Gardening for Health

Goldenseal in the author’s garden.

Saving Ginseng and Goldenseal 

By Maria Price 

Last week, I wrote about a number of plants declining in Maryland, especially in Anne Arundel County. Integrated plant conservation takes plants from endangered areas and grows them in sanctuary areas such as botanic gardens and then restores them in their natural habitat. Endangered plants occur due to sparse populations, poor genetic adaptability to a changing climate, and damage or elimination of habitat. 

About 29,000 species of plants considered threatened or endangered, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES. Nearly 400 species are native to the United States. Any plant listed in CITES means harvesting from public land is prohibited and may require a permit to export. Many of these are plants that are used as botanical raw materials in therapeutic, aromatic and or culinary preparations and traded internationally. 

Two popular and profitable native North American medicinal plants, American ginseng, (Panax quinquefolius) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), are listed in Appendix II of the CITES. They are monitored under disparate domestic strategies designed to satisfy CITES requirements. American ginseng especially has benefited from being on the list, encouraging U.S. states to enact laws to protect wild populations and regulate collections.  

American ginseng is a long-lived perennial herb grown in the mountain woodlands of the eastern United States and Canada. It has been traded internationally with Asian countries since the 18th century, leading to overharvesting, especially in especially in Western Maryland. Dried ginseng brings high dollars in China. It takes three years for ginseng roots to grow to a marketable size. American ginseng has a reputation for easing stress, boosting energy and calming anxiety. It’s also been studied for use in diabetics in helping control blood sugar. It was added to the CITES list in 1975. 

Goldenseal is an herb native to the northeastern United States, and has been used by native peoples long before Europeans arrived here. It is used to help treat cold symptoms, digestive issues, skin problems and urinary tract infections. The root is used in making tinctures. Overharvesting has led to a reduction and endangerment of this medicinal plant.  

Both of these species highlight the importance of knowing where your herbs and supplements are coming from. Consider growing your own in a sustainable and responsible manner.