GINSENG SULLIVAN

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs
  • GINSENG SULLIVAN
    Norman Blake first made me aware of the ginseng root, via his masterful recording of the
    tune “Ginseng Sullivan”. He released the song in 1972 on the “Back Home in Sulphur
    Springs” album. Tony Rice also cut the tune on the “Manzanita” album that has come to
    be such a revered classic. “Manzanita” was released in 1990. Ginseng can be found
    everywhere these days it seems, from energy drinks to pills in the pharmacy. From what I
    understand wild ginseng is very much in demand as it is somehow superior to farmed
    ginseng. It takes a long time, many years, for a ginseng root to reach maturity.
    There is a story out of China that is noteworthy here. A person from Tonghua city, in the
    Jilin Province, discovered in the Changbaishang Mountains in 2003, what experts are
    saying is a 300 year old wild ginseng plant. The root weighed in at 366 grams and sold
    for the equivalent of $400,000. Now that would have been a find for old Ginseng
    Sullivan.
    About three miles from the back town yard
    The river curves on down
    Not far south of the town depot
    Sullivan’s shack was found
    Up on the higher ground.
    You could see him every day
    Just walking down the line
    With his old brown sack across his back
    Long hair down behind
    Speaking his worried mind.
    It’s a long way from the delta to the North Georgia hills
    A tote sack full of ginseng won’t pay my travelling bills
    I’m too old to ride the rails I’ll bum the road alone
    So I guess I’ll never make it back to home
    My muddy water Mississippi Delta home.
    The winters here they get too cold
    The damp it makes me ill
    Can’t dig no roots on the mountain side
    With the ground froze hard and still
    Gotta stay at the foot of the hill.
    But next summer
    things turn right
    The companies will pay high
    I’ll make enough money to pay my bills
    Bid these mountains goodbye
    Then he said with a sigh.