Wisconsin-grown ginseng - an exotic root prized by some for its medicinal value - may not be as pure as health food store customers expect.
State agriculture officials have recently uncovered widespread use of illegal pesticides on ginseng in Wisconsin, where about 90 percent of the U.S. ginseng crop is grown. There are 1,500 ginseng growers in the state.
Last month, one grower in Wausau paid $35,000 in fines. Six other misdemeanor cases of illegal pesticide use are pending in Wisconsin, said Dave Fredrickson, director of investigations and compliance for the state agriculture department.
While agriculture officials slammed the ginseng growers for using the chemicals - the pesticide lindane and the fungicide PCNB, or pentachloronitrobenzene - they acknowledged that they have no data about the risk to consumers who use ginseng grown with the illegal chemicals.
“What they were doing rips at the very fabric of pesticide use in this country - ignore the label. It becomes a game of catch me if you can,” Fredrickson said.
One grower, Paul Hsu of Hsu Ginseng Farms, described the entire investigation as a farce.
“Ginseng is (a) small crop and (the) small crop is being picked on because small crop doesn’t have the money to make the chemical company put them on the label,” he said.
Ginseng is sold at health food stories and by catalog in teas, tonics, extracts, capsules and root shavings. It is also used by some as an aphrodisiac.