My Monster Ginseng patch

When I was just 12 years old, I came across a monster Ginseng patch. I had no idea what I found wasn’t normal until my adult years. This was a very special place just like Nan had always said!

Great-great-grandpa brought Nan and her siblings to harvest from this very area when she was a pre-teen or even younger. My grandmother Nan as I always called her.

Well, I got myself up super early to get to the area I always was told to hunt. I leave around 4:30 am to get there before anything had started moving.
Nan always told me to go hunt there, so that was the first place I went when squirrel season came in. I never even thought about ginseng, it was always squirrel. So, I was looking up all the time.

Great-great-grandpa brought Nan and her siblings to harvest from this very area when she was a pre-teen or even younger. My grandmother Nan as I always called her.

It was in late September. The squirrels were cutting the big black walnuts growing all in the area I was hunting. I get to the spot just as the Sun’s coming up. I shut my flashlight off and settle in. I’m anxious for the little grey fuzzy tail Houdini’ to appear. Sun gets up nice starts to dry things up ……. But it seems nothing is moving for some reason or another. So, I get a little bored an hour or so later with nothing moving around. As I start to survey the area, I had hunted many times growing up. I start to notice big old golden yellow four-prong GINSENG plants!!!
Big old three and four prongs were everywhere in patches of 10-50+ MONSTER Ginseng plants. All along both sides of the log I always sat next to was big old fat four prongs over my head. With all kinds of Seng laying down, that had all but withered away already. These patches were everywhere it seemed!!!

Well, I was taught what Ginseng was when I was very, very young, but had never really hunted any. I decided I was gonna try and dig as much as I could to make my Nan proud! I’d show her what I found in the spot she always told me to hunt in for anything I needed.
I never really understood what she meant by saying NEEDED. After an hour of digging, all my pockets were full in my army pants. I thought I’m not gonna get any squirrels today so I can fill my hunting vest pockets and game pouch up. Four hours later it’s stuffed to the brim with fat super old ginseng. At this age, I had no idea what I got into!! There was what seemed to be no end in sight to the GINSENG! It was starting to warm up by this time it was getting close to noon in the day. I was sweating to beat the band I tell ya! I had a long sleeve flannel on. With a short-sleeve shirt under it. Where I had left super early that morning before daylight.

I took my flannel off tied a knot in each sleeve at the wrists. With a piece of one of my boot laces. I tied the collar of the flannel up. I started digging all the big Seng from each patch. By this time, I was leaving everything that wasn’t knee-high or had a super fat top. I quit digging everything that was wilted down or small. Finally, I get all the way to the highway. Above the area that had been strip-mined…… I’m done …… shhhhhwwwww finally!! !As I walk back up the mountain, I start to feel the weight of the Seng. After all that digging, it felt like it weighed a ton. By now it’s close to 7:30 pm I had I good hour and a half hike in front of me! That’s if I hiked quickly!!…… I get out of the woods at the edge of dark.

Dragging myself home…… feeling like I had been in a fight with a bear by now LOL! I get home and just lay down after unloading all the SENG. I go to sleep on the couch without even taking a shower. I was beat, I tell ya lol. My Nan wakes me up hollering at my mom saying “Look at what Joseph Neil has brought home now…. Lynn!!!”, she says loudly as she kinda giggles. If you knew my grandmother, you would understand. She wasn’t as big as a hand full of minutes. She was 5 foot at best and a 100lbs soaking wet.to hear her get excited like that was always great. Nothing better to me than to make her and my mother happy!!! He’s dug 100lbs of GINSENG!!!!! She says loudly slightly giggling again with a big smile ear to ear. I hadn’t honestly dug that much. As I think back knowing wet to dry ratios now. I honestly don’t know the actual weight I had harvested. I’d say it was 10lbs or very close to that. All except the biggest root, it weighed 4.8oz. my granny took it to show it off to some friends she knew and had dug Seng with over the years. They had scales for weighing vegetables such! It seemed like it took all day the next day to scrub it white.
I know…I know! That is how they wanted it back then my granny said it had to be white as snow. They wouldn’t buy it if it had any color at all. My granny showed me how to lay it all out on old window screens in the sun. Again, my fellow woodsman/harvesters that’s the way they done it back then!! Needless to say, we didn’t have close enough window screens to place all the Seng I had dug to dry. So, we use two 4×8 sheets of plywood that was laid against our trailer.
After the GINSENG had dried my granny went and sold the big box, we found that would hold it all. She came home with a big grin ear to ear!! She said bub you dug more Seng than I ever had at one time! Even in the whole season!!! She stated loudly laughing!!
When it was weighed dry it was 3lbs, three and a half oz! It brought 775$ that was big money in the mid-’90s!! It made me feel so good. That I had helped Nan and mom! 1994 was the year! We had just lost our home to fire right before this happened!! We lived in my Great-great-grandparents home. I was 12 years old soon to be 13 in December. This was a true blessing for us more than anyone could know.
All were on our family land! The blessing as well as the tragic loss of our HOME…….The one that was like no other. Where all my family was close. We saw each other daily. Just goes to show ya if it’s needed it will be provided! I know I have and truly am blessed!!
The mountains have special places for us all. Some are close to home. Others are home but far from where we are today. But no matter what there’s nothing like home!! Thankful for everything even the pain of missing those special places and loved ones!! Hope you all enjoyed this tiny part of my life that didn’t seem so big a deal then. That is something I’m yet to do again in my life at the age of 36!

Author: Joseph Pigmon

My monster Ginseng harvest

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