Goldenseal – Hydrastis canadensis

Goldenseal – Hydrastis canadensis, photo by Steven Foster

Goldenseal – Hydrastis canadensis, photo by Steven Foster

Overall At-Risk Score: 50

Goldenseal – Hydrastis canadensis, photo by Steven Foster

Latin Name:

Hydrastis canadensis

Common Name:

Goldenseal, Yellow Root, Orangeroot


Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family)


Perennial; long-lived rootstock


Each individual produces a solitary flower in late spring-early summer, ripening into fleshy red fruit through the summer months. Each fruit contains anywhere from 10-30 viable seeds, which are eaten and spread around by birds.

Geographic Region:

Found in most of the Eastern Hardwood Forests, including Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

It is also found in the southern area of the province of Ontario.


Goldenseal lives in older stands of deciduous hardwood forests and requires an open understory and lots of leaf litter from trees overhead. It also requires part to full shade and well-drained soil.

Ability to Withstand Disturbance and Over Harvest:

Goldenseal’s slow growing time means that it is especially vulnerable to disturbance and overharvest, as it can take much longer to grow back to its previous condition than other plants.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

Goldenseal is listed as of “Special Concern” in Tennessee and is “Threatened” in Maryland, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Goldenseal is Endangered in Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Vermont.

H. canadensis is listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List.

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:

The historic and continued loss of Goldenseal’s habitat is one of the leading causes of this species’ decline.

Studies have shown that an increase in foot traffic on new trails in the area has a small impact on the available growing space for the population, but a much larger issue is an increasing amount of edge habitat. Goldenseal is endemic to older stands of forest and relies on an open understory and heavy leaf litter that can only be found deeper in the forests. The destruction of Eastern hardwood forests from logging and overdevelopment has led to much of Goldenseal’s previously arable land becoming inhabitable for the species.

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

Goldenseal is an important plant for the forage cycles of native insects and birds, and both foot traffic when foraging for the plant and the removal methods used to harvest Goldenseal cause soil disturbance that can be harmful to other nearby plants.

Recommendations for Industrial and Home Use:

Due to the sharp decline in Goldenseal populations after the herbal medicine boom of the late 1990s, it is incredibly important for commercial and private harvest to be restricted to cultivated patches of Goldenseal. Another alternative is using Japanese Barberry, a non-native invasive species in North America, which is also rich in the sought-after berberine alkaloid. Harvesting Japanese Barberry benefits the environment twofold, by both preventing further depletion of Goldenseal and removing the invasive species from forests’ understory.


  • Albrecht, Matthew & McCarthy, Brian. (2009). Comparative Analysis of Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) Population Re-growth Following Human Harvest: Implications for Conservation. The American Midland Naturalist. 229-236. 10.1674/0003-0031(2006)156[229:CAOGHC]2.0.CO;2.
  • Foster, Steven & A. Duke, James. (2014). Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Eastern and Central North America.
  • Missouri Botanical Garden. (n.d.). Hydrastis canadensis – Plant Finder. Retrieved July 17, 2019, from
  • Oliver, L. 2017. Hydrastis canadensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T44340011A44340071. Downloaded on 17 July 2019.
  • Scazzocchio, Francesca & Cometa, M.F. & Tomassini, Lamberto & Palmery, Maura. (2001). Antibacterial Activity of Hydrastis canadensis Extract and its Major Isolated Alkaloids. Planta Medica. 67. 561-4. 10.1055/s-2001-16493.
  • Sinclair, Adrianne & Catling, Paul. (2000). Ontario Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, populations in relation to habitat size, paths, and woodland edges. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 114. 652-655.
  • USDA NRCS. Plants Profile for Hydrastis Canadensis (Goldenseal). Retrieved from


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Goldenseal Cultivation & Growing Guide.

Originally published in The Forest Farmers Handbook: A Beginners Guide to Growing and Marketing At-Risk Forest Herbs by United Plant Savers & Rural Action (available here). Overview Hydrastis canadensis(Ranunculaceae) Goldenseal is considered to be one of the most at-risk medicinal plants in the United States and is estimated to be at a high risk of extinction throughout its native range (Oliver, 2017). Goldenseal is typically found growing in densely clustered patches (Burkhart and Jacobson, 2006) on ...
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