Goldenseal is worth considerably less than wild ginseng, but it also is much easier to harvest in quantity, making it a more dependable cash crop for the forager. It brings a steady if not spectacular price because of demand from herbal and medical markets for the root and to a lesser degree the leaves.
Finding harvestable quantities pretty much comes down to simply finding the plant, because it tends to grow in significant patches. The roots are small, but I have dug root as big around as my thumb where several plants came off the same root system.
A half-hour of digging may produce a couple of pounds, which sells for as much as $25 a pound after drying. Rule of thumb is 3 pounds of wet root will drop to 1 pound when dried.
Goldenseal grows wild throughout the eastern United States, in shady wooded areas with loose, rich, moist soil. Hillsides provide the drainage the plants prefer.
Goldenseal may be harvested any time of year and my be found above ground spring though fall, even into November during a wet year. Plants are easily identified by the distinctive leaves and golden hue of the cut root. April to May, a single white-green flower may appear on a short stalk above those distinctive leaves.
The main root is golden on the inside with fine hair roots on the outside. After digging, bits of hair root remain in the ground to propagate new growth. There is no conservation reason to wait for berries to ripen before harvest (as we do with ginseng). But I would wait until July for root that will dry at the fullest weight.
Not much equipment is needed. I bring a spade or smaller camp shovel and grocery bags to carry home what I dig.
Goldenseal does not grow deeply in the ground. However, you may find roots entwined with tree root. Do not waste too much time or energy digging these out. Other nearby root will be easier to get.
Before digging a root, simply break off the stem, with the leaves attached, and toss it into a separate bag. The leaves weigh next to nothing, but there is no need to leave a sellable product on the ground.
Buyers only want clean, dry goldenseal. To clean roots, I soak them in a 5-gallon bucket of water for ten minutes. Then I spread them on a concrete drive and use a garden hose to spray off the mud. The leaves only need to be shaken to get off the dust. There is no need to wash the leaves.
To dry the root, I spread it on old window screens on top of sawhorses in the sun. In the heat of summer, root may dry in as little as 24 hours. Feel the thickest part if the root to see if it still squishes. If it does, leave it on the drying rack until it is hard to the pinch. I just spread the leaves on the concrete and turn them once a day. They will be brittle when dry. Do not stack leaves or roots on top of one another. This can promote rot and mold.
Unlike agricultural crops, there is not a set market price with buyers standing in line. Fur buyers often take root. Rural newspapers and even the yellow pages may be worth a look.
You may sell at any time of year, but I recommend waiting until October. My experience has been that the price goes up in the fall. I last sold dried root and leaves for $23 and $2, respectively.
While wild goldenseal is still plentiful many places, harvest from the wild is regulated by state law. Before harvesting goldenseal or any wild plant, check first with the state DNR to make sure what you plan to dig is legal, when and where you plan to do it. Also be sure to secure permission from private landowners or public land managers before digging.
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