How to Grow Goldenseal (Complete Care Guide)

Goldenseal is a much coveted perennial herb that’s very pricey as an herbal supplement.

Growing it on your own seems like the obvious choice!

I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to make goldenseal tea simply by harvesting the rootlets from their backyard?

It will take some work. And a lot of time if you’re starting from seed. But it’s possible if you’re in UDSA hardiness zones 3-8- with the right setup in your garden.

Imagine that. A bed of goldenseal plants ready to harvest every season.

Those bitter, crunchy yellow rootlets are ready to go. And you don’t need to pay for them from Whole Foods for your Whole Paycheck.

Let’s dive in and learn how to grow and care for goldenseal!

Quick care guide: Goldenseal

Plant typeHerbaceous perennial
OriginNorth America
Scientific nameHydrastis canadensis
Other namesBerberine, eye balm, eye root, goldenroot, ground raspberry, Hydrastis canadensis, Indian plant, jaundice root, orange root, and yellow root
Soil typeOrganic, rich, loamy, wet, well-draining, sandy
Soil pH5.5-6.8 (acidic to neutral)
Sunlight requirementPartial sun, 60-80% shade
Bloom seasonApril to May
ColorsGreen, red, yellow, orange-green, brown, white
Max height14 inches
Max width12 inches
Low temperature tolerance-20F
High temperature tolerance90F
Ideal temperature range70-80F
HumidityLow (30% or lower)
Watering requirements0.25 to 1" per week, adjust for rain or drought, established plants need menial watering
Fertilizer requirementsOptional, use 5-5-5 NPK plant food during growing season if needed
Plant food NPK5-5-5
Days until germinationUp to 3 years to germinate
Days until harvest5-7 years from seed
3-6 years from rhizome or rootlets
Bloom timeMarch, April, May, June, July
Speed of growthVery slow
Hardiness zonesUSDA hardiness zones 3-8
Plant depthFrom seeds: 2 inches
From rhizome divisions: 2 inches
From seedlings: Same as original plant depth
Plant spacing12 inches
Plant withTulip poplar
Sugar maple
Basswood
Black walnut
Red oak
Slippery elm
White ash
Trillium
Black cohosh
Ginseng
Mayapple
Bloodroot
Don't plant withPlants that have opposing husbandry requirements
Propagation methodFrom seed, seedlings, transplants
Common pestsSnails, slugs, and root-knot nematodes, moles, voles
Common diseasesLeaf blights, Botrytis, fusarium wilt, nematodes, root rot, mosaic viruses, and fungal issues.
Indoor plantNo
Outdoor plantYes
Grown in containerYes
Flowering plantYes
Beginner friendlyYes
Care levelModerate (Easy to care for once you get the hang of it, good for beginners)
Best usesGoldenseal tea, extracts, supplements, selling for profit

What’s goldenseal?

Goldenseal is a perennial herb that’s widely known for its medicinal properties. It’s a native plant to the North American woodlands and is one of the most popular botanical supplements in the US.

The plant is a perennial herb that has roots under the soil. The foliage is palmate-shaped and blooms from April to May, with small white blossoms. The foliage is lime green while the flowers are white.

It bears fruits later in summer which looks like a tiny raspberry with small spikes on it. While it looks tasty, the fruit of goldenseal is NOT edible.

The roots of goldenseal are a golden color, which inspired its name of it. In the fall, the leaves will die back on their own. The plant is then covered with scars with wax seals. The roots of goldenseal are long and fibrous.

Whether you believe in the benefits of goldenseal, you can grow it to harvest or just as a decorative piece. It provides a soft plant cover that can be combined with a variety of plants in your garden. It also keeps out animals like deer.

Note that at the time of this writing, it’s considered near extinct. Goldenseal is endangered in multiple states. So it’s harder to get a hold of or can’t be sold in some areas. That’s how valuable it’s quickly becoming.

The plant’s vulnerability is due to habitat destruction plus undocumented harvesting. Combined with high demand in the market, the price of goldenseal has skyrocketed.

Growing it yourself isn’t too difficult. With some patience, you’ll be able to harvest it in your backyard.

Is it poisonous?

Goldenseal is known to be toxic at high doses for extended periods. Consult with your health care provider before using. Be sure to do your research first.

