A History of Root and Herb Gathering in Appalachia
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Sales Date: 03/08/2022
The harvesting of wild American ginseng (panax quinquefolium), the gnarled, aromatic herb known for its therapeutic and healing properties, is deeply established in North America and has played an especially vital role in the southern and central Appalachian Mountains. Traded through a trans-Pacific network that connected the region to East Asian markets, ginseng was but one of several medicinal Appalachian plants that entered international webs of exchange. As the production of patent medicines and botanical pharmaceutical products escalated in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, southern Appalachia emerged as the United States' most prolific supplier of many species of medicinal plants. The region achieved this distinction because of its biodiversity and the persistence of certain common rights that guaranteed widespread access to the forested mountainsides, regardless of who owned the land.
Following the Civil War, root digging and herb gathering became one of the most important ways landless families and small farmers earned income from the forest commons. This boom influenced class relations, gender roles, forest use, and outside perceptions of Appalachia, and began a widespread renegotiation of common rights that eventually curtailed access to ginseng and other plants.
Based on extensive research into the business records of mountain entrepreneurs, country stores, and pharmaceutical companies, Ginseng Diggers: A History of Root and Herb Gathering in Appalachia is the first book to unearth the unique relationship between the Appalachian region and the global trade in medicinal plants. Historian Luke Manget expands our understanding of the gathering commons by exploring how and why Appalachia became the nation's premier purveyor of botanical drugs in the late-nineteenth century and how the trade influenced the way residents of the region interacted with each other and the forests around them.
Introduction: From "Roots and Herbs" to "Crude Botanical Drugs"
Chapter 1: The Journey of Ewing's Roots: American Ginseng and the China Trade
Chapter 2: Appalachia's First Ginseng Boom and the Evolution of Commons Culture
Chapter 3: Marketing the Mountain Commons: Calvin J. Cowles and the Origins of the Botanical Drug Trade
Chapter 4: The Civil War and the Botanical Drug Boom in Southern Appalachia, 1861-1919
Chapter 5: Marketing the Mountain Commons: Root Diggers and Herb Gatherers in Post-Civil-War Appalachia
Chapter 6: "Beasts in the Garden: Class, Conservation, and Cultivation
Chapter 7: Progress and Ginseng: The Growth of the Sang Digger Stereotype
Epilogue: The Decline of Root Digging and Herb Gathering and the Fate of the Commons in the Twentieth Century and Beyond
On rare occasions a book comes along that totally revises how we look at important historical issues. Luke Manget's Ginseng Diggers is such a book, providing crucial new insights into Appalachian subsistence practices. Manget opens up a whole new world of root and herb gathering, the business surrounding it, and the commons practices that made it possible. A must-read for scholars of Appalachia and anyone interested in the region's culture and history.~Daniel S. Pierce, author of Tar Heel Lightnin'
Manget's impressive research in merchant records, correspondence, diaries, and local newspapers provides a fascinating glimpse at the evolution of ginseng culture in Appalachia and its connection to the national economy and society. A major addition to our understanding of land use, the role of the commons, and capitalism in the mountains.~Ronald D Eller, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Kentucky and author of Uneven Ground
With careful research and engaging prose, Luke Manget unravels the fascinating story of American ginseng and those who harvested it and other medicinal plants from mountain forests. Devoting equal time to both people and nature, the author provides a fresh environmental context for considering issues crucial to Appalachian history, including the changing forest commons and the vagaries of capitalism in small communities. This is a must-read for anyone interested in ecology, economics, and the enduring legacy of the Appalachian 'sang digger.'~Timothy Silver, author of Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains and coauthor of An Environmental History of the Civil War
Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Ginseng Diggers is a tour de force in the still-emerging field of US commons history. Manget guides us surefootedly through nineteenth-century Appalachian forests, excavating the intricate ecologies, economies, and cultural contexts medicinal plant gatherers routinely navigated. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in imagining more sustainable futures, Ginseng Diggers makes vital contributions to the histories of medicine and capitalism as well as to environmental history and Appalachian studies.~Kathryn Newfont, author of Blue Ridge Commons and coeditor of The Land Speaks
Like Jessica Wilkerson's study of Appalachian women devoted to social justice and labor activism, To Live Here, You Have to Fight, and the indispensable, wide-ranging anthology Appalachian Reckoning, Luke Manget's study joins a number of books in recent years that challenge reductive narratives about Appalachia's cultural and economic history. Ginseng Diggers belongs in any library of books devoted to this necessary course correction.~Chapter 16