ArticleDocuments Current Threats to Goldenseal and Justification for its Listing asVulnerable to Extinction
Goldenseal is a long-lived, perennial plant that is native only to NorthAmerica. It traditionally has been used to treat digestive complaints and manyother conditions. Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) published the first global Red List assessment for goldenseal, whichcategorized the plant as Vulnerable, meaning it is “considered to be facing ahigh risk of extinction in the wild.” This assessment built on a previousglobal ranking update by the nonprofit NatureServe. These complementaryconservation assessments are intended to inform policy, legislation, andconservation actions to prevent extinction and improve conservation status.
Oliver, a senior research botanist at NatureServe, authored the IUCNassessment, and Leaman, an ABC Advisory Board member who co-chairs theMedicinal Plant Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of theIUCN, was one of the assessment’s reviewers. Their HerbalGram article, which includes 91 references, thoroughlyexplains the current major threats to goldenseal’s survival in the wild and thejustification for its listing as Vulnerable according to the IUCN’s Red Listcriteria.
In the article, Oliver and Leaman explain that, while increased commercial cultivationof goldenseal in recent years has helped alleviate pressure on wildpopulations, the species still is threatened by land conversion,overharvesting, low genetic diversity, a scattered distribution, and otherfactors. For this species, they emphasize the need for field inventories,improved protection, sustainable production, preservation of differentgenotypes, and more strategies. The article also takes a broader look at thesignificance of IUCN and NatureServe assessments and compares the methodologiesof each system.
“We appreciate the opportunity to address our article on the conservation of goldensealto HerbalGram’s broad readershipinterested in the nutritional and medicinal uses of herbs,” Oliver and Leamanwrote. “Understanding the scientific basis for assessing the conservationstatus of any species is complicated, even for people deeply involved inconservation research and action.
“Ourintent was to explain the scientific underpinnings for assessing goldenseal, whichis native only to the United States and Canada, as Vulnerable to extinctionaccording to the IUCN Red List criteria, and Vulnerable to Apparently Secure accordingto NatureServe criteria,” Oliver and Leaman continued. “We hope this articleprovides transparency about the criteria of the two predominant conservationstatus methodologies used to assess the global extinction risk for species, becausethey likely appear as a ‘black box’ to many people. Geographically, NatureServefocuses on the United States and Canada for these conservation assessments, andthe IUCN focuses on the entire world. However, these organizations worktogether closely.
“We hope, too, that our recommendations for managing and monitoring wildharvest and ensuring sustainable use and commercial production in the futurewill inspire redoubled efforts of industry, public regulators, researchers, andconsumers 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), anonprofit conservation organization whose 379-acre sanctuary in Rutland, Ohio,is home to a large wild population of goldenseal, added: “The time to act is now. I applaud HerbalGram and the team of dedicatedbotanists who have collaborated on years of research to determine theconservation status of North America’s most iconic native medicinal plant. Theherbal products industry has to invest in providing a sustainable supply ofgoldenseal, which means establishing living collections of various genotypesand supporting growers to take pressure off of wild harvesting. This article isa wakeup call, and this plant will define the legacy of the herbal productsindustry.”
This is the second time that goldenseal conservation has been the subject of HerbalGram’s cover. Issue 41, publishedin the fall of 1997, featured an articleby Joy Bannerman about the threats to goldenseal at the time. That article waspublished just after goldenseal was listed in Appendix II of the Convention onInternational Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily threatened withextinction but for which international trade must be controlled to avoidoverexploitation.
“The new article on goldenseal’s conservation status is another example ofABC’s long-time interest in and commitment to the conservation andsustainability 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 nativeAmerican medicinal plant, which is now reflected in this new, seminal article.ABC is deeply grateful to the authors for their time and dedication togoldenseal conservation efforts, and their significant and unique contributionto the literature.”
Oliver and Leaman’s HerbalGram articleis freely available on ABC’s website here.