Saturday, October 15, 2011

Left Fork Farm - ginseng and other herbs

Last week, I got to tour this lovely piece of land that Left Fork Farm owners Emil and Eva call "a paradise in the hills of West Virginia". On this farm, the earthy retired-from-government-jobs couple grow lots of "seng" in addition to many other medicinal herb plants. I shouldn't tell you where to set your Garmins though because one thing I learned is that ginseng, also known as "forest gold", is susceptible to theft, being such a valuable crop. But, despite the high price that roots may fetch, it's sort of complicated. Some other facts I learned...

  • Ginseng is picky about growing conditions. Mostly shaded mountain land is best.
  • Ginseng is a tonic and adaptogen. See here for more about health benefits.
  • Ginseng needs to be "hunted". Look for indicator plants such as ferns, to help guide you to areas where ginseng may thrive.
  • You need a permit to dig. Theft is the number 1 problem for big growers. Ginseng must be sold to buyers, who will ask for paperwork proving where the roots were harvested. If roots are stolen, growers will inform buyers who will keep an eye out for the stolen roots.
  • The couple sum up the process of growing successfully in a few steps:
  1. Find the right land.
  2. Plant 6,000 seeds the first year.
  3. Wait 7-10 years.
In other words, it's not easy! While Eva and Emil wait years for a significant root harvest, they stay busy in other ways: harvesting berries for juice, which yields a high price; harvesting mature roots and leaves to make tinctures for sale. Eva's ginseng tincture was a popular item for those on our tour. Of course, the couple seems to have found a use for everything growing on their farm...

This was a stream that our bus had to cross in order to get to this middle-of-nowhere property!

Can you imagine if this were your backyard?!

The vegetable garden and a gigantic patch of holy basil. At the end of our tour, we got to have some cookies and Eva's holy basil tea. It was interesting and quite good - sort of cinnamony, but with a very different aftertaste.

Above and below: this is the black walnut operation. The couple has been collecting black walnuts...

The black walnuts are opened with a corn husker. The nuts are washed and sold in portions as you see below. They also crack the nuts and sell the fresh walnut meat to area restaurants. The outer green rind of the black walnut is made into a tincture that is given to dogs as a dewormer!

Herbs drying in the drying house...

The process of making Eva's concoctions...

Ready for sale!


  1. So cool!
    We have Ginseng growing in the woods across the street from us and I have been told the local Amish families clear it out every year.

  2. How fascinating. Sounds like a wonderful visit. I love your photos. They really set the rural tone and I learned so much.

    We actually have black walnut trees on our street. The pods look just like tennis balls.

  3. Expensive crop! But a good for health.

  4. I guess I should appreciate Ginseng more now that I know how difficult to harvest and grow. I love black walnuts, they remind me of growing up in CA and we had a tree there that my parents harvested the nuts from.

  5. How interesting and how labor intensive. Those two must be busy from dawn to dusk. I liked reading about how they use the black walnuts, too.

  6. Very interesting place to visit! It's so calm place. Expensive harvest!

  7. Wendy,
    What a cool couple. Can't imagine using the walnuts but it's better than staining driveways.

  8. Ok first I could not imagine if that was my backyard! Wow! And I had no idea about the growing process of Ginseng....very interesting and complex! Learned something new!

  9. Wow. I did not realised it takes that long to harvest ginseng.

  10. I haven't stopped by in a while, but I just wanted to say hello and that I hope to jump back into Garden to Table soon!

    Happy Gardening!

  11. I had no idea ginseng was so expensive required paperwork just to sell. Nice post.


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