
According to ancient Chinese belief, the roots of the ginseng
shrub are endowed with magical powers that lead to long life and
The shrub is a knee-high green bush with red berries that is
in parts of Asia and the United States and cultivated as a crop in
Wisconsin. It gets its name from the Chinese words meaning likeness
of a man. In rare circumstances, the shape of the root resembles a
It is the search for that perfect root, worth more than $1,000 to
the lucky finder, that adds special excitement for ginseng diggers.
They contend the medicinal value of ginseng is tremendous,
scientific evidence to the contrary.
"It`s the best medicine you can get," said Minnie Armstrong of
Lynns Park, a 45-year-old digger who has searched for the root since
she was a young girl.
Mrs. Armstrong is one of nine sisters who helped their father dig
the roots nearly 50 years ago. Three of them still like to search
She dries the roots in sunlight for three days, then grinds them
in an electric blender until the ginseng is a fine powder. She then
takes one-fourth of a teaspoon of the powder three times a day for
three consecutive days to relieve pains in her back.
Loretta Brand of Jasper, her 52-year-old sister, uses the ginseng
powder for crippling arthritis which had caused her arm to draw up.
Another sister, Edna Ware of Cordova, 58, says the ginseng worked
a miracle on Mrs. Brand.
"The doctors told her she would be a cripple, but she took the
ginseng and six months later they couldn`t find no sign of it,"
Ware said. "It`s good for arthritis, purifying your blood and it`s
good for your heart. It`s good for anything wrong with your body."
Some users claim it is an aphrodisiac.
The ancient Chinese believed the plant was a remedy for a host of
illnesses, could prolong life and in some cases even restore it.
believed animals protected the plants and the man-shaped roots were
capable of traveling under the earth from place to place.
Demand for the ginseng root outstripped the supply in the Orient
in the 19th century and for a while, ginseng was the most important
export to China. By 1930, the United States was shipping about $2
million worth of ginseng each year to China.
About $50 million worth of ginseng was exported in 1985,
to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
Since the Communist revolution in China, most of the U.S. crop
gone to Japan and Hong Kong.
Mrs. Armstrong and Mrs. Ware sell the dried roots they do not use
to a dealer in Fayette County for $125 a pound.
The drought that scorched Alabama this year hurt the ginseng
Normally, the plant can be harvested until frost kills the leaves in
the fall. But the lack of rainfall caused the leaves to dry up and
the sisters stopped digging two weeks ago.
"We`re not going to dig any more because the berries have
dropped," Mrs. Ware said.
The sisters harvest the roots and then plant the berries they
to make sure the plants do not become extinct. Some oldtimers claim
there aren't many plants left in this area, but that`s not true, the
"There`s more than there`s ever been," Mrs. Ware said. "We go
everywhere and find it. I can drive right by a hollow and tell you
there`s ginseng in it just by looking, we`ve been doing it so
Reports that it grows only in deep valleys are false, Mrs. Ware
"They`ll tell you the deeper the hollow, the better," she said.
"That`s wrong. A real shallow hollow is best."
She found her largest ginseng plant in a shallow hollow three
"I found one that was this high," she said, raising her hand
waist high. "The top would fill three washtubs. That root must have
weighed a quarter of a pound after it was dried. It was the biggest
one I ever found."
Is it really worth it, spending all that time in the woods,
risking snakebite, just for a few roots?
The sisters say it is.
"If you go out there and find the right places you can make $100
a day," Mrs. Ware said.
And there`s always the chance that they might find that magical,
mystical, perfect root that is shaped like a man.
"I`ve found it with everything except one arm or leg," Mrs.
said. "They say one in a million is going to find that perfect
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank