Goldenseal is a herbaceous perennial which emerges in early spring (mid-March to early May) from buds that overwinter on the perennial rootstock. The root system is composed of a bright yellow, horizontal rhizome, Goldenseal Flower
1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick, marked by cup-like depressions where the annual stem falls away. The rhizome is covered with a mass of bright yellow fibrous roots and rootlets. Mature plants (at least 3 years old) are 6 to 14 inches tall and have two or more erect hairy stems usually ending in a fork with two leaves. The 5 to 7 lobed, palmate, double-toothed leaves are 3 to 12 inches wide and 3 to 8 inches long. After emergence in spring, flower buds quickly develop and small, inconspicuous, white flowers open as the leaves unfold. Plants started from seed usually flower when 3 to 4 years old whereas propagated rootstock may flower the first year. Each plant can produce a single, green raspberry-like fruit which turns red and ripens in July. Goldenseal spreads into the surrounding area through growth of the rhizomes and fibrous roots. Usually two buds form near the base of the stem on the rhizome for the next season’s growth. The plant dies slowly after the fruit matures, and it re-emerges the following spring.
Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family)
Other Names: Yellow root, Orange root, Indian turmeric, Eye root, Eye balm, Yellow puccoon
Flowers: April – May
Parts Used: Root and rhizome
Habitat: Shady woods, in rich soils and damp meadows from southern New York to Minnesota, south to Georgia and Missouri, but principally in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina.
History: Goldenseal is one of America’s justly famous wild medicinal herbs. The herb was first discovered and used by the Indians, principally the Cherokees, who used the bitter tasting root for many purposes, such as an antiseptic, a general health tonic, and to treat snakebite. The Iroquois Indians used it to treat whooping cough, pneumonia, and digestive disorders. The early settlers used it primarily as an eyewash and to treat sore throats, mouth sores, and digestive disorders. Commercial demand for the root began in about 1860. In the early 19th century, Samuel Thompson, founder of Thompsonian herbal medicine, popularized it as an antiseptic. Thompson disliked the herb’s Indian name, yellow root and changed it to Goldenseal, from the golden-yellow scars shaped like old-fashioned wax letter seals, that develop when a stem breaks off.
High demand for goldenseal has caused a serious reduction in native populations. As early as 1884, dramatic declines in wild populations due to overharvesting and deforestation were documented. In North Carolina, goldenseal is an endangered species, making harvest from public lands illegal.
Like Ginseng, Goldenseal was collected to the point of near extinction. And as it became scarce, it was frequently adulterated. To save it, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published flyers promoting its cultivation. However, Goldenseal is still scarce enough to bring farmers a high price for their crop and adulteration continues to be a problem.
It is now a top selling herb in North America and can be found in many formulations in stores across the country.
Constituents: Hysrastine, Berberine
Properties: Antiperiodic, Antiseptic, Astringent, Alterative, Antipyretic, Aperient, Antibacterial, Deobstruent, Demulcent, Diuretic, Laxative, Tonic.
Main Uses: Antibiotic: Goldenseal may aid in the treatment of bacterial, fungal, and protozoan infections. Berberine, which is found in Goldenseal, kills many bacteria that cause diarrhea. Several reports show Berberine to be effective against the cholera bacteria. In fact, in one study, Indian researchers found Berberine to be more effective against cholera than the powerful antibiotic Chloromycetin. This supports Goldenseal’s long history as a gastrointestinal remedy, particularly for infectious diarrhea.
Immune Stimulant: In addition to killing germs, Berberine may boost the immune system by revving up the white blood cells that devour disease-causing microorganisms.
Other uses: Appetite loss, as an eye wash, cancer, conjunctivitis (eye inflammation), constipation, digestive disorders, ear infection, fluid retention, gastritis, inflammation, iItching, menstrual pain, mouth sores,
peptic ulcer, ringing, buzzing, or clicking in the ear (tinnitis), to clean wounds,
to control bleeding after childbirth, tuberculosis, and yeast infection.
Preparation And Dosages:
To use Goldenseal as a possible antibiotic or immune system stimulant, or to help ease menstrual flow, take it as an infusion.
For an infusion, use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of powdered root per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes. Drink up to 2 teaspoons a day. Goldenseal tastes bitter so you might want to add honey, sugar, or lemon, or mix with a beverage tea to improve flavor. An infusion can also be used as an eyewash for tired, scratchy, itching eyes, and pinkeye. It can be used to treat skin irritations, sores, and ear infections.
Tincture: Fresh root – (1:2), 70% alcohol, 15 to 30 drops. Dried root – (1:5), 70% alcohol, 20 to 50 drops.
Goldenseal may be used in a number of different ways. A teaspoonful placed in a pint of boiling water makes a most efficient vaginal douche and soothing lotion.
How To Grow:
Goldenseal grows best in a rich, moist, loamy soil with good air and water drainage. Planting on a slight slope will improve drainage. Do not plant 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 there is probably not enough light to grow goldenseal. Try to avoid sites where the undergrowth is particularly thick because the roots will be difficult to remove. A site with deeply rooted hardwoods is preferred over a solid stand of conifers or other shallow rooted trees because these roots will compete with goldenseal for moisture and nutrients. The best plant growth will occur under 63% to 80% shade.
Goldenseal can be propagated from rhizome pieces, root cuttings, one year old seedlings, or seed. It takes 5 to 7 years to grow harvestable roots from seed and 3 to 5 years to grow harvestable roots from rhizome pieces. Root cuttings or seedlings usually take 4 to 6 years. Fall planting has been successful in all growing areas. Spring planting has also been very successful in the Southeast.
Seed Harvest And Stratification:
Harvest fruit when fully ripe (red). Mash the fruit by kneading, being careful not to damage the seed, and ferment in water until the flesh can be easily removed from the seed. This usually takes several days. Add water and rinse until the water and seed are clean. Spread the seeds out on a fine-mesh screen and spray with a high pressure stream of water. Goldenseal seed are small, round, black, and hard. Like ginseng seed, they should never be allowed to dry out. If the seed will not be sown immediately, mix it with fine, clean, damp sand and place it in a screen pouch or a wooden box with a fine-mesh screen on top and bottom. Bury in a shaded, well-drained area exposed to natural rain. If the weather has been very wet or dry, after two weeks, uncover the box and ensure that the sand is damp and not waterlogged. The seed can be planted in late fall or early spring.
Harvesting, Washing And Drying Roots:
Dig the roots in the fall after the tops have died down. Dig roots carefully, keeping the many fibrous roots intact. Small plots can be dug with a fork. Large fields will require some kind of mechanical digger.
Carefully wash the roots by spraying with a hose over a large-mesh screen. Remove all dirt, breaking larger roots if necessary, but do not use a brush.
Spread the clean roots on screens and dry in a well-ventilated area in the shade such as a small shed or a room in a barn. Keep temperatures low, around 95 to 100 degrees F., and provide good air flow around the roots. Test for dryness by breaking a large root; it should snap cleanly but not be brittle.