Golden Seal has been used by the Cherokee nation long before Europeans had heard of the plant. Traditionally used as a bitter herb to support digestive problems, it is now more widely known for its ability to break down catarrh and to overcome bacterial invasion thanks to its generous concentrations of berberine and hydrastine. Of course, for herbalists and lovers of plant medicine, golden seal is so much more than just these two uses. But there is a catch, golden seal is at risk. We need to protect her.
Why is she at risk?
Traditionally golden seal or Hydrastis canadensis, is wild crafted. This means people harvest the rhizome from where it is growing in the wild. I’m not dissing wild crafting. If done with intention and sustainability in mind, it is a good thing. There are rules that we abide by when wild crafting:
- Only take what you need. Make sure you are certain that you have correctly identified what you are about to harvest.
- The rule of 5 – pass the first 5 groups of the plant that you need. When you get to number 6, ask permission of the plant and take no more than half of what you see.
- Harvest gently. Don’t damage the surrounding area
Unfortunately, we have become a little over excited when harvesting golden seal. This is partly because we use the rhizome, partly because we haven’t harvested sustainably; and because she hangs out in habitats which are declining. As a result she is at risk. In 1997, the World Wildlife Fund named golden seal as one of the 10 plants most wanted plants. This means she is in the top 10 of at risk plants harvested for international trade.
What can you do to protect golden seal?
Grow her in your garden. She’s a fascinating plant and makes an attractive addition to your ornamental garden as well. Beautiful huh?
When using golden seal, ensure your supplier is using cultivated golden seal. Get them to provide you with their thin layer chromatography analysis. This shows it is golden seal and not a substitute such as Coptis chinensis, Berberis vulgaris (barberry), Berberis aristata (Indian barberry), Berberis aquifolium or Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape). The analysis will show the concentrations of the two key markers for golden seal – berberine and hydrastine.
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