Getting down to the golden roots


HYDRASTIS CANADENSIS or the Goldenseal is part of the RANUNCULACEAE or Buttercup Family. Common names for this plant are: Orangeroo, yellow-puccoon, orange root, yellow root, fard inolien, hydrastis du Canada, racirie jaunisse, jaundice root, eye balm, eye root, Indian dye, ground raspberry, sceau d'or, kanadische Orangewurz, hidrastis, raiz de oro.

Goldenseal is a perennial herb that grows a new stem each year between 11 to 18 inches tall. The large serrate leaves grow in pairs up to 11 inches wide with five to seven lobes. A single white flower blooms from late April to May. The flower is a mass of stamens with no petals. A single bright red berry with 10 to 30 seeds comes in July. The most sought after part of the plant is the yellow rhizome. The bright yellow root is thick and knotted, and has long thin root hairs. The roots are gathered in mid summer and early fall.


North America is the Center of Diversity for the Goldenseal. It is a perennial herb that is native to the woodlands of northeastern United States and parts of southeastern Canada. It grows naturally from southern New England west through the extreme southwestern portion of southern Ontario, to southern Wisconsin, and south to Arkansas and northern Georgia. See the green colored portion of the map on the right

Goldenseal can be cultivated by using seeds or transplanting seedlings. It is found mostly in shady deep woods and damp meadows. It grows best in moist, well-drained soil, but can grow well in a variety of conditions including wet, sandy, or clay soils.


The woodland tribes that used Goldenseal as an important medicinal herb were: Cherokee, Catawba, Iroquois, and Kickapoo.

The Cherokee used the roots as a wash for local inflammations, a decoction for general aches, dyspepsia, and as an appetite stimulant. The Iroquois made a decoction from the root for whooping cough, diarrhea, liver disease, fever, sour stomach, flatulence, pneumonia, and for heart trouble. They would combine Goldenseal with other plant roots to make an earache remedy and an eye wash. Many of these same herbal remedies were adopted into the practice of eclectic medicine in the late 20th century. Not only was Goldenseal used medicinally by the tribes, but it was also used as a dye. The roots would be ground up to make a paint or bright yellow dye. This would be applied to their faces, horses, and weapons during ceremonial dances and before going to battle. It would also act as an insect repellent.


Goldenseal contains two main medicinal alkaloids in the rhizome and roots: hydrastine and berberine. Studies have shown that hydrastine can reduce blood pressure. Berberine has antibacterial properties. The roots have antibiotic properties, suppressing certain bacteria, protozoans, and fungi. It is used to treat AIDS and other severe chronic diseases, digestive disorders, and enhance the immune system. Originally, goldenseal rhizome and roots would be ground up and boiled for use. Currently, goldenseal can be purchased in the following forms: salve, tablet, tincture form, or as a bulk powder.

The yellow rhizome would be ground up and used as a dye, an insect repellant, an antiseptic or antibiotic wash for treating wounds, mouth sores, and eye inflammations. It would also boiling this bitter root to be drank and used internally for stomach and liver ailments.

Goldenseal is one of the top six best-selling medicinal herbs. Previously available only in specialty health and natural food stores, it and other medicinal herbs became part of the general market place during the 1990's. The demand increased significantly. Due to increased popularity, too many wild Goldenseal plants were harvested. It has been declared an endangered species in the United States.


Levetin, E. And McMahon, E. 2012. Plants and Society, 6th Ed. McGraw Hill Publ., pg 324

Sinclair, A. And Catling, P. M., USDA NRCS. Retrieved from

Goldenseal. Retrieved from

Photo credit references VloXVXo76rU (Photo #1)

Map picture. Retrieved from: (Photo #2)

Root picture. Retrieved from: (Photo #3)

Thomas G. Barnes, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Barnes, T.G., and S.W. Francis. 2004. Wildflowers and ferns of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky.(Photo #4)

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 85. (Photo #5) (Photo #6)

Poster by: Jen Cooper