Considerable has been said the past few years concerning Hydrastis (Golden Seal) and I do not wish to enter on a long article describing this plant, but will make the facts brief and narrate some of my experiences with the plant under cultivation.
The scientific name is Hydrastis Canadensis, the common name Golden Seal, yellow root, puccoon root, Indian tumeric, etc., according to the section in which it is found. It is a perennial plant with an annual stem same as Ginseng, and appears above ground in the spring at the same time and manner. The stalk coming thru the ground bent and leaves folded. It has from one to three palmately five to nine lobed leaves, uneven and sharply toothed.
The fruit or seed grows from the base of one of these leaves. Flower is first whitish green producing the fruit red and resembling a strawberry, maturing last of July and the first of August.
The berry contains from fifteen to twenty small oval black shiney seeds. Only a portion of the stalks ever bear seed. From the middle to the last of September the stalks die down and when winter comes on the hydrastis bed appears the same as a Ginseng bed.
The root stalk or rhizome is thick, rough covered with rounded indentations or eyes, dark yellow in color and having many long threadlike bright yellow fibres branching in all directions. It has one and sometimes as many as four buds which will produce the next season's stalks. Besides these there are many latent buds and little plantlets on the runners of fibrous roots.
The root and all of its fibres is the part used in medicine I presume it will be difficult to fix a date when this plant was first used in medicine. But it is known that the Indians used it in healing diseases and in preparing stains and paints when first observed by the white man. Dr. Rafinesque first makes mention of it in a medical work in 1828 and the eclectic physicians adopted it in their practice in 1847. The Pharmacopoeia of the U. S. in 1860 made Hydrastis an official drug and described the manufacture of different preparations.
It has since gained in favor and in extent of application until at present it is almost the specific in the treatment of certain catarrhal conditions. Thousands of pounds being used by the physicians in different parts of the world variously estimated from 200,000 to 300,000 pounds annually, more extensively, as you see, than Ginseng.
The price has advanced as given by the Drug Reporter, from 1894 of 18 to 23 cents a pound, to 1903, of 52 to 75 cents a pound, since 1903 to 1906 it has advanced to $1.10 to $1.30 a pound. The figures representing the highest and lowest quotations of those years. The price of the plant has advanced first because investigation has proven the value of the plant as a drug in the healing art increasing its consumption, second the consumption of and destruction of its habitat is limiting its supply. It is used in all countries, but not found in all countries in its wild state. The United States supplies the majority of the root.
Its cultivation is very promising and profitable because only very few have entered the industry yet, the wild supply is becoming exhausted, the drug trade demands it and its consumption depends upon a sound demand.
There is a promising opportunity in this industry and when I am speaking I am not offering inducements to get the rich quick individual, but to the careful, painstaking. plodding individual who is willing to give at least some- labor for a handsome compensation. I have been one of the pioneers to begin the investigation and cultivation of this plant, and shall tell some of my experience in handling the plants.
I procured four years ago several pounds of green Hydrastis root from a digger and set them out in three different patches. One in the open garden, one in an enclosure shaded in the garden, and one bed in a grove. I had the beds made the same as instructions had been given me for making beds for Ginseng. Ground loose and mellow, I selected only roots with buds formed, and set an inch under ground and six inches apart.
This was in June. All the plants came up and all made a good growth except those in the open, the leaves on these remained small and pinched about two to three inches from the ground. In digging them I found that they had thrown out a number of fibrous roots. In the fall I procured and set several thousand roots in the woods.
The next fall I set many more, but this time I cut the roots into three or four pieces and planted. All came the next summer, some not appearing above ground until June. I have had no success in planting seeds, so do not use this means of raising the plants. The method I use now is to cut the roots across so a latent bud will be on one piece, all small pieces broken and the fibers for some of these grow a plant.
After preparing the beds loose I lay little trenches across and drop the pieces in these every two or three inches apart, then cover about an inch with loose dirt, then leaves and mulch. The best time I have found to plant is in September, the earlier the better, for the buds then form before freezing up and are ready to come in the spring early.
They grow larger and thriftier if well rotted manure is in the ground and this does not interfere with the quality of the root. The largest roots I have seen grew in a hog lot supplied with hog manure. In three or four years I dig the roots, using a manure fork, the largest ones I wash and dry; the smaller ones and pieces I use for planting.
I am arranging a barrel shaped affair closed at the ends and covered around with wire to wash the roots. The method is to put a rod thru wifh handles on ends and rest on grooves on posts immersed half way of barrel in running water and revolve. In this way I believe the roots can be washed readily by splashing and falling in the water, and tons of the roots easily handled and washed clean with little help.
I have dried them by spreading on racks to dry in the sun. In bright sun it requires two or three days. As they wilt, I place on paper in order to save the fibres that break off. When making a business of growing these roots and having good, fresh roots in considerable quantity, a better price can be commanded by dealing direct with the drug mill. A great many of the roots when dug will weigh one ounce or more and the roots lose in weight about the same as drying Ginseng.