Can you sell goldenseal?

There are all sorts of restrictions for selling goldenseal if you can prove that they were cultivated in the US.

Because the plant is listed as an Appendix II categorization with CITES, you need a permit before you can export cultivated or wild harvested roots, powder, or plant pieces. Some finished products are not regulated (extracts). Contact the FWS for more info.

How do you identify goldenseal?

Goldenseal produces large foliage with two hairy leaves palmately cut into 5-7 lobes. The leaf veins are prominent. The plant has a primary flowering stem. The fruit is red with a raspberry-like appearance. It’s first green but will change color in July. This fruit can bear up to 30 black seeds. The seeds must always be moist in order to germinate.

The rhizome is under the soil line and is yellow with a golden sap. It’s a smaller herbaceous perennial with a thick hairy stem. The jagged leaves are large, but the flowers are small.

The rhizome tastes bitter and is bright yellow or brown, but the inside is yellow. It’s twisted, wrinkled, and hidden from view in the wild. The stalk is unbranched with solitary flowers. The green or yellow/white stamens and pistils are obvious, but the flowers have no petals.

Is goldenseal hard to grow?

Goldenseal can be quite finicky to grow. It does require some specific growing conditions to thrive. It also has a long germination period. The success rate for rooting or generation isn’t pretty bad.

The environment must be shady, moist, and similar to the native woodlands it’s found in. Planting goldenseal in your garden isn’t possible for everyone. Perhaps for those in woody areas or rural environments.

But for urban gardens, it’s going to be difficult. Read on to see if you can grow goldenseal in your zone.

How to propagate goldenseal

There are two primary methods to propagate goldenseal.

We’ll cover both of them in this guide. Goldenseal will need more TLC than your standard garden plant, so you’ll want to give it some special attention to ensure proper germination or rooting.

Be patient, especially if it’s your first time growing goldenseal. This plant will be finicky in what it requires, but it’s not too difficult to grow if you’re careful.

When buying from a supplier, make sure the rhizomes you buy are priced right. At the time of this writing, you can expect to pay $30-$60 per pound of goldenseal. The price varies greatly depending on the quality, how it was sourced, and whether or not it’s organically grown.

Starting from seed

Seeds can be purchased online, but they must be sourced from a reputable nursery that’s selling them legally. As you know, goldenseal is endangered in many states. The seeds can also be harvested from existing plants or a neighbor.

Use a seed starter kit, container, or plant bed with its permanent soil. It should be well-draining, rich in nutrients, and amended to the proper pH.

Sow the seeds 0.5 inches deep with 1 inch of spacing between each one. Plant seeds at a rate of 5 seeds per square foot until the raked plant bed is fully covered, then cover with litter.

Cover with 2 inches of leaf litter or organic compost. Walk the planted area to improve soil-to-seed contact. Water it evenly and generously for the first time to boil water runoffs.

Use with a humidity dome to maintain moisture. The seeds will take a long time to germinate- up to 2 whole seasons. This is why starting from rhizomes or pre-grown plants is preferred.

Starting from seedlings

Goldenseal seedlings can be purchased from the local nursery or online if they’re not sold in your area. When they sprout their first few pairs of true leaves, they can be moved into the garden from the original container.

The same rule applies to goldenseal plants you grew. When they grow at least 1 pair of leaves, they can be put outside into the yard. Wait until the spring to help maximize rooting as they’re active during this period.

Trying to transplant in the winter will result in an easy meal for pests as it withers from plant shock.

Ensure that the planting site has no debris like branches, twigs, hard soil, pebbles, or rocks. These will interfere with germination. If needed, remove other foliage or shrubs nearby. Prune low-hanging branches or leaves. This will help the germination rate of your plant.

Choose an area in your garden with proper growing conditions (see the section below). It should be shady with well-draining soil. There should be no debris, pebbles, rocks, or other junk in the way of its path. The soil should have no clumps. It should be soft and loose.

Uproot the seedlings from their original containers. Plant them in the soil at the same depth as they were in the pot. Space them 12 inches apart if growing multiple goldenseal. Water generously.

Starting from rhizome cuttings

Rhizome division is the second method and it’s a lot more reliable than starting from seed. This is easily done if you already have a goldenseal plant or you can obtain one from a neighbor or friend.

