Five years ago I visited my local garden center looking for an unusual plant. The greenhouse overflowed with exotic beauty, but the plant that drew my eye was tucked under one of the tables, wilted, forgotten, and alone. It had one drooping leaf perched upon a short stalk, Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis from the family Ranunculaceae. My heart leaped! I ran to the owner and said, “I want that one,” pointing to the neglected plant.
Goldenseal is an endangered plant that grows in the Appalachian Mountains from New York to South Carolina and west to Ohio. It prefers full shade and moist, fertile soil with deep leaf litter. I set about recreating those conditions in a four by four patch of shaded ground tucked close to the foundation of my house. In the fall, I would bury the plant with leaves, and unearth it in the spring in anticipation. This ritual has become a habit that renews my hope, as I wait for that single blade to emerge from the soil.
This year the Goldenseal has once again returned and flourished. When I last looked it was flowering…a small miracle. In spite of the fact that it is an uninteresting looking plant with a plain flower, beneath the ground its rhizomes contain strong alkaloids, one of which is Berberine. These alkaloids have antimicrobial properties. The yellow sap that bleeds from the roots when they are damaged is filled with powerful medicine. This is the reason that people have harvested so much of it from its mountain home.
No longer unappreciated, the patch of Goldenseal keeps company with European Wild Ginger, Bloodroot, Solomon Seal, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Cowslip, Angelica, and Nettles in my yard. Sometimes what seems to be quite ordinary, reveals remarkable treasure in its depth. People, like plants, require patience and care before they can truly flourish. It has taken five years for me to see that tiny white flower. The hope I have in seeing Goldenseal’s spring flower extends to all things. I am reminded of my inner promise to be patient with myself and with others as we grow.
Sites with wonderful artwork and photos related to plant and conservation see:
For more information about creating a plant sanctuary in your yard go to this website for United Plant Savers.
Photo: Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis from my garden
Published 5/11/2016 I am working on an update to be posted this week.