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Women, Ginseng and Ecologies of Care

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Ginseng’s association with masculinity is reinforced in popular representations of diggers and buyers as men, representations that hark back to the early days of the fur trade, when long hunters, diggers, and trappers fanned throughout the region in search of a wide variety of roots and pelts. Yet many stories are told in communities throughout the region of women who ginsenged.  A number of women figure on lists of certified ginseng buyers in each state, and in professions that engage them closely with ginseng. What do perspectives of women contribute to the story of ginseng?  With support from the Smithsonian Institution’s American Women and History Initiative, and in collaboration with LiKEN, the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH) has begun addressing the silence on women in public histories of ginseng.

LiKEN's Women and Ginseng project showcases the livelihoods and stories of female ginseng stewards in Appalachia. Below you will find a series of profiles on these women, including an award winning video series produced by Clara Haizlett.

Project History

In 2018, the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH) launched a program called “American Ginseng: Local Knowledge, Global Roots.”  In cooperation with the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Initiative, the CFCH is developing an interactive website focused on historical and contemporary human interactions with and stewardship of American ginseng  (Panax quinquefolia).  The centuries-old trade in American ginseng began with the 17th century recognition that America harbored a cousin of Panax panax, Asian ginseng, which has been all but extirpated in the wild.  American wild ginseng, found within the Appalachian region, is now highly prized in markets around the world, routed along complex supply chains stretching from diggers to end-users.  

Over the course of 2021, LiKENeer Mary Hufford gathered stories of women who are skilled stewards of ginseng in West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee--under a grant from the Smithsonian Institution’s “American Ginseng: Local Knowledge, Global Roots” program. With support from the Smithsonian’s American Women and History Initiative, and in cooperation with LiKEN, the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has begun addressing the silence on women in public histories of ginseng. See profiles of these women below and visit American Ginseng: Local Knowledge, Global Roots an interactive website, curated by Betty Belanus and Arlene Reineger of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

A video series on Women and Ginseng, produced by Clara Haizlett in cooperation with the Smithsonian CFCH and LiKEN, won honorable mention at the United Plant Savers’ inaugural International Herb Symposium film festival in 2022. The videos can be viewed below. 

Women and Ginseng: Ruby Daniels

Ruby Daniels

Herbalist Ruby Daniels is an Affrilachian forest farmer, living on her family homeplace in the former African American coal town of Stanaford, WV. 

Two white women smiling

Barbara Breshock and Amy Cimarolli

WV Foresters, Co-leaders of WV Women Owning Woodland.

White woman and man standing in the woods

Ed and Carole Daniels

Women and Ginseng: Mary Lawson

Carol Judy

Carol Judy (1949-2017) wove ginseng into a dense and vibrant meshwork connecting human and more-than-human, deep past with deep future, and local with global (some would say intergalactic).

Logo with the words Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage

American Ginseng: Local Knowledge Global Roots

Women and Ginseng: Vicky Ferguson

Janet Hamric Hodge

Ginseng Buyer, Proprietor of Hawk Mountain Trading and WV Wildlife Resources Commissioner

Native American woman smiling in a wicker chair seated in front of a rock wall

Victoria Persinger Ferguson

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