It doesn’t have the germination time that you need to wait for when starting from seed, nor do you need to deal with getting conditions to be ideal. Dividing by rhizomes will require your plant to be uprooted to get the rootlets.

This is usually done in the fall or springtime following the period of cold. The cold puts the goldenseal into winter dormancy, which is necessary to be divided.

This is usually beyond its third year of growth. Rhizomes can be collected in the winter period when it’s dormant- not when it is actively growing. Dig up around the stem and look for the roots.

Use a blunt spade to carefully remove the soil around the rootlets. Do NOT harvest all of the rootlets.

You need to leave someone behind for it to establish itself once again. If you have soil amendments such as mulch, remove them first. Remove the roots carefully. Cut the rhizomes into pieces, each with its bud and roots.

Place each rhizome in a container or plant bed. Plant them 2 inches deep, 12 inches apart. Put 1 inch of mulch on top until it emerges. Keep it moist, but not wet.

The holes or furrows should be dug about 2 inches so there’s enough soil to cover the rootlets. Plant rootlets 2” deep with the roots lateral and the bud about 0.5 inches deep. Once they’re positioned, fill and then firm. Then cover with 1” of leaf litter.

If possible, plant in a raised plant bed. This will aid in good drainage.

Select a site where suitable cover from the sun exists. Remove any weeds or leaves that can get in the way.

Rhizome cuttings should be planted that contains a bud. Plant any fibrous roots that are damaged or scrapped. These can be established as well.

Extra rootlets can be replanted. Don’t throw them out! You can make new plants from these rootlets or harvest them for personal use.

How to grow goldenseal

Growing goldenseal is pretty straightforward. While it’s not too hard to grow, it is very slow to germinate. You should also provide the proper conditions for it so you can optimize its growth.

The last thing you want is to waste two whole seasons waiting for it to germinate only to fail. So try to recreate the woodlands in your garden so it can thrive as much as possible.

If you’re having trouble finding out where to buy goldenseal plants, check with your native local nurseries. Make sure that the source of the seeds, plants, or cuttings are legit and not illegally dug out from the native environments.

Hardiness zone

Goldenseal grows in USDA zones 3-8. Natively, it’s found in the central and eastern woodlands of the US. It has been spotted in Canada as well where it thrives in shady areas, such as the canopy of forests. The plant loves moist soil, but it must be well draining.

Soil type

Goldenseal requires well-draining slightly acidic soil. The soil must be free of debris, including clumps, pebbles, or tough soil. It should be nutrient dense and moisture retaining.

Use soil amendments to help put some nutrients into the mix if you need to. You can test your soil conditions by using a soil test kit. Use garden soil, not potting soil. A layer of mulch or compost (1-2 inches thick) will help retain moisture, which reduces the watering necessary.

In the wild, this perennial plant is always moist hidden under the canopy. Try to build the same conditions in your backyard to recreate the setup.

Use organic matter to help it thrive, such as compost or manure. Use peat moss to help make the soil more acidic overall. The growing area must be weedless.

Weed competes for nutrients and will outcompete goldenseal. Mulch regularly. Weed it as needed. Use bark chips, leaf litter, or other mulch to help suppress the other competing plants from sapping all the nutrients.

Use organic material if your soil doesn’t drain well because it won’t tolerate it. Good drainage is critical for the proper cultivation of goldenseal plants. The soil should be humus rich, sandy, and lightly loamy for ideal production.

Whether planting seeds or rootlets, plant in the late summer or fall. If using seeds, rake the zone with a steel rake. The top inch of soil should be loosened before sowing seeds.

Soil pH

Goldenseal requires the right level of acidity to uptake nutrients from the soil column. Use peat moss to help retain moisture and lower the pH. More acidic environments will help encourage higher root yield. Aim for a pH of 5.5-6.5.

Use a pH soil tester (check Amazon) to quickly get an accurate measurement. Unlike other plants, goldenseal will need the right soil acidity to produce those rootlets. So you must get the soil range correct.

Plant spacing

Space each plant at least 12 inches apart for optimal growth. If planted too closely together, they’ll compete for nutrients. This applies to both rhizome and seeded plants.

