Herb: Goldthread

Latin name: Coptis trifolia

Synonyms: Coptis groenlandica

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Medicinal use of Goldthread:

Goldenthread is a very bitter tasting herb that was formerly highly valued and widely used in North America by the native Indians and white settlers alike, though it is little used in modern herbalism. It was employed mainly to treat any soreness in the mouth. The dried roots, stems and leaves are antiphlogistic, highly astringent, sedative, stomachic, tonic. The plant is valued as a local application in the treatment of thrush in children. It is also used in the treatment of ulcerated mouths and as a gargle for sore throats or mouths. It is said to be useful in the treatment of dyspepsia and helpful in combating the drink habit. The plant contains the alkaloid "berberine", which is a mild sedative, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. The root is collected in the autumn and dried for later use.

Description of the plant:


15 cm
(6 inches)


Habitat of the herb:

Coniferous woods and sphagnum moors. Dark swamps and dense forests in N. America.

Edible parts of Goldthread:

The whole plant is said to be eaten, or it can be mixed with sassafras-root bark and Irish moss and brewed into a kind of herbal root beer. This plant contributes a bitter flavour and a yellow colour to the beverage. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

Other uses of the herb:

A yellow dye is obtained from the leaves and stems. Can be grown as a ground cover plant in the peat garden.

Propagation of Goldthread:

Seed - best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in an ericaceous compost. Seal the pot in a polythene bag until germination takes place, which is usually within 1 - 6 months at 10C. Stored seed should be sown as early in the year as possible. Four weeks cold stratification may be beneficial. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow on in a shady part of the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out in mid-autumn or in spring. Division in spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Coniferous woods and sphagnum moors. Dark swamps and dense forests in N. America.

Known hazards of Coptis trifolia:

Although no specific mention of toxicity has been found for this species, it belongs to a family that contains many species that are mildly toxic and so it is wise to treat this plant with some caution.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.