In Memoriam: Robert “Bob” Beyfuss (March 15, 1950-January 12, 2023)

Influential American ginseng forest farming pioneer and educator

January 17, 2023
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has lost one of its greatest admirers and champions. Bob Beyfuss's ginseng journey began at Cornell University where he earned his master's degree studying ginseng. Although Bob never produced a single scientific paper, nor was ever lauded for a single scientific discovery, he was an immensely knowledgeable and thoughtful man and his contributions to ginseng stewardship and forest farming are legendary. Through writing, public speaking, YouTube videos, conferences, social media posts, and workshops, Bob's influence and impact on the ginseng industry are immeasurable and far reaching. Bob's own ginseng planting activities in his home state of New York, and his other cooperative extension activities outside the world of ginseng have been so extensive that he was declared a “State Treasure of New York” in 2021. A quick internet search of his name provides endless examples of his topical breadth and audience reach.
As an extension agent and ginseng specialist with Cornell University until his retirement in 2009, he was a tireless advocate for ginseng stewardship, and for forest farming as a conservation solution and economic opportunity. It is impossible to know how many people he influenced over his many decades of extension activities, but it was easily in the tens of thousands. With his trademark ginseng arm tattoo (an endless source of amusement for many), he was a quintessential New Yorker and a legendary character. Outspoken, outgoing, opiniated, thoughtful, inspirational, multifaceted, sage, party-animal, and listener; are but a few adjectives that describe Bob. He was also an avid outdoorsman and equally loved the time he spent Turkey hunting, fishing, foraging, and gardening in New York, as well as the time he spent fishing, playing softball and exploring Florida later in life where he spent his winters near his children and grandchildren.
I first met Bob in September 2000 when I was invited to attend a ginseng forest farming conference that he had organized in his beloved Greene County in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where he served as Cornell cooperative extension agent for 31 years. As I arrived exhausted at the end of a long day, and after six-hours of driving, I was directed to a cabin through the dark and told to “check in with Bob.” When I finally found the cabin, to my surprise, I found Bob actively hosting a “night before the conference” party in his cabin with Bob being the center of the party and the main source of both laughter and deep conversation. I had expected to find some half-asleep, anxiety-ridden extension agent but instead I found a vivacious and beloved white-haired man with a classic Burt Reynolds moustache, surrounded by his many friends and colleagues. And so began my two-decade long plus friendship with Bob.
I have since attended many ginseng-related events and conferences either organized by Bob, or where Bob was an invited speaker, far too many to count. We also went on many adventures together visiting ginseng growers, buyers, and contacts in Ontario, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Tennessee and just about everywhere in between. He loved a good road trip (he refused to fly anywhere) and even more so if a new ginseng experience lay at the end of the road. Our last trip was this past August, when we met in Ohio and traveled to Wisconsin to visit with ginseng industry insiders and growers. Along the way, he insisted we stop at “my friend Pete's who owns a bar” outside Chicago for the night. Not sure what I was getting into, and with some students in tow, I was a little apprehensive but as it always turned out with Bob we were welcomed like long-time friends and treated to deep dish pizza and whatever we wanted to drink from the bar. “How do you know this guy, Bob?” I asked. “He is an old friend from Florida” (where Bob had a timeshare) he replied. And so it went with Bob, he had many circles of friends, from all walks of life. A road trip with Bob Beyfuss, inevitably became a journey of discovery into all these people that came to exist in Bob's orbit. Bob loved meeting and working with people from all walks of life and he, in turn, was loved by many.
Bob was a valued mentor and friend to many both inside and outside of academia. When ginseng questions came up, it was almost default to hear: “have you asked Bob what he thinks?” or simply “Ask Bob.” His counsel was regarded as essential when it came to ginseng, and his “jabs” at government regulation, especially later in life, while not always welcome were always well-intentioned and meant to help both the plant and people.
Even after his retirement, Bob continued to be a fixture on the “ginseng scene” and just this past November was an invited speaker at an educational event hosted by Middle Tennessee State University ( It is hard to imagine Bob no longer being with us at ginseng events. His presence was always a given. When he was not speaking, he was to be found in the audience…listening and learning. He was a lifelong student. He once told me that as an extension agent he had to be. He clients were always asking him questions, and he needed to try to give them the best advice he could. And so, he studied, and observed, and learned and shared his knowledge with others. When I visited him in Florida during his annual winter migrations south, he would set aside time during my visits to work on “his newspaper column” or “record his Mountain Gardner radio piece” for his audience “back home” that faithfully tuned in each week to read/hear what Doctor Bob had to share.  
We say goodbye to an icon of the ginseng world knowing that his legacy will live on through his writings, the educational projects he was part of, and the memories we hold dear from time spent with a remarkable man. And if you find yourself in New York state, especially in the Catskills, there's a very good chance that any ginseng plant you encounter in the wild has something to do with Bob. His influence on ginseng will be felt both directly and indirectly for a long time to come. Good-bye, my friend.

