For me, my earliest memories of Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, seem to be related to memories of my grandmother’s ways of natural healing.
My grandmother always seemed to have a myriad of remedies for illnesses and injuries. Sore throats were most often treated with a mixture of onion and sugar. For coughs and sore throats, she made an extract of fresh Red Clover flowers by suspending a strainer full of flowers in the steam of boiling water. Water condensed on the flowers and dripped back into the the pan along with the nectar and other chemistry from the flowers. After she boiled off half the water in the pan and cooled the clover water, it would be mixed with honey and administered in teaspoonful doses.
I also remember several times when I was given a small piece of wood to chew on. It had an unpleasant taste, but I never knew what it was.
As a young adult I began to study the identification of, well, just about everything in nature. Along with identification, I learned a great deal of the natural history of plants. The first time I tried a taste of what I knew to be Goldenseal, I immediately remembered the unpleasant taste from my childhood. To me, the tastes were the same.
I have a strong desire to be independent and self sufficient. Jan and I grow much of our own food and, on our property, I have planted a variety of wild edible and medicinal plants, including Goldenseal.
Most of the medicinal chemistry of Goldenseal is in the root. The root is a beautiful bright yellow, hence the other name, Yellowroot.
When my son Josh was a young boy there were times when he wanted to make some money. Growing up in a rural town, there were not many opportunities for making money, but I wasn’t the kind of parent to just dole out money any time my kids wanted some. My kids cut our grass, washed our dishes, weeded the garden, helped with canning and did other helpful chores for the family. In return, they received food, clothes, a home, a nice two-week vacation every year, and, eventually, college educations. For extra money, spending money, they had to work outside the home.
Josh picked black raspberries. He could sell all he could pick, but, of course, that was very seasonal.
He also collected aluminum cans at $.40 a pound, and some people around town even saved them for him.
And, with my supervision, he also dug roots of medicinal plants from the nearby woods and sold them.
Most I my adult life I worked as a freelance nature photographer. I was outside in wild areas all the time, usually at least 8-10 hours a day. I photographed medicinal plants and knew where to find them, so sometimes I took Josh with me. I would take him to areas loaded with Goldenseal and, while I roamed the woodlands taking photos, Josh collected Goldenseal.
In Brooke County, WV, Goldenseal first appears above the forest leaf litter in the early spring, around mid-April. Goldenseal grows wild throughout the eastern United States in shady, wooded areas with loose, rich, moist soil. Hillsides provide the drainage the plants prefer. At that time of year, the root is already large, but the tiny plants are far from their reproductive cycle and not ready to harvest responsibly.
A few weeks later the white and yellowish flowers appear.
Josh would usually dig Goldenseal in mid- to late-July when the fruits were present and had ripened.
The first thing Josh would do was to collect the ripe, red fruits. Then he would dig the rest of each plant. At that time, in the mid-1990s, he sold the roots for $32/lb. and the tops for $8/lb. of dried weight.
After he was finish digging the plants, he would separate the fruits into their individual seeds. Then he planted the seeds right back where he had dug the plants.
Today, the patches he dug and replanted are loaded with healthy Goldenseal plants. As a matter of fact, the Goldenseal we have on our property now were started from plants and seeds I collected from one of those patches Josh dug over 20 years ago.
Historically, Goldenseal has been used for a wide variety of ailments, including common colds, respiratory problems and many other physical problems. As always, before you consider using a wild plant as a remedy, make sure to do your research about the safety of using wild remedies, and be sure of your own ability to identify plants in the wild.