LAVALE, Md. — Mark MacDonald and his dad have dug a lot of ginseng in their time, but nothing could have prepared them for the find they made one Sunday afternoon earlier this month while exploring a remote patch of woods in western Allegany County, Maryland.
“I knew there was ginseng in there before I saw that plant. I’d been in there before and never seen that plant,” said Mark. “I never would have seen that pant if it hadn’t been for the berry pod. It was pretty well camouflaged.”
Mark estimated the stalk on the plant was the size of his little finger, so they knew immediately it was a root worth digging, but when they started to move the earth was when they discovered a once in a lifetime find.
“It just kept going. It took an hour and a half to actually get it out,” he said. “It took forever just to get to the body part of the root. We were just in complete amazement.”
The lower end of the root had entangled itself under some large rocks. MacDonald and his dad had to use every tool they brought, which admittedly wasn’t much, but rarely is one prepared to find a ginseng root the size of the football. The diameter of the dig was four to five feet and they had to be meticulous as they got toward the bottom of the root. Damage to the root could have rapidly reduced its value.
“We were very fortunate. We managed to get it out with almost no damage to the root,” he said. “We were real lucky there.”
The root was certified by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the official weight was 1.1 pounds. It’s the biggest ginseng root ever found in the state of Maryland and to everybody’s knowledge it’s the biggest one ever found in the United States or the world. It’s estimated the root could have been 60 years old and some have speculated it could be up to 100 years old.
“We can’t find any record of wild ginseng any bigger,” said MacDonald. “So we’ve made application to the Guinness Book of World Records.”
To offer some perspective, McDonald said until the day he found the big one, their biggest root this season weighed one ounce.
MacDonald is not only a digger, but also a licensed ginseng dealer. The dealer license enables him to sell roots out of state, it’s the first season he’s had the license and it was a stroke of luck because the hefty root could fetch an exceptionally hefty price tag.
“I really can’t speculate on it,” said MacDonald. “It could be worth $10,000 it could be worth half a million. I don’t know, I really don’t know.”
MacDonald said he’s had some offers to buy the root already, but he’s taking his time and says he will part for it when the price and the deal are right. Most ginseng dug in the Appalachian region is used for medicinal purposes in the Far East. However, MacDonald said the price for now is fairly low because of the struggling economy in China.
For now, McDonald has the root well packaged in moss and in a secure storage spot to preserve its integrity until he determines what to do with it. It’s unlikely MacDonald’s famous root will wind up as a cure for what ails somebody. Because of the notoriety and the rarity of his find it will likely be a highly sought collectors item eventually preserved for many years to come.