Eric Burkhart, Associate Teaching Professor and Appalachian Botany and Ethnobotany Program Director, Penn State University

Included below are some statements provided by a few of Bob's many ginseng-related friends and colleagues upon learning of his passing: 

"My friend and colleague, Bob Beyfuss, was a tireless advocate for American ginseng, but even more so for those rural residents of Appalachia and New England who stood to benefit economically from positive interactions with this iconic American medicinal plant. His voice will be greatly missed from the larger ginseng community."

James McGraw, Eberly Professor of Biology at West Virginia University (retired)

"I got into the ‘world of ginseng' just ten years ago, but during my deep dive to learn as much as I could about it, I kept hearing Bob Beyfuss's name come up in articles and conversations with others in the ginseng community. I finally got to meet him in person and hear him present in Asheville in 2015 at the International American Ginseng Expo and then several times over the following years at other conferences and meetings. His slides on ‘chipmunk control methods' always elicited concurrent gasps and chuckles during his presentations, showing the diverse perspectives of his audiences from every facet of the forest farming community whose lives and careers he had an impact on. He and I had great conversations commiserating the love-hate relationship we had with our mother-ship universities as fellow Extension agents, and he always responded to my questions through calls and emails. I've used his YouTube videos as crutches at many workshops with others who were interested in learning about the industry and the plant that Bob so deeply cared about."

Jim Hamilton, County Extension Director, North Carolina State University, North Carolina

"Expert, educator, mentor, icon, friend, and simply unparalleled, Bob will be dearly missed by those who dedicate their lives to advancing the field of forest farming he so loved. I and all I know deeply relished the joy, wonder, and kindness he brought to people, plants, woodlands, and our community. Bob is in the pantheon and will be celebrated for years to come."

John Munsell, Professor of Forestry at Virginia Tech, Virginia


"I first met Bob in 2012 when studying ginseng as a grad student. He had recently retired from his post at Cornell but continued to be a huge presence in the ginseng community. He was a committed advocate for the plant, and the people and communities who depend on it. Whether in the conference room or on a pontoon boat with a fishing rod in hand, Bob was always willing to share his knowledge and insights. He was a mentor and a friend and will be missed greatly."

Holly Chittum, Project Scientist, American Herbal Products Association


"Bob was a mentor and inspiration to me to get involved in forest farming. He will start another patch in heaven for us to join him."

Ming Tao Jiang, Marathon Ginseng International Inc., Wisconsin


"Bob was one of my mentors when I started my ginseng extension program in North Carolina over 30 years ago. The most useful advice he gave me was that to earn the respect of Appalachian ginseng growers and harvesters you had to learn and appreciate the place ginseng held in the history and culture of the mountain people. That advice has served me well. Thank you, Bob. The many people you trained and educated are a big part of your legacy"

Jeanine Davis, NC Alternative Crops and Organics Program, Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, North Carolina

"As we sit here today after hearing of Bob's passing, we are reminiscing about the good times and stories we shared, the fellowship, advice, foresight, and the solutions, because we do believe he knew it all. Time spent with Bob is valued more than anything and we cherish those moments with him. He could teach and make you want to learn. We are honored to have known him. Thank you, Bob, for everything!"

