(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — American ginseng grows wild in Pennsylvania, and the annual harvesting season began on Sept. 1. The plant, however, is protected and harvesters must follow certain rules.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) reminded residents of the harvesting rules in a news release on Sept. 1. The season is Sept. 1 through Nov. 30. American Ginseng is classified as “Pennsylvania Vulnerable” because it is so sought after for commercial and personal use.

“Ginseng continues to be an important part of Pennsylvania’s heritage and its natural forest ecosystems, which is why we encourage harvesters to use good stewardship practices when collecting wild ginseng plants,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “We at DCNR remain committed to educating the public about protecting this critical plant and are working with our partners to ensure the plants are protected from excessive harvesting.”

Pennsylvania isn’t the only agency to issue a protective status to the plant. It has been protected since 1975 through an international treaty, and its export is regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It takes ginseng as long as 10 years to mature, and along the way it faces challenges such as habitat loss, climate change, deer and illegal harvesting.

The guidelines for wild ginseng collection in Pennsylvania are:

  • Collection is not permitted on state lands
  • Collect only mature plants with at least three five-pronged leaves and red berries
  • Collect only during harvest season (September 1 through November 30)
  • Plant seeds near the harvested plant to ensure future ginseng plants
  • Permits are not needed for collection, but you must get permission from a private landowner first
  • Poaching is illegal

“Creating and maintaining a sustainable future for these vulnerable plants is the only way to preserve the longstanding American tradition of ginseng use, sale and trade,” said Pennsylvania State Forester Ellen Schultzabarger. “The health of the species and the economic benefits are intertwined. We must continue to be good stewards of this critical resource for future use.”

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Ginseng dealers need a license to sell or trade the plant or they face federal penalties. Once ginseng is harvested in Pennsylvania, it can’t be taken out of the state without a specific license.