For centuries dating back to native Cherokee tribes, people have lived off the fertile land of the Smoky Mountains. As time rolled on and American society became technology based, local mountain men continued to follow the call of the wild carrying on the traditions of their ancestors. The mountains are teeming with valuable goods ranging from gold to moss that can be harvested and sold to local dealers, but for one month every year, Ginseng is the most valuable item to be found. People of the Smokies call White Panax Ginseng “Mother Nature’s Gold,” and it grows in abundance in the mountains around the small towns of Western North Carolina, Andrews and Robbinsville. Every September is the wild Ginseng harvest season when “Ginsengers” will go where no man goes and “get it while the gettin’s good!”
Smoky Mountain Money follows four teams of mountain folk who strike out into the Smokies every September searching the ridgetops and “hollars” for wild American Ginseng. Ginseng is a federally protected endangered species so the harvesting of wild Ginseng is a heavily regulated trade. This makes is the Ginseng harvest a highly competitive and territorial natural treasure hunt with many similarities to the commercial fishing industry. Our teams come from long bloodlines of “Ginsengers” who have a great respect for the valuable plant and want to conserve as they forage so that Ginseng will continue to thrive in the Smokies and be a source of income for their children and their children’s children.
For 11 months of the year, the people of Andrews and Robbinsville in Western North Carolina do their best to scratch out an existence in one of the most economically depressed areas in America. In the last 18 months, four local manufacturing plants were closed putting about 5000 people out of work. Those who are lucky enough to still have jobs earn a small paycheck at the local sawmill or doing landscaping. Those who don’t have jobs perform odd jobs like chopping firewood to put food on the table.
But for one month every year, September, “Ginsengers” can take the bull by the horns in the mountains and earn thousands of dollars foraging Ginseng. Because of federal restrictions, they have a short amount of time to hit the mountains and find as much Ginseng as they legally can to earn some real money. The price of White Panax Ginseng has actually spiked as high as $1200 per pound, making it the most valuable commodity in the Smokies that’s not a precious metal. Somewhere out there is the rumored “Monster ‘Seng” – a huge Ginseng root that is shaped like a man which local hunters say has fetched upwards of $10,000 on the Asian market. But finding the “Monster ‘Seng” is no easy task, and only a real mountain man will survive.
Each team must be willing to go further into the mountains than any other has ever gone before to find pure, untouched, fully mature Ginseng and bring home a big payday.
The hazards are everywhere: rattlesnakes and copperheads, bees and wasps, bears and boar. Our Ginseng teams know the hazards and face them head on to get to the big ‘seng. They possess survival skills rivaling those of any Army Ranger and which they learned the hard way, from years of living off the land of the Smokies. They proudly boast that they are “mountain men, not hillbillies” because “a hillbilly can’t survive in them mountains.”
For one month every year, the mountain men (and women) of Andrews and Robbinsville, North Carolina can put everything they know about the Smokies on the line and strike out to make Smoky Mountain Money.
Smoky Mountain Money: Ginseng Kings premieres tonight at 10P.