Illinois conservation police keeping an eye out for illegal harvest of wild ginseng

SAVANNA, Illinois - It's a small plant among thousands in the woods.

"This one's close to it, you got the tree on this side and then the two on the other," said Audrey Jones, Illinois Conservation Police Officer.

Wild ginseng may not be your first guess of a lucrative cash crop, but it is.

Wild ginseng roots are as valuable as medicine in Chinese culture, that poachers have turned it into something of an endangered species in America.

The plant can be sold for as much as $350 a pound.

Harvesting it from state lands is illegal, three people were caught in Central Iowa in September of 2016 and in 2015 two men in Illinois faced charges in a case at a Bureau County nature preserve.

"You`ll have people that will try to dig it before now, the season opens the first Saturday in September and then it goes to November 1st, that's your selling season," said Jones.

Jones says it can be hard to catch a digger in the act.

"They could be wearing camouflage, they can hide from you, some of them will have people drop them off and then pick them up later," said Jones.

Conservation officers want more people to be on the look-out for ginseng thieves and Jones says anyone trying to steal the plant will be prosecuted.

"That would be a $150 bond and you could be finger printed," said Jones.

So far this year, Jones hasn't caught a digger yet but will be keeping an eye out to protect this natural resource.