“Golden” will be the first word to enter your mind when you see the roots, rhizomes and dormant buds of Hydrastis canadensis. You’ll understand immediately why the common name is 'Goldenseal.' This very useful native woodland plant will not only charm and entertain you spring, summer, and autumn — it can even heal you.
Well, I’d better be careful not to play doctor here, though many Native American tribes were aware of the powerful medicinal benefits of Goldenseal quite a long time ago. The Cherokee used it as a cancer remedy, which is one of the earliest observations of the occurrence and treatment of cancer among American Indian groups.
Another important historical use of Goldenseal root was as an eye wash for various eye problems, such as conjunctivitis. The Iroquois found it beneficial as a bitter stomach digestive to help stimulate digestion and improve appetite, and to treat skin inflammations. Other uses include relief for inflammation of the mucous membranes of the throat.
I will say that I’ve used it successfully to ease the pain and hasten the healing of sore throats and to treat cold and influenza symptoms. I made a tea from dried roots and have to admit that it was one of the most bitter tastes I’ve ever experienced. However, the results were well worth it and it was more palatable than taking overprescribed, and most likely ineffective, antibiotics.
Hydrastis canadensis is native to almost every state east of the Mississippi and will grow happily in just about any soil conditions. I would guess that hardiness and heat tolerance are USDA Zones 4 to10. I grow Hydrastis canadensis in several places in my gardens, from full shade to dappled sunlight. It makes a wonderful groundcover as the 6- to 12-inch leaves on 6- to 12-inch plants overlap and shade out weeds.
You can go to Sunshine Farm and Gardens’ page for some evolutionary, seasonal images of Hydrastis canadensis from early spring to late autumn, emergence, and flower to fruit. The large, medium-green, deeply textured oak/maple-shaped leaves stay rich and supple all the growing season long and make a perfect foil for their frilly white, ephemeral flowers in early spring and their bright-red, raspberry-like fruit in autumn.
This long-lived native perennial is very easy to grow from seed and, left to its own devices, will make a lovely colony in just a few years. Once established, it requires no maintenance other than normal weeding and a good mulch. Plants never “need” to be divided, but if you desire to make new divisions, you can dig them up every four or five years and make your divisions in early spring. This will give them ample time to re-establish themselves before winter.
As with all of the other members of the Ranunculaceae family, the voluminous herds of deer that traverse my farm daily have never touched this graceful plant.
All in all, Hydrastis canadensis is a welcome addition in any garden.
Barry Glick founded Sunshine Farm and Gardens in 1972 on 60 acres in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. His plant collection now numbers more than 10,000 taxa, many unknown to cultivation. Several of these plants have been introduced to gardening in recent years. Barry exchanges seeds and plants with people at arboretums, botanic gardens, nurseries and private gardens in virtually every country in the world. Peruse Barry’s speakers series here and read the rave reviews here. If you have any questions, would like to chat about any plants that Barry offers, send an email to his personal email address. Read all of Barry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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