American ginseng is expensive due to a number of factors including rarity, length of maturation and high demand in China, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Many Chinese believe wild ginseng has better therapeutic properties than domestically grown plants, which increases the price per pound.
As of 2012, wild American ginseng roots sold for as much as $500 to $600 per pound compared to just $50 for cultivated roots, notes Fox News. Due to the expensive prices and rarity of the plant, cases of trespassing and poaching in Wisconsin and Ohio rose between 2007 and 2012. A study completed by West Virginia University recognized just five of 368 plants found in the study were harvested legally among seven states from 1998 to 2009. Some states such as Wisconsin and West Virginia have laws regulating wild ginseng harvests.
Wild American ginseng needs to grow for six years until it can be used in pharmaceuticals. The wild plant is endangered, which is why several states regulate the harvesting of ginseng. Farms that grow the crop protect wild versions, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Studies show that American ginseng may boost the immune system, reduce cancer risks, help abate diabetes and improve mental performance. Native Americans used ginseng to treat headaches, indigestion and fever.