Goldenseal Herb Rare, But Can Be Cultivated for Profit and Health

The perennial Goldenseal is a beneficial plant to grow for multiple reasons.

| November/December 2009

As combines, pickers, diggers and crop-handling machinery of all descriptions sputter to life in the chill of a fall dawn, harvest season begins on farms across the United States’ Midwest. Farmers pray for dry weather and mild temperatures to collect the bounty of another growing season. None will draw an easy breath until the crops are safely dried, stored or sold.

On our farm, the approach to harvest season is different, but the anticipation is the same. The equipment we use is simple and low-tech, yet it helps yield a valuable crop. I’m not talking about corn, wheat or beans. I’m talking about goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), the native medicinal plant with roots of gold. 

What is goldenseal?

Goldenseal is a perennial plant native to most U.S. eastern states and southeastern provinces of Canada. It has been recognized as a valuable medicinal plant for centuries. There’s no hocus-pocus or superstition here because goldenseal derives its value from the medicinal alkaloids berberine, hydrastinine and canadine contained in its rootstock. These compounds have proven antibiotic properties and are extracted by pharmaceutical companies for a variety of uses.

Goldenseal derivatives are used extensively in eye wash products, malarial medicines and by the nutraceutical (beneficial foods or supplements) industry. The popularity of this herb has grown exponentially during the last 20 years, when it was rediscovered by health enthusiasts, herbalists and naturopathic healers.

Today, this plant is an endangered species, and it is illegal to pick or dig in the wild in many states. It may, however, be cultivated. In fact, many wild plant organizations like the National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs in Rutland, Ohio, encourage the cultivation of plants like goldenseal under natural conditions in their natural environment. The organizations even provide serious growers with technical assistance.

Harvested goldenseal products may be legally sold, providing the grower can prove the plants were cultivated in the United States. Retaining your receipts from planting stock purchases is usually all that is required. In some states, however, wild goldenseal may be dug and sold. Be sure to check with your state’s department of agriculture or department of natural resources before attempting to dig any wild plants. These agencies may also be helpful in establishing a cultivated venture or locating plant stock sources. 

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