At one time, the woods in my home state of Ohio were the most prolific growing grounds for goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). In 1905, the annual harvested supply was recorded at 200,000 to 300,000 pounds. Unfortunately, while goldenseal continues to be a popular herb, it’s now in danger of being harvested out of existence. This week, I visited the United Plant Savers Goldenseal Sanctuary in Rutland, Ohio, and sat in the midst of an amazing stand of wild goldenseal. What a treat!
Why We Love Goldenseal
Photo by Dawn Combs
Goldenseal has been an important herb in the Americas for as long as there have been people here. Its bright-yellow root was an important dye plant and medicine for the Native Americans. In our house, it’s our favorite infection fighter. It has a strong affinity for the mucus membranes, so we make sure to have a supply of tincture in stock during cold and flu season.
We grow a couple plants in the only spot of shade on our property. If it’s your goal like us to grow as much of your medicine as you can, you’ll know that a couple plants won’t do it. So how do you grow a shade loving, forest dweller on a property that is wide open to the sun?
Mimicking Forest Shade
Photo by Dawn Combs
Some folks are able to cultivate in existing woods—a great option if it’s available. Over time, large stands of forest-grown goldenseal needs to be thinned—just like your iris bed—or they eventually compete and choke themselves out. In this case, it can be helpful to partner with someone harvesting sustainably.
When these forested areas are not available to you, it is best to grow goldenseal beds under 47- to 63-percent shade. This year we’ll be putting in a goldenseal garden under shade cloth, like some of the big producers of goldenseal do. Shade cloth is readily available through any greenhouse or farming equipment supplier. We’ll be adding 6-foot posts to an existing area of our raised-bed garden. By keeping the shade cloth suspended just above head height, it will be easy to tend the ground.
Goldenseal needs to be kept weed-free as it does not compete well. Mulching is essential, though it should be done with bark mulch. Straw tends to trap too much moisture and inevitably the crowns of the plants rot or attract slugs.
In For the Long Haul
Planting goldenseal is a long-term proposition. The roots are the part you harvest, and they won’t be ready for four to six years. In the meantime, it’s possible to get some of the same benefits by using the leaves.
Take only one leaf from each plant so that it can still perform photosynthesis. When the plants are fully grown, think again about how you would maintain an iris bed. Select plants to harvest in a way that thins the bed and keeps it from becoming too congested. It’s important that we give sanctuary to these plants that are threatened, but it is equally important that we continue to partner with them to maintain our health. The extra work and commitment it takes to provide space for these threatened species and then harvest them sustainably is well worth it.
Our shade cloth beds will provide a home for a stand of goldenseal starting this year, but it will also be a place for many more of the woodland favorites that I would otherwise have to buy. As many of these plants are threatened, it is heartening to know that I can grow my own supply and not impact our wild populations as I draw on them to keep my family healthy.
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