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Lottery set for 'green gold' in NC hills

An annual lottery for permits to harvest valuable ginseng in North Carolina's mountain national forests will begin June 4.
An annual lottery for permits to harvest valuable ginseng in North Carolina's mountain national forests will begin June 4. File photo

An annual lottery for permits to harvest valuable ginseng in North Carolina's mountain national forests will begin June 4.

Permits are needed to collect wild ginseng in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests during a two-week season from Sept. 1 to Sept. 15. The plant's dried roots have been used as a tonic in East Asia for centuries and have become a $3 million crop in North Carolina.

The U.S. Forest Service took steps in 2013 to conserve the plant, which sells for hundreds of dollars per dried pound. It issues only 136 collection permits a year in the two national forests, 75 percent below previous years, and limits harvesters to only one to three pounds.

Permits are issued by lottery in each of the six districts of the Nantahala and Pisgah. Lottery participants have to call or visit a district office from June 4 to July 20 to submit their name, and those selected will be notified by Aug. 17.

Penalties for poaching ginseng include fines of up to $5,000, a six-month federal prison sentence or both.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051; @bhender
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