By MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press

NEW BETHLEHEM, PA (AP) - Backers of a new labeling program are encouraging forest landowners in the eastern United States to cultivate ginseng in hopes of helping conserve the medicinal plant.

Wild ginseng populations have been thinned out by poaching, habitat loss and deer. Experts say forest growers can help take some of the pressure off the plant, which is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The forest-grown verification program has enrolled about a dozen growers so far.

Penn State University ginseng expert Eric Burkhart, who's involved in the labeling program, says it could help expand domestic use of the plant and spur sales by giving U.S. consumers assurances that it has been grown sustainably.

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