News Release

Unregulated wild collection and habitat loss lead to Vulnerable status for medicinal Goldenseal

17 November 2017
Photo: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

The latest update to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ saw Goldenseal classified as “Vulnerable” on The IUCN Red List in a move that highlights concerns about the medicinal plant’s decline.

The IUCN Red List now includes 87,967 different wildlife species, of which 25,062 (approximately 28%), fall with one of the the three "Threatened" categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is a long-lived perennial plant native to North America (USA and Canada) where it has undergone a decline in both its distribution and the quality of its habitat.

The plant is widely used medicinally amongst rural communities and national consumers alike given its high concentration of medicinally-active alkaloids. Its applications include treating colds and other respiratory conditions as well as curing digestive disorders such as stomach pain and swelling, diarrhoea and constipation.

“Goldenseal was widespread in eastern North American forests two centuries ago, and it has long been prized for its medicinal use,” says Leah Oliver, Senior Research Botanist with NatureServe who led the assessment.

“The main threats to Goldenseal are unregulated wild collection combined with the historic and continuing loss of its forest habitat.  However, there is a growing international market for cultivated Goldenseal, and wild-collection may be sustainable if it is carefully managed and contributes to the protection of forest habitat. These activities may slow the decline of the species.”

“Medicinal plants, including Goldenseal, are an important use of the earth’s amazing biological diversity—not just for human health,” says Danna Leaman, Co-chair of the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

“Many subsistence incomes, as well as some substantial fortunes, continue to be made from their commercial value.  Survival of the companies and markets that rely on these species depends on adoption of sustainable wild harvest methods and habitat protection.  We are undertaking global Red List assessments of many North American medicinal plants to identify the need for sustainable wild harvest before a species becomes threatened with extinction.”

National and international demand for Goldenseal continues to rise.  The species is designated as Threatened and is protected by national legislation in Canada, but is not protected in the United States.  International trade requires a permit and is monitored by both countries under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES).  

“Goldenseal is an important species within the medicinal plant trade, both commercially and within local communities,” said Anastasiya Timoshyna, TRAFFIC’s Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Programme Leader.

“Its listing as Vulnerable to extinction should alert the industry associated with the wild harvest of Goldenseal to the urgent need for implementing sustainable wild harvesting practices—there has never been a greater need for sustainability certification systems like the FairWild Standard, which have already been instrumental in protecting other threatened plant species from over-exploitation.”

The FairWild Standard was established by TRAFFIC, IUCN, and WWF, in partnership with industry and other organizations concerned about the unsustainable sourcing of wild plant ingredients. It provides the necessary safeguards and frameworks to enable sustainable wild collection and ensure the long-term survival of wild plant species as well as fair pay and good working conditions for plant harvesters.

“FairWild Certification schemes can also give rural collectors and communities access to commercial markets to help them reap the rewards of sustainable wild harvesting,” says Timoshyna.

“It is time that sustainable certification systems become a requirement rather than just an appendage to any form of wild plant collection. Otherwise, we may see many more species declining, or disappearing completely, from the wild.”



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