Plant depth

For seeds or rhizomes, plant each one 1-2 inches deep. For seedlings, plant as deep as the original container.

Temperature

Plants are hardy to at least 14F. It’s also drought tolerant when established. Goldenseal grows well in partial shade with a sandy, acidic humus-rich soil. Temperature ranges between 70-80F are typical for goldenseal in the wild, but they have a wide temperature tolerance range.

If you’re in zones 3-8, you should be OK with the temperature.

Humidity

Goldenseal likes moderate to low humidity levels. It doesn’t like high humidity or high heat. Keep the water flowing by using well-draining soil.

Use a substrate that retains water so you don’t need to water as often- as you need to. Well-established goldenseal requires very little supplemental watering. Additionally, keep your plants pruned that are nearby to help increase evaporation.

Since this perennial is grown in the shade, water evaporates slowly. Because of this, you don’t want to hinder it further by letting vegetation block the sunlight from getting rid of the water.

Fertilizer

Goldenseal doesn’t need additional fertilizer if the soil provides plenty of rich nutrients. However, soil that’s depleted may benefit from light dosages of organic plant food.

Sandier substrate requires more fertilizer. Use balanced plant food at a low rate each spring season. Look for an NPK of 5-5-5, which seems to be the sweet spot for nitrogen and phosphorous.

Watering

When the goldenseal becomes established, it requires very little watering. If drought exists in your zone, some light supplemental watering is appreciated by the plant.

If you underwater it, the plant likely won’t wither but instead will go into dormancy.

This is its natural behavior of it. Water deeply and thoroughly when necessary. Aim for 0.25-1″ per week, but adjust as needed. Water as needed until it’s well established. Never let the soil become soggy.

It’s drought tolerant but will benefit from weekly watering sessions during the summertime. Don’t water in the winter unless the weather is dry.

Sunlight

Goldenseal tolerates as little as 45% shade. Set this as the baseline for your plant. It needs to be planted in partial shade as it can’t tolerate full sun.

Ideally, provide up to 80% shade. You can use artificial or natural canopies to accomplish this.

Growing sites in the wild are mid-forest layers that provide shade, which is usually dominated by deciduous vegetation. Light sunlight will suffice. Plants that are wilting or scorched may be getting excess sun.

Environment

Goldenseal is natively found in woody areas under the shade of taller canopies. It doesn’t tolerate heat or full sun.

If you don’t have this environment in your garden, you can recreate it using artificial structures. Arbors, shades, shade houses, or plant taller foliage.

These can help provide ample shade so your goldenseal feels like it’s right where it belongs- in the woody woodlands!

Choose a site that’s facing north, east, or northeast with approximately 60% or more shade. Goldenseal prefers sites with well-draining soils rich in organic matter with slightly acidic soil.

Regardless of whether you start from seed or rhizome, ensure that the plant beds are free of weeds. You must keep them weed-free until they become established.

Pruning

Goldenseal needs no additional pruning other than removing wilted foliage, infected foliage or buds, or regular trimming to keep it in shape.

Other than this, there’s no need to cut it back or do any of that fancy maintenance work. It’ll die back on its own in the wintertime, so you don’t need to worry about deadheading it.

If you’re in an area with many pests or wildlife, you may cut spent flowers so it can encourage more blooms.

Pruning competitive vegetation to allow more proper airflow and optimal shade is more important to trim it back. Be sure to weed regularly so other plants don’t compete for nutrients.

Overwintering

Goldenseal plants will need to be harvested in the fall before the foliage completely fades. In the winter, you can let it die back on its own. It’ll enter dormancy until spring.

No additional care is needed if grown in the right hardiness zone. If temperature dips are expected, supplement with 2-3 inches of organic mulch to help insulate the root system.

Harvesting

Harvesting goldenseal takes time.

Generally, they’re ready to be harvested after 3 years or so when the raspberry-like fruit in the flowers is fully grown. Harvest by carefully uprooting them with a garden spade.

The ideal time to harvest is in the fall. You can harvest both the rootlets and the leaves simultaneously. Do NOT harvest everything.

You need to leave some behind so they can keep growing while you have something to utilize.

