Goldthread – Coptis spp.

Goldthread - Coptis spp., photos by Steven Foster

Latin name:

Coptis spp.

The four species of Goldthread that live in the U.S. are C. aspleniifolia, C. laciniata, C. occidentalis, and C. trifolia.

Common Name:

Goldenthread, canker root

  • fernleaf goldthread (C. aspleniifolia)
  • Oregon goldthread (C. laciniata)
  • Idaho goldthread (C. occidentalis)
  • three-leaf goldthread (C. trifolia)

Family:

Ranunculaceae (Buttercup family)

Lifespan:

Perennial

Reproduction:

Goldthread plants flower in early summer and afterward produce several seeds in capsules. Little published information actually exists on the seed dispersal of Goldthread plants, though it has been documented that new plants are almost always found within 60 meters (195 feet) of a mature plant. They also produce long, gold-yellow rhizomes that are easily used as a method of propagation.

Geographic Region:

Coptis species are found primarily in Canada and the northern portions of the U.S. Plants in the genus can be found in California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mayland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. They can also be found in Greenland, every Canadian province, and the Canadian territory of Nunavut.

Habitat:

Goldthreads prefer moist, acidic soil and full shade. They grow primarily in mossy coniferous and mixed forests, but they can also be found in swamps and tundras.

Status of Endangered/Threatened (by state):

C. aspleniifolia is listed as “Sensitive” in Washington, one of only two states this species grows in.

C. trifolia is listed as “Sensitive” in Washington and is “Endangered” in Maryland.

No species of Coptis native to the U.S. have been evaluated by the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

Goldthread rhizomes were used historically primarily as an oral remedy for sore mouths, especially for teething babies. It was also used as a general cold medicine, for coughs and sore throats. It is used by modern herbalists to settle the stomach.

Recommendations For Industrial and Home Use:

Please use Coptis responsibly, and talk to your doctor before using goldthread or any other medicinal plant. If you can, purchase either cultivated goldthread or wild-harvested species that haven’t been listed as being at-risk.

Citations:

  • Black, Meredith Jean, 1980, Algonquin Ethnobotany: An Interpretation of Aboriginal Adaptation in South Western Quebec, Ottawa. National Museums of Canada. Mercury Series Number 65, page 167.
  • Chandler, R. Frank, Lois Freeman and Shirley N. Hooper, 1979, Herbal Remedies of the Maritime Indians, Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1:49-68, page 56.
    EFloras. (n.d.). Coptis. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA. Retrieved September 12, 2019, from http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=107946
  • Herrick, James William, 1977, Iroquois Medical Botany, State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis, page 322.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. (2012). Plant Database: Coptis trifolia. Results compiled from multiple publications. Retrieved September 9, 2019, from https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=cotr2
  • Mechling, W.H., 1959, The Malecite Indians With Notes on the Micmacs, Anthropologica 8:239-263, page 245.
  • Rousseau, Jacques, 1947, Ethnobotanique Abenakise, Archives de Folklore 11:145-182, page 167.
  • Smith, Huron H., 1933, Ethnobotany of the Forest Potawatomi Indians, Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee 7:1-230, page 74.
  • Speck, Frank G., 1917, Medicine Practices of the Northeastern Algonquians, Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Americanists Pp. 303-321, page 309.
  • Sullivan, Janet. 1992. Coptis trifolia. In: Fire Effects Information System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/coptri/all.html
  • Tantaquidgeon, Gladys, 1928, Mohegan Medicinal Practices, Weather-Lore and Superstitions, SI-BAE Annual Report #43: 264-270, page 265.
    Tappeiner II, J. C., & Alaback, P. B., 1989, Early establishment and vegetative growth of understory species in the western hemlock – Sitka spruce forests of southeast Alaska. Canadian Journal of Botany, 67(2), 318–326. doi:10.1139/b89-046
    USDA. (n.d.). Plants Profile for Coptis (Goldthread). Results compiled from multiple publications. Retrieved September 11, 2019, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=DROSE

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