Friday, May 15, 2009

The Elusive Goldenseal

(c) 2006 Steven J. Baskauf , use allowed for personal and educational purposes. From

Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis)

Walk down the north side of a mountain, follow a small stream until you come to a place verdant with ferns, mayapple and wild ginger. That is where you might, if you are lucky, find one of the most revered plants of mountain folk medicine: Goldenseal.

It is not a flashy, standout plant. It grows low, like the mayapple. The two plants are somewhat similar in appearance but share no family relation. The Mayapple is in the Barberry family while Goldenseal is in the Buttercup family. Goldenseal only flowers briefly in Spring, one flower per plant. If you find it in bloom, you will probably admire its green and white flower—it stands erect above the plant, feathery and serene in the dark forest valleys where it makes its home.

Image from N.L. Britton and Addison Brown (1913). An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. Charles Scribner's Sons, Nwe York, NY. Obtained from

And yet this plant with its one large leaf and one small, a hairy stem and single blossom, is credited with a wide range of medicinal cures. In fact, it was so sought after in the early 20th century that the digging of it nearly caused its extinction. According to early botanists, Goldenseal was thought to be useful for everything from tonics to diseases of the eye and ear to yellow dye. Native Americans extracted its brilliant yellow dye and used it as paint. In 1918, the USDA reported that 200,000 to 300,000 pounds of a drug produced from the root was used . The plant was believed to contain an antibiotic that was effective against several bacterial strains. Goldenseal is still used today in some medical preparations, although the plants used for that purpose are usually commercially grown. Goldenseal can stil be found in the Appalachian mountains, although its range elsewhere still seems to be restricted.

In my husband’s family, Goldenseal tonic was kept as a staple in the refrigerator. His father gathered the roots, dried them and then mixed them with water to make a bitter drink that the family used for sore throats, colds and other ailments. Ever since we were married, Larry has talked about this plant whenever we had sore throats, upset stomachs or colds. Although he looked for Goldenseal every time he was in the woods, he never found it.

Determined and knowing it had to be here somewhere, Larry got online and found photos of the plant, which he printed out. When a day came that he could finally take the time, he hiked off into the woods. We’d talked about where the most likely place to find it would be. And we were right. In the place where the jack-in-the-pulpit grows thick and the mayapples and ferns compete for ground space, he found the plants he’d been seeking.

Larry's Goldenseal roots. Note the yellow color.

While Goldenseal can still be sold to herb dealers who buy ginseng and mayapple (mandrake) root, we’re not interested in selling it. It's enough just to know the plant is growing and thriving nearby.

And we'll keep a little in store, just in case.

Sources for more information:
Core, Earl. Goldenseal. Goldenseal magazine, Vol 6, number 1. January-March 1980.

Coffey, Timothy. The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers. Houghton Mifflin, NY: 1993. pp 18-19.

Martin, Laura C. Wildflower Folklore. Globe Pequot Press, Conn: 1984, 1993. pp 178-179.

Audubon Society Filed Guide to North American Wildflowers. Alfred A. Knopf, NY: 1979. pp 736-737.

More articles about Goldenseal from Goldenseal Magazine:
Goldenseal 10:1;p2

Goldenseal 15:1;p70

Goldenseal Fall;25:3;p22

Healing from the Hills: Folk Medicine of the Southern Mountains 16:4;p60

In Search of the Wild Goldenseal Fall;25:3;p24


Kansas State University Extension Services March 1999 --short article about uses of goldenseal, dosage and how to prepare.

National Institutes of Health --"fact sheet provides basic information about the herb.

US Forest Service article on need for "educating consumers about the appropriate uses of the herb in order to reduce overconsumption; working with growers to increase the profitability of cultivation and reduce pressures on wild plants; and identifying and tracking wild populations to determine the most effective management and conservation practices."

Popular Herb 'Goldenseal' Lowers Cholesterol in Lab Tests --wouldn't this be great if it is proved to be true?


Janet, said...

Hi Susanne, is that what they called yellow root? They said my grandpa used yellow root for stomach aches.

Laura said...

I bet it is the cure for "Swine Flu"!

Mary said...

I was surprised this spring to see many May apples around my tiny backyard. I guess the invasive fake honeysuckle couldn't crowd those out . .

Just this morning I saw a mama woodchuck and her baby -- too cute!
I was a red fox back when it was still cold -- came up on the deck, and left very quickly. I still haven't seen the neighborhood deer, though.

Char5 said...

WOW, what a wonderful article. I love to learn about herbal remedies. I am finally getting back to some blogging after a much-
too-long break. I have left a little something for you over at my blog, Stop by and see what it is. Hope you are having a wonderful week-end!


Granny Sue said...

Janet, you're right--this is also called yellow root--or "yaller root" as Larry calls it! It has many other common names too, a testimony to how many people have come to know the plant over the years. And you might be right, Laura--it just might work for swine flu!

I didn't realize your new home was so rural, Mary. It must be intriguing to see what wildlife stops by. The deer can't be far away.

I'll be by soon, Char. I'm catching up on reunion photo downloading and unpacking. What a weekend!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...