Goldthread. Coptis trifolia (L.) Salisb.
OTHER COMMON NAMES—Coptis, cankerroot, mouth root, yellowroot.
HABITAT AND RANGE—This pretty little perennial is native in damp, mossy woods and bogs from Canada and Alaska south of Maryland and Minnesota. It is most common in the New England States, northern New York and Michigan, and in Canada, where it frequents the dark sphagnum swamps, cold bogs and in the shade of dense forests of cedars, pines and other evergreens.
DESCRIPTION OF PLANT—Any one familiar with this attractive little plant will agree that it is well named. The roots of Goldthread, running not far beneath the surface of the ground, are indeed like so many tangled threads of gold. The plant in the general appearance of its leaves and flowers very closely resembles the strawberry plant. It is of low growth, only 3 to 6 inches in height, and belongs to the crowfoot family (Ranunculaceae). The leaves are all basal, and are borne on long, slender stems; they are evergreen, dark green and shining on the upper surface and lighter green beneath, divided into three parts, which are prominently veined and toothed. A single small, white, starshaped flower is borne at the ends of the flowering stalks, appearing from May to August. The 5 to 7 sepals or lobes of the calyx are white and like petals, and the petals of the corolla, 5 to 7 in number, are smaller, club shaped, and yellow at the base. The seed pods are stalked, oblong, compressed, spreading, tipped with persistent style and containing small black seeds.
DESCRIPTION OF ROOT—Goldthread has a long, slender, creeping root, which is much branched and frequently matted. The color of these roots is a bright golden yellow. As found in the stores, Goldenthread consists usually of tangled masses of these golden-yellow roots, mixed with the leaves and stems of the plant, but the root is the part prescribed for use. The root is bitter and has no odor.
COLLECTION, PRICES AND USES—The time for collecting Goldthread is in autumn. After removing the covering of dead leaves and moss, the creeping yellow roots of Goldthread will be seen very close to the surface of the ground, from which they can be easily pulled. They should, of course, be carefully dried. As already stated, altho the roots and rootlets are the parts to be used, the commercial article is freely mixed with the leaves and stems of the plant. Evidences of the pine-woods home of this plant, in the form of pine needles and bits of moss, are often seen in the Goldthread received for market. Goldthread brings from 60 to 70 cents a pound.
The Indians and early white settlers used this little root as a remedy for various forms of ulcerated and sore mouth and it is still used as a wash or gargle for affections of this sort. It is also employed as a bitter tonic.
Goldthread was official in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1880.
Ginseng and Other Medicinal Plants, 1936, was written by A. R. Harding.