← Back to Insights

Goldenseal: Sustainability status

Written by Susan Leopold

Golden Seal is one of herbal medicine’s most effective plants. As with many species that are effective but also slow-growing in niche habitats, uncontrolled harvesting has let to its decline in the wild. Here we share some insights on its status in North America and what can be done to ensure is sustainable supply into the future.

The trials and tribulations of Goldenseal

United Plant Savers logo is the iconic goldenseal, an American Heritage plant that is threatened due to habitat loss and harvesting pressures on wild populations. United Plant Savers has an At-Risk and a simple to use at-risk tool assessment. The roots can be easily propagated and thus embodies the wisdom of conservation through cultivation. United Plant Savers launched the Hope for Hydrastis project in 2019, a five-year program to cultivate goldenseal with the intention to provide forest farmers planting material to support a transition from wild harvest to cultivated. United Plant Savers also runs the Forest Grown Verified program that verifies farmers who are growing forest botanicals.

It can be practically impossible to know what is going on with wild populations as there are few resources for botanists to monitor populations and the herbal trade is not mandated to report raw materials in trade. What we do know is that the price of goldenseal has increased dramatically and demand far out weights supply. In recent years goldenseal prices for dried root have gone from $40 to over $80 dollars and to the end consumer as much as $100 dollars for just 4 oz, which is $400 a pound.

The conservation status of Goldenseal is complicated, it is CITES (Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species) listed on Appendix 2 and cannot be exported without a permit.  The IUCN reviewed and listed Goldenseal as Vulnerable species and Herbal gram featured a detailed article on the intricate process that resulted in this assessment.

Canada has its own listing as “Threatened” and in the United States each state has its own status of conservation listings as you can see in the image below. The United Plant Savers indicate that this species is under pressure in their native habitats either due to habitat loss by overharvesting for their medicinal and/or ornamental uses. These species face serious pressures for the survival of healthy populations, as a result careful and continual monitoring of these populations is essential with particular focus on trade and supply.

Figure 1: Conservation status of goldenseal across different regions of the USA (1)
Alex Jacobs

Alex Jacobs is a qualified Chinese Herbalist, Acupuncturist, Tui Na Massage Practitioner and Tai Chi & Qi Gong teacher. He is also the current president of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine. He was originally inspired to study Chinese medicine from experiences he had while studying Mandarin in Taiwan. He has studied with many masters and teachers in both the West and the East. Experiencing Chinese medicine as both patient and practitioner, he has a particular interest in 'Yang Sheng' or Chinese Medicine self-help. He believes that Chinese medicine can not only treat a wide range of illness, but it can also help us to take back control of our health and lead to greater empowerment in our lives. To help facilitate the learning of this knowledge, he founded the London Chinese Medicine Meetup group in 2012 and has runs monthly talks and events for the public. You can find out more at www.daomedicine.com.

Susan Leopold

Susan Leopold, PhD, is an ethnobotanist and passionate defender of biodiversity. Over the past 20 years, Susan has worked extensively with indigenous peoples in Peru and Costa Rica. She is the Executive Director of United Plant Savers and Director of the Sacred Seeds Project.

Prior to working at United Plant Savers, she worked as a librarian at the Oak Spring Garden Library, specializing in digitizing rare herbals and botanical travel manuscripts. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Botanical Dimensions and the Center for Sustainable Economy.

She is an advisory board member of American Botanical Council. She is a proud member of the Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia and the author of the children's book Isabella's Peppermint Flower, teaching about Virginia's botanical history.

She lives on and manages a productive farm, the Indian Pipe Botanical Sanctuary with her three children in Virginia, where she raises goats, peacocks, and herbs. She is an avid recreational tree climber, in love with the canopy just as much as the herbs of the forest floor.

Sign up to our Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the very latest in herbal insights.