If you don’t know how much is safe to harvest, here’s a tip:

  • Only remove what you need
  • Leave more rootlets behind than you pluck
  • Replant unused rootlets

Goldenseal roots are usually harvested in the fall when the plants enter dormancy, but you can wait until fall when the leaves begin to change to yellow or wilt or fade on their own.

When they fade, the goldenseal roots are concentrated. If you plan to consume them for their benefits, you’ll want to wait for the leaves to slightly yellow.

Yields can vary greatly depending on production or location. Generally, this produces up to 3000 pounds of dried root per acre on average.

But the average gardener, you can expect much less yield. A single plant bed of goldenseal should produce enough for a family of four. Pack them into burlap sacks, poly sacks, or cartons to store. Store in a cool, dry dark area free from pests.

Next comes the necessary washing of the rootlets.

Cleaning goldenseal

Clean the rootlets with a hose or sink on low. The roots are fragile and will tear apart easily.

Use your fingers to remove knots, mats, or dirt from the fibrous root hairs. No need to untangle them. They can be used as is.

The root material must be adequately washed from dirt or debris.

Dirt can contain bacteria which can be harmful or decrease the quality if you’re selling for profit. Wire mesh screens can be used to dry the rootlets, then sprayed with a hose.

Some roots may need to be broken down to make them smaller to wash. Soaking the roots can make the water turn yellow. If it’s yellow, then that means the alkaloids are being leeched from the roots.

This decreases the value of the goldenseal.

Drying

Next, dry the clean roots on herb racks. Place it near a fan or somewhere with excellent flow. The roots will dry over time, but you can use a food dehydrator to help increase the speed. 

Roots must be properly dried if needed to be stored. Roots should be placed on a mesh screen in a dark well-ventilated area. Set up fans to help ventilate it. Temperatures should be kept between 85-95F. If it is humid, temperatures can be higher.

If drier, temperatures must be kept lower. The roots should be checked for mold or fungus. Dispose of any infected pieces.

Eliminate moisture on the roots at all times. During the drying, the roots will wilt and become lighter. The rootlets will also become darker in color, anywhere from light yellow to brown.

Goldenseal roots can be baked in the oven as well. Here’s a video to show you how:

The temperature should be kept low, around 90-100F during drying. The airflow must be good around the roots. If It dried too quickly, the outside will dry first leaving the inside moist.

To check if they’re done drying, select an average-sized root then break them in half. The roots should snap cleanly off and not be too brittle.

Goldenseal leaves can be dried on racks, then used later when crisp. Watch for fungus or mold during this time. Keep them out of reach from pets or people.

Don’t put near sugary foods. Inspect before you use them for goldenseal tea. As always, consult with your GP before supplementing with goldenseal.

Some people may have undesired reactions to it. If you suspect that it is molded, throw it out. Do NOT dry it out then consume it.

Pests

There are a few nuisances that you may need to watch out for, but goldenseal is hardy for the most part. Some wildlife like moles, voles, or other small animals may forage in loosely tilled soils.

Other pests include snails, slugs, and root-knot nematodes that eat the rootlets. Under native circumstances, goldenseal has little to no problems with insects.

In the home garden, insects are more present. They can eat the crown or the fruits. Slugs are the primary culprit of goldenseal damage.

Removing mulch, setting up beer traps, using copper strips, or sprinkling lime ash may help keep slugs out. Moles and voles can damage the beds of the goldenseal. Nematodes can be avoided by testing the soil before you plant.

Diseases

Some common diseases of goldenseal include leaf blights, Botrytis, fusarium wilt, nematodes, root rot, mosaic viruses, and fungal issues.

These can be largely prevented by ensuring good circulation and regular cutting back of vegetation. Don’t let the water pool and make sure it drains well.

Companion plants

Goldenseal has a few companion plants that pair well with it. In the wild, you can see goldenseal growing with similar plants that prefer these shady environments with acidic soil.

Some plants that go well with goldenseal include the following:

  • Tulip poplar
  • Sugar maple
  • Basswood
  • Black walnut
  • Red oak
  • Slippery elm
  • White ash
  • Trillium
  • Black cohosh
  • Ginseng
  • Mayapple
  • Bloodroot

There are many other plants that you can pair. Just do some reading online. See what grows in your zone first.

