Goldenseal – Hydrastis canadensis

Overall At-Risk Score: 50

Latin Name:

Hydrastis canadensis (L.)¹

Common Name:

Goldenseal; Yellow Root, Orangeroot¹


Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)¹

Geographic Region:

Found in most of the Easter Hardwood regions: AL, AR, CT, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OH, PA, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV¹


Mid- to Late-Successional hardwood forests; requires full-part shade in moist, well drained soil with deep leaf litter²


Perennial; long lived rootstock


Each individual produces a solitary flower in late spring-early summer, ripening into fleshy red fruit through the summer months². Each fruit contains anywhere from 10-30 viable seeds³. Seeds are often spread by means of birds.

Ability to withstand disturbance and over harvest:

This long lived, but slow growing native herb has had a steady decline in population size and numbers. This is due to historic and continued loss of quality habitat, and a recent boom in its market demand.

Status of Endangered/Threatened(by state):

Globally, the IUCN lists H. canadensis as “vulnerable” due to the unregulated wild harvest and poaching of this medicinal root⁴.
Endangered in CT, GA, MA, MN, NJ, NC,VT; Threatened or of Special Concern in MD, MI, NY, PA, TN¹.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

The alkaloid-rich rhizomes of H. canadensis are the most sought after and harvested part of the plant. Berberine is the most active and abundant alkaloid in the bright-yellow rootstock of this plant.

Vulnerability of habitat/changes of habitat quality and availability:

This plant is endemic to older stands of forest, relying on open understory and heavy leaf litter. This means the historic and continued loss of the Eastern Hardwood Forest is a leading cause of this species decline. Studies have shown increase in paths/trails have small impacts on the available growing space for populations, but increases in edge habitat has significant impact on H. canadensis populations.

Demand and Relative Acreage Needed to Meet Demand:

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

Excluding the damage caused by soil disturbance and foot traffic of the harvesters: Removing Goldenseal from the wilderness removes their fruits from the seasonal forage cycles for insects and birds.

Recommendations for industrial and home use:

Due to the sharp decline in Goldenseal populations after the herbal medicine boom of the late 1990’s, it’s incredibly important for commercial and private harvest be restricted to cultivated patches of Goldenseal. Another alternative is using Japanese Barberry(Berberis thunbergii), a non native invasive species in North America, which is also rich in the sought-after berberine alkaloid. Moving away from Goldenseal collection to harvesting B. thunbergii will bring about two very positive outcomes: 1) preventing further depletion of our at-risk native Goldenseal, and 2) removing the virulent invasive Japanese Barberry from our North American understory.

  1. USDA Profile
  2. Missouri Botanical Garden: Hydrastis canadensis
  3. Foster S. and Duke J. (2000):
    A Field guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. New York, Houghton Mifflin
  4. IUCN: Unregulated wild collection and habitat loss lead to Vulnerable status for medicinal Goldenseal
  5. A. Sinclair, P.M. Catling: Ontario Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, populations in relation to habitat size, paths, and woodland edges.
  6. IUCN Redlist: H. canadensis
  7. F.Scazzocchio, M.F.Cometa, L.Tomassini, M.Palmery: Antibacterial Activity of Hydrastis canadensis Extract and its Major Isolated Alkaloids
  8. M.A. Albretch, B.C. McCarthy: Comparative Analysis of Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) Population Re-growth Following Human Harvest: Implications for Conservation[229:CAOGHC]2.0.CO;2

This plant sponsored by Herb Pharm –

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