Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hydrastis canadensis - Golden Seal

Hydrastis canadensis - Goldenseal  also know as Yellow Root, Orange Root,. Yellow Puccoon,. Ground Raspberry, Wild Curcuma, Turmeric Root, Indian Dye, Indian Paint, Eye Root, Eye Balm, Jaundice Root, and Warnera, is a perennial herb in the buttercup family, though its leaves and fruit resemble those of the Raspberry.  The generic name of the plant, Hydrastis, is a Greek word meaning "to accomplish with water," probably given it from its effect on the mucous membrane.

The plant is a native of Canada and the eastern United States, the chief States producing it being Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, New York and in Canada, Ontario.  Goldenseal produces a drug which is considered of great value in modern medicine.

It is a small perennial herb, with a horizontal, irregularly knotted, bright yellow root-stock, from 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch thick, giving off slender roots below and marked with scars of the flower-stems of previous years. The flowering stem, which is pushed up early in the spring, is from 6 to 12 inches high, erect, cylindrical, hairy, with downward-pointing hairs, surrounded at the base with a few short, brown scales.  It has two veined and wrinkled dark green, hairy leaves, placed high up, the lower one stalked, the upper stalkless, roundish in outline, but palmately cut into 5 to 7 lobes, the margins irregularly and finely toothed. 

The flower, which is produced in April, is solitary, terminal, erect and small, with three small greenish-white sepals, falling away immediately after expansion, no petals and numerous stamens. The fruit ripens in July and is a small, fleshy, oblong, crimson berry, much like a Raspberry in appearance, but is not edible.

Goldenseal's principal ingredients are the alkaloids hydrastine and berberine. Berberine is found in many Asian medicinal plants.  Ellingwood's American Materia Medica lists Goldenseal as being useful for disorders of the stomach, catarrhal gastritis, atonic dyspepsia, chronic constipation, hepatic congestion, cirrhosis, protracted fevers, cerebral engorgements of a chronic character, uterine subinvolution, in menorrhagia or metrorrhagia from the displaced uterus, post partum hemorrhage, catarrhal, ulcerating, aphthous, indolent and otherwise unhealthy conditions of mucous surfaces, leucorrhea, gallstones and breast swellings associated with the menses. 

Externally, it is used in the treatment of eczema, ringworm, pruritis, earache and conjunctivitis. It my be used as a mouthwash for gum disease and mouth ulcers, as a douche for vaginal problems, as eardrops for middle-ear inflammation and congestion, and as a snuff for nasal inflammation.

Goldenseal may be purchased in salve, tablet, tincture form, or as a bulk powder. It is often used to boost the medicinal effects of other herbs it is blended or formulated with.  It is very bitter, which stimulates the appetite and aids digestion, and often stimulates bile secretion.

CAUTIONS :  Adverse reactions are known in hypoglycemics and should not be used.  It should not be taken for an early stage Upper Respiratory Infection (URI), or if there are more chills than fever, and reserved for illnesses in which there is yellow or green phlegm. Generally a two week maximum dosage is suggested. Taking Goldenseal over a long period of time can cause imbalances of intestinal flora and contribute to yeast and mold infections, reduce absorption of B vitamins and immune system imblances.   Hydrastis stimulates the involuntary muscles of the uterus and should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation. It is not recommended for children.  It should also be avoided with gastrointestinal inflammation, and with proinflammatory disorders.

Early American settlers learned the virtues of Goldenseal from the Natives, who used the root as a medicine and its yellow juice as a stain for their faces and a dye for their clothing.  Some tribes considered goldenseal a sacred herb, and used it extensively as a paint applied to their faces, horses and weapons during ceremonial dances before going to war. It was believed by the early settlers that if they destroyed all the yellowroot the Indians would not attack because they could not paint themselves.  The Cherokee used it as a cure for  indigestion, local inflammations  to improve the appetite and to cure cancer; the Iroquois used it for whooping cough, liver disorders, fevers, sore throats, eye infections, ulcers, arrow wounds and heart problems.

Goldenseal has become a part of American folklore associated with chemical testing.   Two studies have demonstrated that goldenseal has no effect on urine drug tests over the use of water alone. Subjects who drank large amounts of water had the same urine drug levels as subjects who took goldenseal capsules along with the water.  Because of the popular perception that Goldenseal clears the system, drug tests take the presence of  hydrastine into consideration as an indicator that the person being tested is a drug user.  It has also been used on occasions in this century, without success, to attempt to mask the use of morphine in race horses.

Growing Goldenseal is not for the casual gardener, however, if you are the kind of person who likes a real challenge, read on.

It is illegal to harvest Goldenseal from the wild.  Goldenseal is an Endangered Species due to overharvesting and habitat destruction.  The only remaining stands of wild goldenseal are isolated in the northern and central Appalachians and the Ozark mountains.  Wild Goldenseal is so rare that the herb is listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  Many herbalists urge caution in choosing products containing goldenseal, as they may have been harvested in an unsustainable manner as opposed to having been organically cultivated.

Goldenseal is a woodland plant requiring roughly the same conditions as American Ginseng.  It requires shade and rich, well drained soil typical of deciduous forests. It will not grow under coniferous trees and does not like high humidity or high heat. It will not survive greenhouses during the summer. It will not grow in southern areas where humidity and heat are extreme.  Some organic American goldenseal is grown in approved propagation sites in North Carolina and Tennessee and there are various retailers online who can sell you plants, seeds and roots.  Check in your area about the legalities involved.

Some states require a permit  to cultivate or propagate goldenseal; roots, rhizomes, and seeds must be shown to have came from legally acquired parental stock and that the plants were cultivated for four years or more without augmentation from the wild.

Goldenseal is difficult to cultivate, the best conditions for its cultivation are well-drained soil, rich in humus, in a partially shaded situation.  Lath blinds (placed overhead on wires and light runners) are used by American cultivators.  Studies have shown that the best growth has occurred under 63% to 80% shade. The root-stocks are divided into small pieces and then planted about 8 inches apart in rows. Seeds are not considered reliable. The best success with goldenseal will probably be obtained in areas where goldenseal is native. Success in other areas will depend on how well those conditions can be duplicated.

Planting on a slight slope will improve drainage. Do not plant in a bottom or in a heavy, poorly drained soil. If growing in the forest, look for a site where there are other woodland plants growing such as mayapple, trillium, bloodroot, and black cohosh. Do not select a site where there is no undergrowth because it is probably too dark for goldenseal.  Conversely, try to avoid sites where the undergrowth is particularly thick, such as in a rhododendron thicket, for the effort required to remove the plants and their roots would be too costly.  A site with mixed, deeply rooted hardwoods is preferred to a solid stand of conifers or other shallow rooted trees which can compete with the goldenseal for moisture and nutrients.  Plantings established under oak, poplar, walnut, and basswood have been successful.

Resources include:

College of Agriculture & Life Sciences NCSU:
Alternative Nature Online Herbal:

1 comment:

kristen waurio said...

Thank you for this post! Goldenseal is my "litte magic herb" because it works so well on skin infections and canker sores. I had heard that it was endangered and yours was the first site that told me how it should be propagated. Thankyou!