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Golden Seal, Hydrastis canadensis, is one of the ‘superherbs’ – so highly prized that it’s been ‘ethically’ wild crafted close to extinction in the USA. Until recently it hasn’t crossed into commercial production because like many woodland species it’s very habitat specific. In theory it might grow in English woodland but would need enormous help to compete with our indigenous woodland flora. Clearly it can’t be grown as a field crop either.

Having decided to have a go at growing Golden Seal, we realised that we needed to mimic the natural habitat as much as possible. Golden Seal requires a well draining, rich, loamy, moist soil with a reasonably low ph. The plants spread by virtue of shallow rhizomes that bud rootlets downwards and leaf stems upwards. Harvesting from 2-3 year old growth is recommended.

This is how we went about it.

We created a raised bed – 3½ x 2 metres, to a depth of about 60cms – this was built up from grass turf that had been stacked for a year to form loam, with a top 30% of well rotted leaf mould – mostly beech, nice and acid, from our own hedges. The surface has a slight slope on it to improve drainage. The bed was shored up with untreated wooden boards, some 30cms high. Stout stakes were driven in round the raised bed both to hold the boards in place and to provide support for the frame on which shade netting is hung. We use 70% shade netting, draped well above the plants and completely enclosing the bed, in imitation of the dappled shade of deep deciduous woodland. We planted out Poyntzfield Herb Nursery’s excellent biodynamic Golden Seal plants in late winter, 38cms apart. We covered them with a top dressing of dead beech leaves, once again to copy the natural habitat of the plant. The shade netting was draped over the frame. Then we waited…

It was worth it. The exhilaration of seeing shoots emerging though the leaves later in the spring was a magic moment!

The care of Golden Seal is relatively easy – it’s a hardy herb. Keep it weeded. Watering is only necessary in very dry conditions, using rainwater. We add an annual top dressing of beech leaves as they fall.

Beyond this, all we had to do was wait another 18 months – and it worked. All plants were healthy and well rooted. The original plants had grown on well and, as was evident on harvesting, a good number of offsets had developed from the parents.  We harvest in the autumn after the foliage has died down, although we’ve found it equally satisfactory to harvest in late winter if more convenient. We take no more than two thirds of the rhizomes and roots from each plant, leaving a healthy portion to replant.

Propagation is by division during winter dormancy. Find rhizomes that have formed a bud or two near the base of the plant stem and pare off with a sharp knife, leaving as many roots attached as possible. Plant carefully with the buds buried just below the surface, in a fresh area of bed.

Growing Golden Seal is a costly enterprise and requires patience, but worth it for the sheer joy of having had a successful result with this elusive herb. It’s more than worth it for the extraordinary quality evident in the 1:5 60% tincture we make from the fresh root, so much better than anything made from the imported (and endangered) dry herb.

Tony & Lesley Pugh

March 2009

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