Ed & Carole Daniels, Shady Grove Botanicals, West Virginia

"I had the good fortune to know Bob for more than 15 years, as a colleague, a friend, and always a mentor. I was always humbled by Bob's willingness take my questions, vet my theories or assumptions, and provide thoughtful and constructive feedback. Time spent with Bob was always a learning experience, and his wealth of knowledge was always freely shared. I owe him a debt of gratitude, and he will be sincerely missed."

Tanner Filyaw, United Plant Savers, Ohio

"I first met Bob in the Fruit and Spice Park in sunny Miami in Spring 2020. The sight of a vivid ginseng tattoo on his arm surprised me and made me giggled – a great ice breaker. I was eager to learn all things about American ginseng, from history, cultivation to trade and Bob had been incredibly generous to share what he knew. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit ginseng farms with him a few times, including one in summer 2020 to upstate New York where he miraculously arranged a camping site for us to stay when Floridians were not welcome by the state. He was a teacher and a friend and will be missed greatly."

Hong Liu, Professor of Plant Conservation at Florida International University, Florida

"I met Bob over 35 years ago at a ginseng conference, not long after he'd written his Master's Thesis on the plant. Bob and I became good friends and eventually fishing buddies. In time, I saw his interest in ginseng gradually become a fascination with its mystique and then the intellectual passion of his life. The plant's atypical botany, the difficulty of its woodland horticulture, and the culture surrounding its trade continually held his interest. He became a pervasive and effective advocate for the plant and especially for the individuals working to grow it in the woods. 35 years ago, ginseng had financial worth but had the general status of snake oil. Today, the plant's commercial worth is increasingly seen as legitimate, its long history and culture in America is being recognized, and it's appreciated simply for its inherent value. This change has come about in no small part through Bob's efforts and those of the multitude of folks he aided, enlightened, educated, and mentored. Bob made friends easily and kept many of them. His energetic, genuine friendship enriched many lives, certainly mine included."

W. Scott Persons, Tuckasegee Valley Ginseng, North Carolina

"Bob was mythical. I first learned about Bob through Andy Hankins; the Virginia extension agent that helped me start my ginseng farm in 1999. Bob became my friend when I took on the role as Director of United Plant Savers. Bob was a ladies' man, and he took me under his wing knowing ginseng is a very male dominated scene. I am so grateful for our heated discussions, his epic stories, friendly embrace, and inquisitive nature. Bob's heart was deeply rooted in the conservation of the forest, and his dedication to plant savers will be terribly missed but not forgotten."

Susan Leopold, Executive Director, United Plant Savers, Ohio 

"Bob was special. I have now lost two great friends from the ginseng/herb industry, Tony [Hayes] and now Bob. I will miss them both. They and their families taught Michele and I many things and showed us beautiful areas of your country. I'm not sure how to replace the sights we saw and characters we met."

John Kershaw, ginseng farmer, Ontario, Canada 

"So much can be said about Bob. Many know him as the ginseng expert. Undoubtedly, I learned an immense amount from Bob about ginseng and the woods for which I will always be grateful. He was also funny, kind, and a very generous sharer. An intellectual and curious academic, yes, but Bob believed in the mystical, in magic too. At one of our last dinners (he was a terrific cook!) I told him what a big influence he'd been on me and others that worked for the ginseng company. More than anything, it was Bob's belief in people that had moved me, stayed with me, and changed me. He didn't know what would happen to the company, whether we'd get the yields necessary to sustain investor interest. But Bob understood the consequences of the work. That, in fact, it was the workers and the people who were spending all that time in the woods, with ginseng, plants and mushrooms- trying things, that would without doubt live on to have an impact in this world. The forest would enchant us and eventually we would in turn be enchanters of the forest. At first perhaps I admired his perspective more than I believed it, but with time, I only increasingly appreciated how true it was. It was a wisdom. And a permission he afforded me and others to see ourselves, our work, business; differently… and with heart. I will miss my friend a lot for a long time. But I am heartened knowing that his work and spirit will live on in me and so many others whose lives he touched. Thank you, Bob."

