Chapter 20. Golden Seal—Government Description, Etc.

Botanical name: 

Fig. 59. Golden Seal (Hydrastis canadensis) The following is from a bulletin issued by the U. S. Department of Agriculture—Bureau of Plant Industry—and edited by Alice Henkel:

Hydrastis Canadensis L.


OTHER COMMON NAMES—Yellowroot, yellow puccoon, orange-root, yellow Indian-paint, turmeric-root, Indian turmeric, Ohio curcuma, ground raspberry, eye-root, eye-balm, yellow-eye, jaundice-root, Indian-dye.

HABITAT AND RANGE—This native forest plant occurs in patches in high, open woods, and usually on hill sides or bluffs affording natural drainage, from southern New York to Minnesota and western Ontario, south to Georgia and Missouri.

Golden Seal is now becoming scarce thruout its range. Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia have been the greatest Golden Seal producing states.

DESCRIPTION OF PLANT —Golden Seal is a perennial plant belonging to the same family as the buttercup, namely the crowfoot family (Ranunculaceae.) It has a thick yellow rootstock, which sends up an erect hairy stem about 1 foot in height, surrounded at the base by 2 or 3 yellowish scales. The yellow color of the roots and scales extends up the stem so far as it is covered by soil, while the portion of the stem above ground has a purplish color. The stem, which has only two leaves, seems to fork at the top, one branch bearing a large leaf and the other a smaller one and a flower.

A third leaf, which is much smaller than the other two and stemless, is occasionally produced. The leaves are palmately 5 to 9 lobed, the lobes broad, acute, sharply and unequally toothed; they are prominently veined on the lower surface and at flowering time, when they are very much wrinkled, they are only partially developed, but they continue to expand until they are from 6 to 8 inches in diameter becoming thinner in texture and smoother. The upper leaf subtends or encloses the flower bud. The greenish white flower appears about April or May, but it is of short duration, lasting only five or six days. It is less than half an inch in diameter, and, instead of petals, has three small petal-like sepals, which fall away as son as the flower expands, leaving only the numerous stamens (as many as 40 or 50), in the center of which are about a dozen pistils, which finally develop into a round fleshy, berrylike head which ripens in July or August. The fruit when ripe turns a bright red and resembles a large raspberry, whence the common name "ground-raspberry" is derived. It contains from 10 to 20 small black, shining, hard seeds.

Fig. 60. Golden Seal Rootstock. DESCRIPTION OF ROOTSTOCK—The fresh rootstock of Golden Seal, which has a rank, nauseating odor, is bright yellow, both internally and externally, with fibrous yellow rootlets produced from the sides. It is from 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches in length, from ¼ to ¾ of an inch in thickness, and contains a large amount of yellow juice.

In the dried state the rootstock is crooked, knotty and wrinkled, from 1. to 2 inches in length, and from one-eighth to one-third of an inch in diameter. It is a dull brown color on the outside and breaks with a clean, short, resinous fracture, showing a lemon-yellow color inside. After the rootstock has been kept for some time it will become greenish yellow or brown internally and its quality impaired. The cup-like depressions or stem scars on the upper surface of the rootstock resemble the imprint of a seal, whence the most popular name of the plant, golden seal, is derived. The rootstock as found in commerce is, almost bare, the fibrous rootlets, which in drying become very wiry and brittle, breaking off readily and leaving only small protuberances.

The odor of the dried rootstock, while not so pronounced as in the fresh material, is peculiar, narcotic and disagreeable. The taste is exceedingly bitter, and when the rootstock is chewed there is a persistent acridity, which causes an abundant flow of saliva.

COLLECTION, PRICES AND USES.—The root should be collected in autumn after the seeds have ripened, freed from soil, and carefully dried. After a dry season Golden Seal dies down soon after the fruit is mature, so that it often happens that by the end of September not a trace of the plant remains above ground; but if the season has been moist, the plant sometimes persists to the beginning of winter. The price of Golden Seal ranges from $1 to $1.50 a pound.

Golden Seal, which is official in the United States Pharmacopoeia, is a useful drug in digestive disorders and in certain catarrhal affections of the mucous membranes, in the latter instance being administered both internally and locally.

CULTIVATION.—Once so abundant in certain parts of the country, especially in the Ohio Valley, Golden Seal is now becoming scarce thruout its range, and in consequence of the increased demand for the root, both at home and abroad, its cultivation must sooner or later be more generally undertaken in order to satisfy the needs of medicine.

In some parts of the country the cultivation of Golden Seal is already under way.

The first thing to be considered in growing this plant is to furnish it, as nearly as possible, the conditions to which it has been accustomed in its native forest home. This calls for a well-drained soil, rich in humus, and partially shaded. Golden Seal stands transplanting well, and the easiest way to propagate it is to bring the plants in from the forest and transplant them to a properly prepared location, or to collect the rootstocks and to cut them into as many pieces as there are buds, planting these pieces in a deep, loose, well-prepared soil, and mulching, adding new mulch each year to renew the humus. With such a soil the cultivation of Golden Seal is simple and it will be necessary chiefly to keep down the weeds.

The plants may be grown in rows 1 foot apart and 6 inches apart in the row, or they may be grown in beds 4 to 8 feet wide, with walks between. Artificial shade will be necessary and this is supplied by the erection of lath sheds. The time required to obtain a marketable crop is from two to three years.

Ginseng and Other Medicinal Plants, 1936, was written by A. R. Harding.