Historic black and white photograph of ginseng leaves in a wagon bed

Lecture: Ginseng Digging in Appalachia (at Vance Birthplace)


From Roots and Herbs to Common Commodities: A History of Medicinal Plants in Appalachia

This annual lecture presented by the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site and the Mountain History and Culture Group will feature Dr. Luke Manget, who will examine the economic and environmental impact of root digging and herb gathering in Appalachia.

This program is free and open to the public and will be held at the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site from 10:00 am to 11:30 am at the picnic shelter, in the Visitor Center in the case of inclement weather. Seating capacity is limited.

Following the American Civil War the Appalachian region became the largest supplier in the United States of native medicinal plants to manufacturers around the Atlantic. During the peak of the root-and-herb boom in the late 19th century, the people of southern Appalachia drew on the biodiversity of mountain flora and their knowledge of local medicinal plants to harvest roots and herbs by the wagonload. They traded their plants to country stores that then sold them to patent medicine companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers. One observer in the 1880s remarked that “bales of these herbs may be seen collected about the country stores as bales of cotton are seen in the middle and eastern regions.” This talk will explore the role that root digging and herb gathering played in local economies and how these practices influenced the way Communities interacted with the land.

Coffee and Welcome, 10:00 am to 10:15 am
Lecture, 10:15 am to 11:00 am
Question and Answer, 11:00 am to 11:30 am

Luke Manget is the author of Ginseng Diggers: A History of Root and Herb Gathering in Appalachia. He is currently an Instructor of American Studies at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Morganton. In the fall, he will be joining the history faculty at Western Carolina University. He earned his PhD at the University of Georgia in 2017 as a student of John Inscoe and his M.A. in history at Western Carolina University. He lives in Morganton with his wife Natalie and 3 sons: Henry, Charlie, and Jack.