American ginseng, or Panax quinquefolius, is indigenous to much of the eastern U.S. and Canada, but due to unsustainable harvesting and destruction of habitat over the past 2½ centuries, the wild plant can scarcely be found anywhere anymore. Demand for the root of the plant as a putative medicinal and aphrodisiac remains high, however, as reflected in the price, which reaches well into the hundreds of dollars per pound. It consequently occurred to Stephen Drane, and others in Maine, that reintroduction of the plant might prove lucrative, and could provide another option, more aesthetic and less destructive than logging, for those who try to make their living off the forest.
Dr. Drane applied for a SARE grant for the newly-established Maine Ginseng Growers’ Association (MeGGA), of which he is a board member. MeGGA used this grant to expand its membership, promote the “wild-simulated” growing of ginseng, and explore marketing possibilities. Among other activities MeGGA has compiled a guide for growers, put together information leaflets, and sent representatives to numerous conferences, fairs and expositions. MeGGA has also conferred with public officials regarding legislation pertinent to ginseng, developed a website, and put on conferences, lectures, and field days of its own. Further goals include cataloguing of all known wild stands in Maine, preservation of endangered local varieties in a seed bank, further expansion of the membership, and trade fairs, to which buyers from around the world will be invited, to view, and hopefully purchase, this product of the Maine woods.