Herbal medicines, dietary supplements, and other natural products have been traditionally produced from wild collected raw material. Several of the more popular plants including Hydrastis canadensis, commonly known as goldenseal, have been over collected from the wild to the point of being declared endangered specie. By definition, wild collected raw material has been produced in an environment without controls leading to wide variations in raw material quality and subsequent consumer disappointment in the effectiveness and reliability of the products they purchase.
Goldenseal is native to the deciduous forests of Eastern North America. It has been an item of commercial trade since the 1700’s when it was first shown to European settlers by the Native Americans. Used for infections, digestive disorders, sore mouth, and wound healing, the plant became a mainstay in the arsenal of 19th and early 20th century physicians. Goldenseal became so popular that by the mid 1880’s concern began to be expressed for its survival in the wild due to over collection. As a result, in the early 1900’s, the newly formed USDA started urging farmers to initiate cultivation of the plant in order to reduce the need for wild collection.
Demand for goldenseal waned during the 1940’s and 50’s due to the advent of mold based antibiotics but a dramatic resurgence occurred in the 1970’s and 80’s as consumers began searching for natural alternatives to synthetic pharmaceuticals. USDA and conservationist calls for cultivation of the plant went largely unheeded and by 1997 the market was consuming more than 60 million wild plants per year amounting to approximately 98% of the raw material used to produce goldenseal products.
A lack of fundamental information regarding methods of profitably cultivating the plant combined with extremely slow growth (4 years to maturity) plus very little price premium for cultivated goldenseal vs wild collected material resulted in no incentive for growers to risk the time and/or effort required to cultivate the plant. This set of circumstances coupled with major habitat loss due to land development led the US Fish and Wildlife Service to recommend placement of goldenseal on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix List II in 1997in an effort to “buy time for the plant while sustainable production methods are developed”.
In 2001 Sleepy Hollow Farm was granted a USDA Small Business Innovation Research award to develop a USDA National Organic Program (NOP) certified production system for goldenseal usable by small family operated farms. The project was successful and we taught the system to more than 20 small farmers across four states GA, AL, TN, and NC. These growers have established more than 10 acres of wild simulated, USDA NOP certified organic goldenseal, effectively doubling the organic goldenseal acreage in the US and providing a sustainable supply of raw material from which we produce Sleepy Hollow Farm’s Goldenseal Advancedtm products.