Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hydrastis canadensis

I've finally finished going through all of the photos I took last season, quite a few thousand of them, and have added them to the website. As promised, my first series of the year will be on medicinal plants. I was recently reading an old book that I had on my shelf as I was supposed to be straightening up - you know how that goes, find an interesting book you haven't looked at for a long time and that's the end of the straightening project. Anyway, the book is 'Using Plants for Healing' published by Rodale Press in 1963. Not sure if it is still in print. At any rate, that's where most of the information comes from, along with my own observations on growing these plants. For anyone new, all photos come from my gardens.
Today we have Hydrastis canadensis or Golden-seal. It is also called Yellow Root around here. It was made know to us by the Cherokee Tribe and was listed as an official drug until about the mid 20th century. Increasing scarcity in the wild may have been the reason for taking it off the list. It was widely distributed in rich woods and was grown commercially here in Ohio at one time.
The roots which are definitely very yellow, have been used as a dye. To use this plant, they dried and powdered the root (hence the problem with wiping out the wild colonies as is was difficult to sustainable harvest it). The powder would then be dissolved in boiling water. It was used as a tonic. It was reported that the Native Americans used it for ulcers and arrow wounds. An older reference stated that it could be used for "dyspepsia, erysipelas, remittent, intermittent and typhoid fevers, torpor of the liver, ophthalmia, ulceration of the mouth and spermatorrhea."
Another source says "it may be given alone or in combination with other suitable medicines and it promotes digestion, improves the appetite and acts as a general stimulant to the system. In convalescence it is highly beneficial." That is more along the lines of how I have heard of it being used.
It is a lovely plant for the shade garden and blooms in late spring or early summer. The clump is slowly spreading and reliably comes back every year, just a little larger. It is about a foot tall and each stem has one leaf and one bloom.


Spencer Day said...

Hello! Just bloghopping. Great blog!

Happy blogging! :)

Sylvia (England) said...

Jane, I think this series of posts is going to introduce me to some new plants! I am sure if a plant seemed to work on one thing, then it was listed for nearly everything! I am glad that you are keeping the plant going, it is so easy for them to die out otherwise.

Best wishes Sylvia (England)