Don’t plant with

Goldenseal shouldn’t be planted with any other plants, including the same species if there’s not enough adequate spacing between them. Avoid planting with weedy plants or plants with dense foliage.

Plants that require full sun or moist substrate should be avoided as well.

Only plants with shade-loving plants as they go together! Usually, gardeners won’t plant goldenseal as a decorative perennial.

It’s planted in isolation for its roots. Plant beds dedicated to goldenseal are common in small herbaceous gardens or forested areas, such as this one:

Seed saving

Saving goldenseal seeds requires a few extra steps. It’s not as consistent as cultivating by rhizome division or simply buying seedlings.

But you can increase the chances of seed germination if you follow a few key steps.

First, only collect seeds when they’re ripe in August or late July. Sow them ASAP, rather than storing them for later use because they’re exposed to the summer temperatures that will break them out of dormancy.

This will allow them to germinate in the springtime. If they don’t get those warmer temps, they may not germinate and will be hindered in dormancy.

Goldenseal seeds may need to be stratified if you want to store them. Wear a pair of gloves then squish the berries. Put them into a container and fill it with distilled water. The pulp separates from the seeds when submerged.

Drain the water after 24 hours then discard the berry fragments, but keep the seeds intact. Wash the seeds carefully under the faucet with your fingers rubbing them clean. There must be no pulp so they don’t grow fungus or mold.

Place them into a container and then store them in the fridge. They’re good up to 90 days in this way, but beyond that, they may not germinate.

Growing in pots

Goldenseal does well in pots. Use a 1-3 gallon pot. It’s large enough to accommodate one plant. Use a well-draining, high-quality potting mix.

Obtain a hummus-based substrate with a layer of mulch or compost to retain moisture and supplement nutrients. Planting on a slight slope may improve the drainage of pots. Use raised pots or saucers to help it drain.

Growing in a container is nice because you can relocate it as needed. The pot doesn’t need to be changed unless the plant needs new soil or you’re propagating it.

Growing indoors

Goldenseal will need to be planted outdoors where it can receive the necessary light and shade combo it needs to thrive. If grown indoors, it won’t be ideal and the plant won’t produce fruit. Goldenseal must be grown outside.

But you can take it in once in a while during temperature dips if the container is grown.

Usage scenarios

Goldenseal is harvested for its rootlets, but there is a small portion of people who will grow it just to have another perennial herb in their backyard.

The rootlets can be used for tea, which can be made by boiling half a gram in a cup of water. The root is commonly used to treat skin, eye, UTIs, sinusitis, pink eye, sore throats, get rid of infections, diarrhea, or gastritis. Some people use it to rinse their mouth for infected gums. The tea can be used as a douche for yeast infections. It’s also used as an eye wash. It kills bacteria so it’s good for infected eyes or gums.

Consult with your GP before using goldenseal. Never consume it without talking to your provider first.

Goldenseal can be dangerous in high dosages or when used for extended periods of time. Do NOT use without consulting a professional!

Other questions about goldenseal

This section covers some general tips for growing goldenseal which you may find helpful. Do you have questions? Feel free to ask away by leaving a comment using the form at the end of this page.

How long does it take to grow goldenseal?

Goldenseal is not for the impatient. This herb can take up to 7 years to grow harvestable roots from seed. If grown from rhizomes, it can take up to 5 years to harvest. So it’s ideal to start with plants that are well established to cut down the wait time.

Is it profitable?

Most people reading this care guide won’t be growing goldenseal for profit. It’s not worth the time or effort to grow it in small quantities, minus the permit headache you need to process to sell it.

For those with acreages of farmland, that’s where the real profit is made. How profitable it depends on the quality of the rootlets.

Further reading/references

Check out these resources for more information:

Homegrown goldenseal!

Now that you know the basics of how to grow and care for goldenseal, go forth and enjoy those rootlets.

I suggest starting with a pre-grown seedling or established plant to cut down on the time needed to get your first batch of rootlets, but if you’re patient enough, starting from seed is very rewarding too.

A lot of readers will ditch the idea of growing it on their own. They’d rather just buy the supplements since it’s a lot of work involved. But a small portion will make goldenseal a wonderful addition to their herb garden.

Let me know if you have any questions or tips on caring for this coveted herb!

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