Herbs , 15-50 cm. Rhizomes with tough fibrous roots. Stems erect, unbranched, pubescent. Leaves: basal leaf often quickly deciduous, 1; cauline leaves, 2, similar to basal. Leaf blade 3-10 cm wide at anthesis, to 25 cm wide in fruit; lobes variously incised, margins singly or doubly serrate. Flowers 8-18 mm wide; peduncle 5-38 mm, ± closely subtended by distalmost cauline leaf; sepals not clawed, 3.5-7 mm, glabrous; stamens strongly exserted, white showy, 4-8 mm; pistils 1-carpellate, distinct; stigma 2-lipped. Berry aggregates dark red, 10-15 × 8-15(-20) mm, each berry 5-8 × 1.5-5 mm. Seeds 1-2 per pistil, 2.5-4.5 mm. Flowering spring. Mesic, deciduous forests, often on clay soil; 50-1200 m; Ont.; Ala., Ark., Conn., Del., Ga., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Ky., Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Pa., Tenn., Vt., Va., W.Va., Wis. A decrease in undisturbed, deciduous woodlands and commercial harvesting of the rhizomes for herbal medicine have contributed to a decline of this species. The species is considered very infrequent in Canada (G. W. Argus and K. M. Pryer 1990) and in some U.S. states (D. J. White and H. L. Dickson 1983). The raspberrylike fruit is considered inedible. Native Americans used Hydrastis canadensis medicinally for treating cancer, whooping cough, diarrhea, liver trouble, earaches, sore eyes, fevers, pneumonia, heart trouble, tuberculosis, chapped or cut lips, and dyspepsy; to improve appetite; and as a tonic, and as a wash for inflammation (D. E. Moerman 1986).
From Flora of Indiana (1940) by Charles C. Deam
Infrequent to common in rich, moist woods throughout the state although there are no records or specimens from 5 of the northwestern counties. I once found it growing in a tamarack bog. From the earliest times it has been much used in medicine and now commands a high price. The root of this species and ginseng have always been valuable and for this reason they are almost extinct. I believe that goldenseal is now more rare than ginseng. Its scarcity and high price have resulted in its being cultivated.
Stem 2-5 dm, hairy, bearing usually one basal lf and 2 cauline lvs near the top; blades broadly cordate-rotund, 5-lobed, palmately veined, 3-10 cm wide at anthesis, later sometimes to 25 cm, the lobes incised, doubly serrate, short-acuminate; peduncle hairy, ca 1 cm; filaments 5-8 mm; 2n=26. Deep, rich woods; Vt. to Mich. and Minn., s. to N.C., Tenn., and Ark. Apr., May.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.