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Ginseng Energizes Grower; Makes The Gophers Happy

Thu., June 19, 1997, midnight

It’s a Green Bluff secret, known only by Joyce Hunt and the gophers in her garden: that ginseng stuff is great.

Hunt has more energy for the 12-hour days she spends weeding the Eleven Acre farm she owns with her husband, and caring for their 12-year-old son.

“It works,” she says.

And the gophers? They’ve discovered another ginseng quality. “We’ve got a lot of horny gophers up here,” said her husband, Francis Hunt, deadpan.

“Neighbors are a little upset.”

The Hunts are the only known ginseng growers in Eastern Washington. It’s been three years since they planted seed from a British Columbia grower, and it’ll be another year before they harvest.

The Hunts’ crop is Asian ginseng, a cream-colored root which grows beneath a leafy green plant.

Francis estimates they’ve spent about $10,000 on seed and shade cloth, which keeps the plants in the indirect sunlight they prefer. Raised beds keep heavy moisture at bay.

He estimates the type of root he and Joyce are growing will sell for about $30 a pound. The couple already has a list of 100 buyers, including local companies, eager to snatch up the popular medicinal herb.

No other grower on Green Bluff, the bucolic ripple of rich black soil north of Mead, has latched onto the idea. They are busy growing the apples that made the area famous. A few visitors picking raspberries have asked about it, Francis said.

The crop, planted between a thick raspberry patch and rhubarb, was Francis’ idea. A self-described experimenter, he’s also planted Asian pears that sell for $3 each.

But he doesn’t drink his wife’s ginseng tea, or, for that matter, take prescriptions from the doctor. “The only thing I take is aspirin,” he said.

The carrot-shaped roots are visible now, but the couple says they’ll wait a year for them to develop into the bulbous shape desired by consumers.

Once they do, the roots can be ground for tea or pills. According to the work of Dr. I.I. Brekhman, a professor at the Institute of Biologically Active Substances in Vladivostok on Russia’s southeastern tip, ginseng “possesses a pronounced general strengthening effect.”

One vitamin distributor located on the World Wide Web notes that ginseng is a potent aphrodisiac, particularly in women, that fueled the Mongolian crusades.

It’s also apparently fueled a gopher crusade. Fresh mounds dot the Hunt farm.

The rodents have been busy, turning up dirt in the rhubarb patch, the cucumber rows and among the tomatoes.

“Those fellas really got something, don’t they,” said Francis.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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