Warner Natural Herbs may be out in the rural parts of Middle Tennessee, but John Warner's customers come from all over the world.
They're looking for ginseng.
"It's the most precious, most potent and highest priced herb in the world," said Warner.
Typically digging season starts Aug. 18 but the state just changed the rules.
For the first time, harvest season has been pushed back to Sept. 1 and they've changed the language of the law to where it's now illegal to remove ginseng before or after the official season.
It will mean losing money for Warner. In Tennessee, he said, ginseng root sells for about $90 an ounce, and abroad, even more.
"There's no telling what it rings for over there," said Warner.
Still, Warner calls the change a small price to pay.
"That's going to help more berries to get ripe and fall off into the woods to where it can propagate and start another plant," said Warner.
Once you dig the plant out of the ground, it's gone. Any rootlet left behind will die.
The law requires diggers to replant seeds in the same area, but people aren't, and ginseng is disappearing fast.
"When I was a kid, me and my grandpa would go over to the top of that hill and dig out a sack full of ginseng. Now you could go digging every day for a whole year and still not fill a sack full," said Warner.
TWRA will be enforcing the law. Poaching the precious plant is a misdemeanor.
Still, Warner said this year, the damage has already been done and he worries going forward the change won't be enough.
"Stop the digging of it for at least five to 10 years. Let it propagate back."
The Department of Environment and Conservation is proposing additional changes to the ginseng dealer registration rules.
They want to make it to where people can't buy dry ginseng roots until Sept. 15.
TDEC will hold two public hearings this month to address these proposed changes. One is in Nashville on the 30th.
Copyright 2012 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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