Plant of the Week
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.)
By Gary Kauffman
Goldenseal is a perennial, woodland forb in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). The name is derived from the underground rhizome, which is yellow with a golden sap. In the spring, the plant produces a flowering stem with two, large hairy leaves, palmately cut into 5 to 7 lobes, and with prominent veins. The flower rises from the base of the sessile upper leaf. Like many species in the buttercup family, the flower has no petals. Instead, the many stamens surrounding the pistil produce the white color characteristic of the flower. The fruit ripens in mid- to late-summer, and resembles a small raspberry, with fleshy red berries, each topped with persistent styles and containing one or two black, shiny seeds. The fruits are considered inedible, although they may be an important wildlife food.
Goldenseal is widespread through eastern North America, ranging from Vermont south to Georgia, and west to Alabama, Arkansas, and Minnesota. The plant was very common in the Ohio River valley; however, over-collection for the herbal industry has reduced many native populations. The plant grows in rich, moist forests throughout its range.
Goldenseal has a long history as a medical herb, and remains a popular herb today. The herbal properties derive from several alkaloids extracted from the rhizome. As an herbal medicine, the extract has been used as a general tonic, especially for treating inflammations of the digestive system, but also as a topical treatment for skin and ear infections. In addition, the extract has been used, erroneously, to mask illegal drugs during urine tests. The rhizome also produces a natural, yellow dye.