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Historical Background

Goldenseal is the rhizome and rootlets of Hydrastis canadensis. In commerce the herb typically ranks as one of the most widely used herbs in the North American market and is second in only to wild American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) in commercial importance in the native North American medicinal plant trade. Its sales are typically highest in natural food store outlets, rather than in mass-market retail stores. Nevertheless, goldenseal products are found consistently ranked among the top dozen herbs sold in both classes of trade. In 1997 goldenseal sales ranked fourth in the natural food trade, at 6 percent of total herb sales; 1998 sales were ranked seventh at 4 percent of total sales, the drop being due in part to the rise of St-Johns-wort (Hypericum perforatum). In mainstream stores goldenseal sales in 1998 were bundled with echinacea (as both individual and combination products), ranking fifth at $69.7 million total, with the majority of this figure presumably being due to the heightened popularity of echinacea.

According to some accounts, demand for goldenseal has been increasing in recent years, with collections from the wild growing nearly 600 percent from 1989 to 1994. Efforts to preserve the root are increasing. Of the twenty-seven states in which goldenseal grows, seventeen have declared it imperiled or uncommon based on categories developed by The Nature Conservancy in 1995. The plant is considered threatened in Canada. In the United States the Monongahela National Forest in eastern West Virginia has not issued permits for collection in response to a survey by its own biologist, which found that goldenseal was rarer than American ginseng. Out of consideration for the dwindling supplies of wild goldenseal, some authors and herbal industry leaders have begun to recommend the substitution of other berberine-rich plants. These include barberry root (Berberis aquifolium), goldthread (Coptis spp.), Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), and yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica)Due to the rising cost of goldenseal over the past decade, it is possible that some of the commercial material sold as goldenseal may have been adulterated and/or substituted with goldthread root from either India of China. [ Editor’s note: Goldthread, Oregon grape, and yerba mansa are herbs currently on the UpS To-Watch List as potentially at risk.]

~ Mark Blumenthal, Planting the Future, pg. 111, 117-118

UpS Recommendations:

Possible alternatives include barberry, cultivated Oregon grape, cultivated yerba mansa, and other cultivated Berberis species.
Use only cultivated goldenseal if possible.

This plant sponsored by Herb Pharm –

Goldenseal Podcast 1- The Plant Detective by Flora Delaterre
Goldenseal Podcast 2 – The Plant Detective by Flora Delaterre