As its cover article, issue 119 of the American Botanical Council’s (ABC’s
) quarterly, peer-reviewed scientific journal HerbalGram
features a comprehensive, 16-page article about the conservation status of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis,
Ranunculaceae). The article, titled “Protecting Goldenseal: How Status Assessments Inform Conservation,” was written by plant conservation experts Leah E. Oliver and Danna J. Leaman, PhD. It includes vivid images of the species by herbalist and photographer Steven Foster.
Goldenseal is a long-lived, perennial plant that is native only to North America. It traditionally has been used to treat digestive complaints and many other conditions. Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published the first global Red List assessment for goldenseal, which categorized the plant as vulnerable, meaning it is “considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.” This assessment built on a previous global ranking update by the nonprofit NatureServe. These complementary conservation assessments are intended to inform policy, legislation, and conservation actions to prevent extinction and improve conservation status.
Oliver, a senior research botanist at NatureServe, authored the IUCN assessment, and Leaman, an ABC Advisory Board member who co-chairs the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN, was one of the assessment’s reviewers. Their HerbalGram article, which includes 91 references, thoroughly explains the current major threats to goldenseal’s survival in the wild and the justification for its listing as vulnerable according to the IUCN’s Red List criteria.
In the article, Oliver and Leaman explain that, while increased commercial cultivation of goldenseal in recent years has helped alleviate pressure on wild populations, the species still is threatened by land conversion, overharvesting, low genetic diversity, a scattered distribution, and other factors. For this species, they emphasize the need for field inventories, improved protection, sustainable production, preservation of different genotypes, and more strategies. The article also takes a broader look at the significance of IUCN and NatureServe assessments and compares the methodologies of each system.
"We appreciate the opportunity to address our article on the conservation of goldenseal to HerbalGram’s broad readership interested in the nutritional and medicinal uses of herbs,” Oliver and Leaman wrote. “Understanding the scientific basis for assessing the conservation status of any species is complicated, even for people deeply involved in conservation research and action.
“Our intent was to explain the scientific underpinnings for assessing goldenseal, which is native only to the United States and Canada, as Vulnerable to extinction according to the IUCN Red List criteria, and Vulnerable to Apparently Secure according to NatureServe criteria,” Oliver and Leaman continued. “We hope this article provides transparency about the criteria of the two predominant conservation status methodologies used to assess the global extinction risk for species, because they likely appear as a ‘black box’ to many people. Geographically, NatureServe focuses on the United States and Canada for these conservation assessments, and the IUCN focuses on the entire world. However, these organizations work together closely.
“We hope, too, that our recommendations for managing and monitoring wild harvest and ensuring sustainable use and commercial production in the future will inspire redoubled efforts of industry, public regulators, researchers, and consumers to ensure the long-term survival of this important medicinal herb,” the authors concluded.
Susan Leopold, PhD, the executive director of the United Plant Savers (UpS
), a nonprofit conservation organization whose 379-acre sanctuary in Rutland, OH, is home to a large wild population of goldenseal, added: “The time to act is now. I applaud HerbalGram
and the team of dedicated botanists who have collaborated on years of research to determine the conservation status of North America’s most iconic native medicinal plant. The herbal products industry has to invest in providing a sustainable supply of goldenseal, which means establishing living collections of various genotypes and supporting growers to take pressure off of wild harvesting. This article is a wakeup call, and this plant will define the legacy of the herbal products industry.”
This is the second time that goldenseal conservation has been the subject of HerbalGram’s cover. Issue 41, published in the fall of 1997, featured an article by Joy Bannerman about the threats to goldenseal at the time. That article was published just after goldenseal was listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction but for which international trade must be controlled to avoid overexploitation.
“The new article on goldenseal’s conservation status is another example of ABC’s long-time interest in and commitment to the conservation and sustainability of wild medicinal and aromatic plants,” said Mark Blumenthal, ABC founder and executive director. “Since our initial HerbalGram cover story on goldenseal conservation 21 years ago, much population biology research has been conducted on this important native American medicinal plant, which is now reflected in this new, seminal article. ABC is deeply grateful to the authors for their time and dedication to goldenseal conservation efforts, and their significant and unique contribution to the literature.”
Oliver and Leaman’s HerbalGram article is freely available on ABC’s website here