Questions about Growing Goldenseal
Answered by: Richters Staff
Question from: Dwight
Posted: Before April 1998

I’m interested in growing goldenseal. I live in Connecticut (U.S.A.). How big will the plant grow? How much space is required? Can I prune the plant and use the pruned pieces to grind into power? Will buying rootlets produce a hardy enough plant the first year to survive the winter? Will the rootlets produce a plant at all the first year? What kind of soil does the plant like?

The plant grows 20-40 cm (8-15 inches) high with a spread of 15-30 cm (6-12 inches). You cannot prune the plant; the roots are harvested after two or three years, but root divisions may be replanted. Fall planted rootlets will survive the winter in zones 4-8 provided the soil is well-drained. Goldenseal prefers a soil rich in organic material, typical of a hardwood forest. The rootlets are really mini-plants with leaves, but they will not be harvestable the first year. It takes at least two seasons, and preferably three, to get good sized roots.

A good source of information on growing goldenseal is A.R. Harding’s "Ginseng and Other Medicinal Plants" (available from Richters) which has three chapters devoted to the cultivation and harvesting of goldenseal. The book was written at the beginning of the century but it is still a useful source of information.
============================= Subject: St John’s Wort is Poisonous?
Answered by: Richters Staff
Question from: Terry J. Klokeid
Posted: Before April 1998

The following article claims that St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum is poisonous:

Ingeborg van Driel, Poisonous Plants. Coastal Grower, May 1996, pp 27-28.

In a table on page 27, van Driel lists "St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum" as having poisonous leaves and berries.

We are concerned about this plant because we would like to use it as a ground cover in territory that is visited by pet rabbits. We have checked the Richters catalogue of course, and asked a local landscape authority, and looked in a few books, but find no other reference to Hypericum as toxic.

In general, we are not too concerned about toxic plants, as the rabbits seem to know which ones to avoid without ever having to read about them. For example, they do not touch foxglove, and in the vegetable garden, they don’t nibble on sprawling tomato plants (said by some to be toxic), though they’ll nibble on carrot tops that hang out of a raised bed. The rabbits don’t as a rule enter the raised beds themselves, they stick to the pathways between the wooden sides of the beds and eat the weeds and escapees – sunroots, Helianthus tuberosus and such – that they find there. So they are free to roam wherever they want and eat what they want.

Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, before we plant a patch of St. Johnswort, we’d like to double check with you.

First, Hypericum perforatum does not have berries. The seed capsules vaguely resemble dried berries, but unlike some other species this species does not have berries.

The chemical constituent, hypericin, in St Johnswort can cause photodermatitis in some sensitive humans and animals. In sheep, for example, it *may* cause shedding of wool, swelling of the face, skin irritation and loss of appetite. In large doses it can cause death. Cattle, sheep, horses, goats, rats, and rabbits exhibit varying degrees of sensitivity. From the scientific literature, it appears that cattle are the most sensitive, but we could not find anything about the relative sensitivity of rabbits. But, as Christopher Hobbs writes in HerbalGram (No. 18-19, 1988-89), the plant is not a major threat to livestock because among the first symptoms of St Johnswort intoxication is loss of appetite and animals do not ingest enough to cause photodermatitis.

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