Walker Mountain Botanical Sanctuary

Deerfield, Virginia
Sanctuary Steward: Shay Herring Clanton

Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) –
Walker Mountain

It is the end of January at Walker Mountain Botanical Sanctuary. The black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), and ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) that grow on the northern and eastern slopes of this land are dormant these short winter days and long nights, but as the light increases, day by day, they are preparing once again for spring and new life. The pair of ravens who nest on the ridge every year are croaking their mating songs and flying in elaborate dances together. It is good to hear their familiar voices. In this time of the pandemic, with so much uncertainty and unrest in the human realm, the eternal rhythms of the natural world are reassuring.

It is becoming clear, however, that winters are now warmer with dramatic shifts from warmer days to brief intense cold. There have been some losses in the complex and diverse web of life in the sanctuary. The hemlocks are mostly dead now from the invasive woolly adelgid. The big ash trees are slowly dying from the invasive emerald ash beetle. Much of the old indigenous ginseng that grew in the sanctuary was stolen in July of 2019. Sadly, again, this past July a lot of the old ginseng was stolen from the forest adjacent to the sanctuary on our neighbors land. We have taken steps to protect our own land with cameras and greater vigilance. I have tried to come to terms with this loss, but I am conscious that something that is hard to put into words is now missing. The plants were my friends. I had watched them and tended them for years. When I walk past the places where they grew, I have the intuition that lights have gone out in the forest, that something whole and ancient has been disturbed. Stealing ginseng on both public and private lands for quick money is common practice here now and is resulting in a significant loss of populations. (For laws and legal guidelines for protection of ginseng see https://www.fws.gov/international/plants/americanginseng. HTML).

I am, more than ever, grateful for the network of United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuaries across the country where native medicinal plants are honored and protected. There are many people who live in honor of the land and the web of life that includes the plants and the natural system they are an integral part of. This action and the intention itself are healing and important in ways that are more far-reaching than we can know.

At Walker Mountain Botanical Sanctuary we have planted many hundreds of ginseng seeds in the past several years, all carefully planted one by one using the “wild simulated” method of forest farming. Last year we planted more goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and ramps (Allium tricoccum). We do not intend to sell the plants but want to restore abundance and weave again a web of diversity and wholeness. The medicinal plants, goldenseal, black cohosh, blue cohosh, ginseng, ramps and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) that live here are allies and medicine for our family and friends and the land itself. They live in a protected and honored place as members of their own community of diverse species. I am looking forward to a time, several years in the future, when there are beautiful stands of ginseng, here again, growing among the black cohosh and other forest plants.

In this year of quarantine from travel and daily busyness, the slower rhythm of life has given me the gift of time to be more present. I am more aware of my deep connection to this mountain and its many layered and mysterious web of life. We have lived here for over 25 years, and this land has taught me so much, but I realize that, in some ways, I have been blind in making decisions about what is the right action for this place. I am more conscious now of paying attention to the slow accumulation of knowledge that comes from observing the rhythms of the land and the life that unfolds here. This coming year will be a time of practicing the humble art of listening with an open heart to the wisdom and voices of the land for guidance.


Shay and Boone

In gratitude to the Navajo Dine’ people for this closing prayer.

In Beauty I walk
With Beauty before me I walk
With Beauty behind me I walk
With Beauty around me I walk
It has become Beauty again.
May you walk in Beauty.

~Shay Herring Clanton
Walker Mountain Botanical