DR. L. C. INGRAM, Wabasba County, Minn.
There has never been a time in the history of this country when the cultivation of certain medicinal plants, as Golden Seal, Ginseng, Seneca and others appealed so much to those interested in such things as the present.
Many of these plants have hitherto been found growing wild in our woods and fields, and along our road sides and waste places, and have usually been gathered in an immature state and out of season, washed and cured in a slovenly manner and bartered at country stores for coffee and calico and other commodities. In this way the drugs and drug trade of the country have been supplied. I think it is very evident to the casual observer that this manner of supply is nearing its close finally and forever.
The merchant who handles the stock may not know as yet the great and growing scarcity of almost all our medicinal plants. But the digger who has stood at the first end of the drug trade, in touch with the natural supply, knows that the fountains are dried tip, in great measure, -and that the streams of the trade must necessarily soon cease to flow or be supplied by artificial means. In most cases medicinal plants grow naturally in the best soils, the sandy, loamy, moist north bill sides, the rich, black coves at the heads of our small streams and in the rich alluvial bottoms along our larger creeks and small rivers. They will not grow in wet lands or on south hill sides. This should be remembered by the would-be culturist and the natural whims of the plant attended to, else failure and disappointment are sure.
What I have said is peculiarly the case with Golden Seal, the yellow root of our locality, the ground raspberry of another, the yellow puccoon of another and probably bearing other local names in other localities. The natural habitat of Golden Seal has been cleared up for farming or grazing purposes, while the keen eyed "sanger" has ferreted out every nook and corner adapted to the growth of this plant and then ruthlessly dug it, little and big, old and young, until today it is a very scarce article.
The Indians regarded Golden Seal as a sure remedy for sore and inflamed eyes, sore mouths, old sores, wounds, etc., and first taught the whites its use as a remedy.
The pioneers used it as teas, washes and salves years before it became known to the medical fraternity. It did not become an article of commerce in any way until about the year 1847, and then it was so plentiful and so little used that the trade was supplied at 3 cents per pound for the dried root. I dug it myself, when a boy, as late as 1868, and received 5 cents per pound for the dried root, in trade, at a country store. I found it plentiful in patches in open woods where the ground was rich and favored the growth of paw paw, dogwood, walnut, elm, sugar maple, etc. It grew best in land well drained and full of leaf mold. Remember this, ye planters.
Well, the demand has rapidly increased, and the supply, from the causes afore mentioned, has more rapidly decreased, until the price has risen from 3 cents to $1.50 per pound. Golden Seal was originally found growing in favorable localities from Southern New York west to Minnesota, thence south to Arkansas and east to Georgia and the hill regions of the Carolinas. Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky have been by far the greatest Golden Seal producing sections.
Golden Seal is a perennial plant, the gnarly, knotty root of which is the part used in medicine. These knotty roots send out in every direction many long, slender, bright yellow, fibrous roots. Each root in spring early sends up one to six hairy stems six inches to fifteen or twenty inches in height, each stem supporting at the top one, or if a seed yielding plant, two large leaves, in shape somewhat resembling the leaf of the sugar maple, but thicker and more leathery. At the base of each stem are two or three scale like leaves starting from the root, around the stem and extending to the surface of the ground. These scales are yellow while the leaf stems are somewhat purplish in color, The seed bearing stocks fork near the top of the plant, each stem supporting a leaf, the smaller leaf enclosing a flower bud at the base and at the top of the leaf stem. The plants that are not of seed bearing age and size do not fork and have but one leaf. The flowers are greenish, about an inch in diameter and open, here, about the first of May. Then continue open about five days when the petals fall and the development of the seed berry begins.
This berry ripens in July. When ripe it is red in color and resembles a large raspberry and contains about 20 to 30 small, round, black, shiny, hard seeds. These seeds, if stratified at once and kept in moist, sandy loam, will begin to open by the first of February, each seed showing a beautiful, bright, shiny, golden bud. The seeds should be planted very early. When it comes up, the young plant has two leaves and does not develop any further leaf or stem growth during the first summer. The first two leaves do not look at all like those that follow. So, be careful or you will destroy your plants for weeds.
Plants may be readily propagated by cutting up the roots into pieces, say 1/4-inch long and placing these root cuttings in boxes of loamy sand in the autumn. By spring each root cutting will have developed a fine bud and be ready for transplanting, which should be done as early as possible. The plant also propagates itself by sending up suckers from the fibrous roots.
As to culture, I would say, follow nature. Do not plow and hoe and rake and make a bed as for onions. just simply select a piece of virgin soil, if possible, and make rows, say one foot apart and set the plants about three or four inches apart in the rows. All the culture needful is to pull out the weeds, and, if the trees in the patch be not sufficient to furnish a good leaf mulch in the fall, attend to this by mulching with a good coat of forest leaves.
