Capsules: Hydrastis canadensis

Newsbreaks in herb research: Trade controls on goldenseal.

| November/December 1997

  • Goldenseal is being monitored to protect the plant.
    Photography by Steven Foster
  • Goldenseal root

Trade controls imposed for goldenseal 

U.S. government officials are monitoring goldenseal, one of this country’s top-selling herbal remedies, to help protect the plant. The trade controls are the result of goldenseal’s recent listing on an international treaty known as CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The treaty requires that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitor and limit goldenseal trade, and the effort began in September.

While some welcomed the news, ­others wondered whether the listing could effectively protect goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), whose roots have been used for centuries to treat mucous membrane infections.

Steven Foster, an Herbs for Health ­Editorial Advisory Board member and a reviewer of the CITES treaty, said he was skeptical about whether the listing would be effective except to raise ­awareness about the pressure that consumption puts on wild plants. The CITES listing means that only unprocessed goldenseal, including roots, rhizomes, rootstocks, and bulk powder, will be monitored, but finished or processed forms of it won’t be. Moreover, Foster said, the treaty is international in scope, but most goldenseal isn’t exported. Goldenseal, which grows only in the United States and a small area in Can­ada, is primarily consumed domestically.

The CITES listing for goldenseal was prompted by TRAFFIC USA, the trade monitoring arm of the World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union, according to Christopher Robbins of TRAFFIC USA. The group has found that wild goldenseal populations may be declining because of myths about what the herb can do, Robbins said.

“It got a reputation as helpful to mask urine testing,” Robbins said. “It is not in fact effective for this,” but by some estimates, about half of the goldenseal population is being used by those who fear detection in urine screening for drug use, he said.

Goldenseal needs three to five years of growth before it’s ready for harvesting, so it takes at least that long to replenish supplies, a lag time that further increases the pressure on wild populations, Robbins said.

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