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GOLDENSEAL IN PROFILE

GOLDENSEAL

(Hydrastis canadensis)

Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis

Ranunculacae

Synonyms:

Yellow Root, Yellow Puccoon, Ground Raspberry, Indian Dye, Eye Root, Jaundice Root

Description:

A striking, perennial woodland herb. From an underground yellow rootstock rises a large (9" at flowering time), wrinkled basal leaf and a hairy flower stem. The rootstock consists of an irregularly knotted, thin (¼ - ¾ inch) horizontal root, marked with scars from previous year's flowerstalk. The rootstock also gives of numerous slender rootlets below. The flowerstalk emerges early in the spring, rising 6 to 12 inches above the ground. It is covered in downward pointing hairs and has small, brown scales at the base. The flowerstalk gives rise to two large wrinkled leaves, resembling the basal leaf. They are palmately cut into 5 to 7 lobes, with finely and irregularly serrated margins, prominently veined and also covered with hairs, especially on their upper side. The upper leaf is sessile, whilst the lower one is stalked. A single small flower, with three small, greenish-white sepals appears in April. The sepals fall away as soon as the flower expands, which has no petals, but numerous, prominent stamens. The fruit ripens in July and has the superficial appearance of a raspberry, with small, fleshy, red berries, tipped with the persistent styles and containing 1 or 2 black, shiny seeds. However, it is not edible.

Habitat:

Hydrastis canadensis is a woodland plant of the North Eastern region of the U.S. from Vermont to Georgia, west to Alabama, Nebraska, Minnesota and Arkansas. In Canada it occurs chiefly in Ontario. The main growing region used to be Ohio valley, before the area fell victim to deforestation and development. Stands in New York state have been depleted since early this century.

Status:

Goldenseal has been listed as an endangered species since 1991. On June 18, 1997 it has been proposed and accepted for listing on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at the organizations 10th Conference of parties meeting in Zimbabwe.

HISTORY

Goldenseal has a long established history for use as a medicinal plant among the native people of the northeastern United States. The Cherokee used it for treatment of cancer, "general debility," "dyspepsia", to improve appetite and as a tonic and wash for local inflammations. The Iroquois made a decoction of roots for treatment of whooping cough and diarrhea, liver trouble, fever, sour stomach and gas and as an emetic for biliousness. They also prepared a compound infusion with other roots for use as drops in the treatment of earache and as a wash for sore eyes. Mixed with bear's grease it was used as an insect repellent. Native people also valued the yellow roots as a stain and dye.

The first settlers learned about the benefits of this herb from the native people and soon Goldenseal gained widespread popularity. In 1760 Miller brought a sample back to the old world (then known as Warnera) and it was grown at Kew, Edinburgh and Dublin. However, since the herb did not appeal to gardeners it never became a popular plant for cultivation in England. In 1782 Hugh Martin mentioned the use of Goldenseal as a yellow dye to the Philosophical Society but it was not until 1798 that its medicinal virtues began to attract attention. From then on its reputation as a powerful healing herb spread, both in England and the United States, and by about 1850 it had became an important article of commerce. The demand for it increased rapidly and as early as 1905 the U.S. department of agriculture drew attention to the situation, which even then appeared to have been somewhat worrying. The annual supply in those days was estimated at between 200 000 - 300 000 pounds! A tenth of this staggering amount was designated for export to the old world. Needless to say, the supply began to diminish, both from over collection, but even more so due to deforestation of its natural habitat, since much of the eastern United States was stripped of its native woodlands. In 1991 it was officially recognized as an endangered species and by 1997 trade restrictions were being imposed in a belated attempt to save what was left of this once abundant species.

CULTIVATION:

Goldenseal can be grown both from seed and from the rhizome. It requires a partially shaded situation (60 - 70%), in a well draining, rich humus soil. Rootstocks can be divided into small pieces and set at least 8" apart. Planting should proceed in the autumn. The plants should be allowed to grow for 2 - 3 years before harvesting, though by the 4th year the roots become too fibrous for medicinal use. Transplanting may be undertaken at any time. According to an American grower it requires 32 healthy plants set per square yard to produce 2 lb of dry root after three years of growth.

CONSTITUENTS:

Goldenseal contains at least three active alkaloids, namely Hydrastine, Berberine and Canadine, as well as traces of essential oil, fatty oil and resin.

ACTIONS:

Tonic, alterative, astringent, haemostatic, anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal, mild laxative, muscular stimulant, oxytocic, bitter,

MEDICINAL USES:

Goldenseal has recently gained a reputation as a herbal antibiotic and immune system stimulant. Traditionally it was used for treatment of inflammatory conditions of the mucus membranes, especially those of the digestive system. Its' traditional uses include treatment of peptic ulcers, gastritis, dyspepsia and colitis. It has proven its value in cases of diarrhea, hemorrhoids and habitual constipation. As a bitter it stimulates the appetite, aids digestion and generally has a toning effect on the whole body. It is also effective for treatment of catarrhal conditions of the upper respiratory tract and inflammations of the urinary system. Its astringent properties have also been employed in cases of excessive menstruation and internal bleeding. It has a stimulating effect on the uterine muscles and thus is sometimes used as an aid in childbirth. However, since this effect can be very powerful and hence quite painful, it is not recommended to attempt such treatment without the supervision of a midwife skilled in the use of herbal remedies. Externally, a wash can be prepared to treat skin conditions such as eczema and ringworm, as well as wounds and badly healing sores, or used as drops in cases of earache and conjunctivitis. The decoction may also be effective as a douche to treat trichomonas and thrush. As a gargle it can be employed in cases of gum infections and sore throats.

CAUTIONS:

Large doses should be avoided. Goldenseal stimulates contraction of the uterus and thus should be avoided during pregnancy. It may also raise the blood pressure and should not be used by people who suffer any kind of cardiac problems.

For questions or comments email: kmorgenstern@sacredearth.com

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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.