My Golden Seal garden is in a locust grove that is rapidly growing into posts, so, you see, I am getting two very profitable crops off the same land at the same time. The plants should grow in a bed of this kind until it becomes full of roots, which will require three to five years. It is all the better if they are allowed to grow longer. The whole patch should be dug in the fall when the tops die down. The large roots should be carefully washed and cleansed of all foreign roots and fibers and dried on clean cloths in the shade, when it is ready for market and should be shipped in clean, new bags to some reliable dealer in the larger cities. There are plenty of them and I would advise that you write to several of them, telling them just what you have before you ship.
I know from actual experience that good money may be made by the right party in the culture of Golden Seal. If a young man would start a garden of medicinal plants and attend to it at odd times, studying the nature of the plants and carefully save all seeds and add them to his stock, in a few years he would have a garden with a large sum of money. I have estimated an acre of Golden Seal at full maturity and as thick on the ground as it should be grown to be worth $4,840, or one dollar per square yard. It will not take a very great while to fill an acre with plants. Besides, if the land is planted in locust trees it is yielding two crops of wonderful value at the same time.
One young man from Virginia says: "I have a piece of new ground just cleared up which I think would be just the thing, and then I could set out short stem red cherries to shade and cover the ground. Please let me hear from you at once." Well, if this piece of ground is on the right side of the hill, that is, the north or northeast or west slope, and is rich, loose and loamy, full of leaf mold and naturally well drained, it is all right for Golden Seal, but would it suit cherries? Cherries might do very well for shade, but I would prefer catalpa or locust or some other quick growing timber tree to any sort of fruit tree.
One reason is that in gathering the fruit and in caring for the trees 1 think the Golden Seal would be trampled upon and injured, also the ground would be trampled and compacted and thus rendered unsuitable for this plant. The ground in which Golden Seal grows should be kept in its "new state" as much as possible. However, my Virginia friend may succeed well with his cherries and Seal. He must keep up the primitive condition of the soil and keep out weeds and grass.
Another question, "How long will it take it to mature?" As to its "maturity," it may be dug, cleansed, dried and marketed at any time and in any stage of its growth. But I think that a setting of Golden Seal should be dug in the fall three or four years after planting; the large roots washed and cleansed and made ready for market, while the smaller roots should be used for resetting the bed. You will have enough small roots to set a patch ten or twelve times the size of the one you dig, as each root set will in three or four years produce ten to fifteen good plants besides yielding a lot of seed.
"How much will it cost to plant one-eighth of an acre?" One-eighth of an acre contains twenty square rods, and to set one square rod, in rows eighteen inches apart would take 363 plants, and twenty square rods would take 20 times 363 plants, or 7,260 plants, which at $10.00 per thousand, would cost $72.60. But I would advise the beginner to "make haste slowly" in trying new things. A thing may be all right and very profitable if we understand it and give it proper culture, while it is very easy to make sad failure by over doing a good thing. So let the beginner procure a thousand or so plants and start his garden on a small scale, and increase his plantation from his own seed bed as his knowledge of the plant and its culture increases. A very large garden may be set in a few years from 1,000 plants.
"Should the seed be sown broadcast?" To be successful with the seed requires great patience and pains. I make a large flat brush heap and burn it off in the fall. I then dig up the ground to the depth of three or four inches and place boards edgewise around this bed, letting them down into the ground two or three inches. These boards are to keep out mice and to prevent washing. I then sow the seeds in little trenches made with a hoe handle about six inches apart and pretty thick in the trenches and smooth over and tramp solid.
Then sow a few handfuls of bone dust mulched with forest leaves and cover with brush to keep the leaves from blowing away. You are done now until spring. In the early spring, after freezing weather is over, carefully remove the brush and the mulch of leaves. Remember this must be done early as the plant wants to come up early. Watch for your young plants and carefully pull up every weed as soon as it shows itself. Mulch again in the fall and remove as before the next spring. Keep down weeds as before, and by fall you will have a fine lot of No. 1 two-year-old plants, which may be transplanted to the garden at once or early the next spring.
I should have stated that Golden Seal seed should not be allowed to dry after gathering. They should be placed in layers of sand in a box and kept moist until planting time. They begin to germinate very early, and if you delay planting until spring you are nearly sure to lose them.
As to the "profits," I want it distinctly understood that I do not think that every one who starts a bed or patch of Golden Seal will be a millionaire in a few years. But I do think, and in fact I know, that considering the land in cultivation, the time and expense of its culture, it is one of the most profitable crops that can be grown in this latitude.
LEE S. DICK, Wayne County, W. Va.
Ginseng and Other Medicinal Plants, 1936, was written by A. R. Harding.