Goldenseal Root,Echinacea's partner, broad-spectrum herbs and its uses.
The Goldenseal Trade.:
Since herbs began to become popular again, from the 1970s onward, goldenseal has been among the most popular Native American herbs. It has been estimated that upwards of 250,000 pounds of goldenseal root is sold each year. Since herbs have made the jump from the health and natural food market to the mass market in the 1990s, goldenseal demand has increased dramatically. Most goldenseal is wild-harvested. Since demand has skyrocketed (and supplies dwindle) the price of goldenseal skyrockets too. On the wholesale level, in the early 1990s, goldenseal root could be purchased for as little as $8.00 to $11.00 a pound when purchasing large quantities. Last year it shot up to over $30.00 a pound. Now wholesale prices of goldenseal have topped $100.00 a pound.
Botanists know the plant as Hydrastis canadensis. It is a member of the buttercup family that occurs in rich woods in the eastern deciduous forest. Goldenseal occurs from Vermont to Minnesota, south to Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas. As early as 1884, John Uri Lloyd and Curtis Gates Lloyd noted dramatic declines in wild populations, to an extent as a result of root harvest, but more so as the result of habitat loss through deforestation. While over-harvesting has been blamed for supply shortages, the Lloyd brothers paint a complex picture of economic and social reasons for periodic shortages providing arguments indicating that decrease in areas or populations is not necessarily accompanied by a decreased supply. They noted that historically, poorer classes of people collected the roots during times of economic hardship. Being a minor commodity, factors would arise that would consume the entire supply in one season, causing shortages and a rise in price (such as we see today). The following season, a glut in the market would occur, and prices would drop. Collectors, they note, then turn their attention to other substances or pursuits. The price then stabilizes, but stocks are exhausted, and then, as the Lloyds put it, "history repeats itself."
This same pattern actually occurred with Echinacea angustifolia wild-harvested roots in the 1996 season. Roots started out at a price of upwards of $30.00 per pound. More root was harvested then could be sold, and the price dropped to as low as $12.00 per pound.
It's a matter of supply and demand. Given the market scarcity of goldenseal coupled with high prices, some have said that goldenseal is becoming "endangered." Unfortunately, the word "endangered" which should be reserved for species in imminent danger of extinction, is thrown about as an ambiguous word applied to any plant for which there are conservation concerns. According to Chris Robbins, a biologist with TRAFFIC USA, an arm of the World Wildlife Fund, the term endangered is over-used and inappropriately used in many contexts.
Robbins notes that for plant materials entering commercial trade, to determine its status of how it is surviving, especially if a wild-harvested species, you have to look at numerous variables. You have to look at the extent in international and domestic trade. You need a series of data on the volume in trade, along with distribution, status in cultivation, and in the wild, of course, how does the plant reproduce, and other ecological and biological factors that might have an impact on its capacity to survive, Robbins spoke before a meeting of the American Herbal Products Association, at Expo East in Baltimore, last October.
According to Robbins, one off-shoot of CITES Appendix II listing is to help promote the artificial propagation of a species that is primarily or mostly collected in the wild. That process is now beginning for goldenseal. The market shortages and high prices have prompted a number of commercial herb growers to put it in the ground. It's about a three year crop before the root can be harvested. There will be significant cultivated supplies of goldenseal within the next three years. Until then, goldenseal will remain scarce in the market and available only at high prices. Ultimately, the current goldenseal shortage is a positive thing, because it does stimulate, finally, the large-scale commercial cultivation of the plant.
Goldenseal is not endangered. However, the large increase in demand, has highlighted the need for more information on the plant's distribution, biology, reproduction, and ultimately the need to develop commercially cultivated supplies of the herb to provide a growing domestic and international market.
- 1.Goldenseal Root,Echinacea's partner, broad-spectrum herbs and its uses.
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