Jamie Gillespie, ginseng forest farmer and former employee, New York

"I remember very well the first time I met Bob ‘ginseng' Beyfuss. It was at an Agroforestry Conference focusing on ‘farming the forest for specialty products' in the late 90's. I was there with Tony Hayes and focusing on wild ginseng, while Bob was already deep into farming ginseng in the wild. The afterhours get together's were what I remember most when Bob and Tony were the center of the conversation about American ginseng. Ever since that first meeting, I've enjoyed speaking, talking, sharing, and just spending time with Bob at many different events. Just last year we were at UPS where Bob was the Keynote speaker for the Forest Farming Conference. Sitting with him at lunch he hardly had time to eat with people asking him questions and his always insightful and complete responses including side stories and his chuckles. In October we meet again at the International Ginseng Institute at MTSU and shared the stage during the workshop. The night before we had dinner together and then just hung out in his motel room talking for hours about our past and future adventures, we both have planned. I cherish these times with Bob even more now that he is no longer with us. Bob was always willing to spend his time sharing his knowledge about ginseng and the stories that encompassed his life and those of us who were fortunate enough to be around him have been blessed in many ways. I am grateful and thankful that my life-path crossed with Bob many times and I am sure I will never utter the word ‘ginseng' or see a ginseng plant or root without pausing to think of Bob ‘ginseng' Beyfuss."

Edward Fletcher, Native Botanicals, Inc., North Carolina and AHPA Board of Trustees member

"I met Bob a few years ago at a ginseng meeting that he gave a presentation and spoke at. I approached him afterwards for some advice on a project that I was working on. We immediately "hit it off" and became friends then. I am sure that's how others became good friends and colleagues also. Not only is he a legend in the industry but he's a legend in life also!"

Michael Boring, Boring Ginseng, Roots and Herbs, Tennessee

"Bob's love for ginseng has been second nature since we first met over 40 years ago and dug into it in my ginseng garden in Wausau, Wisconsin. His tireless and countless contributions to the industry since then show us the path that we have trod and the conservation we must continue to do in his memory to preserve this wonderful plant for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. You have been truly a great friend. I miss you and will miss going fishing with you next week and every winter until we meet again on a path in the woods."

Paul C. Hsu, Hsu's Ginseng Enterprises, Inc., Wisconsin

"Bob Beyfuss has played so many roles in my life: teacher, boss, friend, mentor, wedding officiant, drinking buddy, confidante, and most recently, “GrandBob” to my new baby. We first met in the woods at Cornell University. Bob was checking on his ginseng plantings, and I happened to be nearby soaking mushroom bolts for a forest farming research project. When I told him that I wanted to learn more about growing ginseng, he invited me to come plant with him for his newest project -- a wild-simulated ginseng farm in and around my home county. Little did I know of the plans that he had in store! Over the next ten years, we would plant hundreds of acres of ginseng. Bob was the best mentor I could have ever asked for. Not only did he help me work through every single obstacle that I encountered while managing the farm, but he took me to countless conferences and introduced me to so many others passionate about this plant, encouraging me to learn, share, and to speak about all that we had learned together. Now, I am faced with the most challenging task he's ever given me: continuing on without him. Yet I know that he has prepared me to carry on his legacy as ginseng's advocate, just as he has for so many others throughout his long career. And every time we plant ginseng seeds, teach others to grow this magical plant, or carefully harvest a mature root, Bob will live on through us. Let's make him proud."

Anna Plattner, Ginseng Grower and Educator, Wild Hudson Valley, New York

A profile of Bob Beyfuss is currently being finalized and added to the American ginseng: Local Knowledge, Global Roots website produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage:
Here is a small sample of educational videos featuring Bob Beyfuss:


From all of us AHPA and on behalf of the herbal community:
Thank you, Bob.




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