Eastern deciduous forests in the United States have supplied marketable non-timber forest products (NTFP) since the 18th century. However, trade is still largely informal, and the market scope and structure are not well understood. One exception is American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius
L.). Ginseng’s legal status as a threatened species requires that buyers apply for a license and keep sales records that are submitted to a state authority. Other marketable medicinal plants collected from the same forests, known colloquially as ‘off-roots’, are not similarly tracked. To study the characteristics of off-root trade in the eastern deciduous forests of the United States, registered ginseng buyers in 15 eastern states were surveyed in 2015 and 2016 about business attributes, purchase volume, and harvest distribution for 15 off-root species selected for their economic and conservation value. Buyers voluntarily reported harvesting 47 additional NTFP species. The most frequently purchased off-root species were the roots and rhizomes of two perennial understory plants: black cohosh (Actaea racemosa
L.) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis
Survey data were used to develop a buyer typology and describe the off-root market structure and material sourcing. The buyer typology included four distinct categories: side or specialty (small); seasonal venture (medium); large integrated or dedicated business (large); and dedicated bulk enterprise (regional aggregator). Market activity was mapped across the study area, demonstrating that most off-root trade is concentrated in central Appalachia, an area with extensive forests and a struggling economy. Study methods and data improve non-timber forest product market insights, are useful for forest management, and can support efforts to advance sustainable NTFP supply chains.
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