Plants & Farm StoriesFeb 2, 2022

Pharm Ethics: Goldenseal

A member of the Ranunculaceae (aka the Buttercup or Crowfoot family), Goldenseal is native to southeastern Canada and the eastern United States. Goldenseal is a mesic or woodland plant, suited to life under deciduous trees or in a hardwood forest. It prefers dappled sunlight in the spring, light to moderate shade in the summer and fertile soil with an abundance of decaying leaves.

On our Certified Organic farm in Josephine County, Oregon, we created just such an environment for this plant and other native Appalachian plants, in our United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary.

Protecting Goldenseal

Goldenseal has been popular since the 1800s, and wild populations of this plant have dwindled in the face of prolonged demand and ever-shrinking habitat. Our friends at United Plant Savers designated Goldenseal as an "At-Risk" plant, as they feel it is one of the wild plants that is most sensitive to the impact of human activities.

Herb Pharm and United Plant Savers have worked together for decades to support responsible conservation, cultivation, education and appreciation of this vulnerable species, and we are a member of their Botanical Sanctuary Network as well as their Partners in Education program.

Herb Pharm partners with Certified Organic farms who grow our Goldenseal. On our farm, we grow Goldenseal for educational purposes and to promote biodiversity in this field of forest allies.

Growing Goldenseal

Goldenseal can be propagated from seeds, but germination can be challenging. You may be competing for seeds with birds and animals, who find the berries highly desirable. Vegetative propagation of Goldenseal is more typical. This occurs from the rhizome, a horizontal underground stem that produces roots and stem shoots along its length from nodes. Under the proper conditions, each piece that contains a node can become a new Goldenseal plant.

Identifying Goldenseal

Goldenseal is a small perennial herb, with horizontal, knotted, bright yellow roots and rhizome. The plant has two wrinkled, palmately veined leaves, each with five to seven lobes with irregular, finely toothed margins. The solitary flowers appear in April and May, at the end of the stem.

The flowers are pollinated by a variety of bees and flies, and then the fruit becomes fleshy crimson berries. The fruit ripens in mid-summer and resembles a raspberry. The berries are not edible for humans and are most often eaten on our farm by animals like deer and wild turkeys, who help to distribute the seeds.

There are several things that you can do to help protect Goldenseal and other vulnerable species. The first and probably most important thing is to only purchase extracts that are made using Certified Organic cultivated plant material. If you're buying plant material, it should be cultivated organically as well. If you're a gardener and have suitable habitat, you may also choose to grow some Goldenseal plants to help preserve the species. And finally, you can consider supporting United Plant Savers and their mission with a donation.

Herb At A Glance

Botanical Name: Hydrastis canadensis

Native Habitat: Eastern US and southeastern Canada

Parts Used: Rhizome and rootlets

Botanical Description: Knotted bright yellow roots and rhizome

Use(s): Traditional support for the respiratory system*

Flavor Profile: Profoundly and quintessentially bitter taste