An interesting crop in our neighborhood was ginseng, of which there were several patches in cultivation. This curious plant is native throughout the Appalachians, but has been exterminated in all but the wildest regions, on account of the high price that its dried root brings. It has long since passed out of our pharmacopœia, and is marketed only in China, though our own people formerly esteemed it as a panacea for all ills of the flesh. Colonel Byrd, in his “History of the Dividing Line,” says of it:

“Though Practice wilt soon make a man of tolerable Vigour an able Footman, yet, as a help to bear Fatigue I us’d to chew a Root of Ginseng as I Walk’t along. This kept up my Spirits, and made me trip away as nimbly in my half Jack-Boots as younger men cou’d in their Shoes. This Plant is in high Esteem in China, where it sells for its Weight in Silver.... Its vertues are, that it gives an uncommon Warmth and Vigour to the Blood, and frisks the Spirits, beyond any other Cordial. It chears the Heart, even of a Man that has a bad Wife, and makes him look down with great Composure on the crosses of the World. It promotes insensible Perspiration, dissolves all Phlegmatick and Viscous Humours, that are apt to obstruct the Narrow channels of the Nerves. It helps the Memory and would quicken even Helvetian dullness. ’Tis friendly to the Lungs, much more than Scolding itself. It comforts the Stomach, and Strengthens the Bowels, preventing all Colicks and Fluxes. In one Word, it will make a Man live a great while, and very well while he does live. And what is more, it will even make Old Age amiable, by rendering it lively, chearful, and good-humour’d.”

Alas that only Chinamen and eighteenth-century Cavaliers could absorb the virtues of this sovereign herb!

A successful ginseng grower of our settlement told me that two acres of the plant will bring an income of $2,500 to $5,000 a year, planting 100,000 to the acre. The roots take eight years to mature. They weigh from one and a half to four ounces each, when fresh, and one-third of this dried. Two acres produce 25,000 roots a year, by progression. The dried root, at that time, brought five dollars a pound. At present, I believe, it is higher. Another friend of mine, who is in this business extensively, tried exporting for himself, but got only $6.50 a pound in Amoy, when the U. S. consul at that port assured him that the real market price was from $12.60 to $24.40. The local trader, knowing American prices, pocketed the difference.

In times of scarcity many of our people took to the woods and gathered commoner medicinal roots, such as bloodroot and wild ginger (there are scores of others growing wild in great profusion), but made only a pittance at it, as synthetic drugs have mostly taken the place of herbal simples in modern medicine. Women and children did better, in the days before Christmas, by gathering galax, “hemlock” (leucothoe), and mistletoe, selling to the dealers at the railroad, who ship them North for holiday decorations. One bright lad from town informed me, with evident pride of geography, that “Some of this goes to London, England.” Nearly everywhere in our woods the beautiful ruddy-bronze galax is abundant. Along the water-courses, leucothoe, which similarly turns bronze in autumn, and lasts throughout the winter, is so prolific as to be a nuisance to travelers, being hard to push through.