How to Identify, Harvest & Prepare
How to Identify
The 'golden thread' refers to the root, so identification of the plant itself is important.
Goldthread is found on the forest floor and is easily spotted in Spring when small white, 5-7 petalled flowers appear - with 5 yellow stamens and sprays of tiny, white, "stamenettes". Blooms in Nova Scotia from mid-May through to July.
At other times of year, leaves are waxy green in three sections or leaflets, similar to a strawberry, but smaller and hugging the ground more tightly.
According to Blupete, Goldthread, or "Canker Root" (Coptis trifolia, groenlandica)is of the Buttercup family. The Goldthread is a small plant which lies upon the forest floor. It has a solitary white flower; it has evergreen basal leaves rising from a thread-like, yellow underground stem. The flowers are like small and white with fussy centers.
And while there is only one flower per plant, the plants patch together, so, likely, one will find quite a number of them together, usually in an area where the Clintonia and wild lily-of-the-valley gather. The leaves are divided into three leaflets with scalloped, toothed margins."
How to Harvest
When you spot Goldthread, gently lift the moss and debris from the forest floor to find the "goldthread" roots and collect as many as you need to replenish your store. In most homesteads, this would mean 6 months to a year. The 'goldthreads' are harvested, dried naturally and stored until needed in air tight jars.
How to Use
Use topically as a wash on wounds, scratches, bites, sores and burns. It seems to be an astringent. Use internally as a tea for mouth sores, stomach problems.
My father gathered Goldthread and chewed the roots directly for cankers, toothache, digestive problems. Oldtimers here would take several strands of Goldthread and position them directly into open wounds before bandaging.
Others report the leaves and stems can be gathered and used as well, however, the roots were used historically for their storage capabilities and were usually part of the medicine chest on long sea journeys. The dried roots were often ground into a powder.
Francis Harnish of Sheet Harbour Passage, recently told me two stories. One was taken from the book, "MicMac Medicine" by Laurey Lacey, South Shore. As Laurey tells it, a man was sent home from the hospital to die, after being diagnosed with "incurable" and terminal stomach cancer.
He was told by [a Medicine Woman] to take a 1 foot strand of Goldthread in a cup of tea several times each day. (Checking source for quantity but more won't hurt you). Goldthread tea is reportedly a little bitter to taste, but not unpleasant.
After a period of time, the man returned to the doctor who had treated him and was told he was cured. No more stomach cancer.
Shortly thereafter, Francis found a series of pre-cancerous boils (source medical term) on the back of his neck. They were treated by a medical doctor removal and cauterization. One lesion grew back and again was removed, only to grow back again, a raw open sore.
This time, discovering that the doctor was on a 3 week vacation, Francis boiled Golden Thread in water for 15 minutes and let it steep for several hours. Then he applied it to the boil "5 or 6 times a day" until it was healed. By the time the doctor returned, all that was left was a lump where the lesion had been.
The doctor said, "I don't know what you're doing, but keep doing it". Soon thereafter, even the lump disappeared.
Traditional Use: Medicinally it was used by the Indians and the early colonists to treat mouth sores, natures dental floss. Boiled goldthread root was used as a tonic. Checking use by Mi'kmaq for cankers; assume a tea, gargle or rinse. In current practice, the Mi'kmaq elders make a salve for topical application.
The elongated yellow roots of the goldthread, from which use it takes its name, had a use for the aboriginals as a thread for bead work.
Another species of Goldthread (Coptis chinensis) has been used in traditional Eastern medicine for thousands of years and is recommended by naturopaths for testicular cancer, stomach cancer, emaciation, etc.
Herbal-Drug Interactions / Pharmacology - Goldthread contains two active alkaloids, berberine and coptine which are responsible for its traditional use in anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive, antipyretic, antimicrobial treatments. Current interest revolves around results showing Goldthread to be the most potent of 15 natural medicines found in Canada with respect to cytotoxicity in five hepatoma human cell lines, including Hepatitis B (HB) virus genome. Thus, its reported success in inhibiting cancerous cell growth. Caution should be taken when using cancer drugs and natural remedies.
"Goldthread (Coptis trifolia); also known as Alaska Goldthread, Canker Root, Common Goldthread, Trifoliate Goldthread, Vegetable Gold; perennial evergreen herb with creeping rootstalk.
Family: Buttercup (Ranunculaceae)
Flower: White, star-shaped, 5-7 petals; usually solitary at tip of leafless stalks; May-July.
Leaves: Basal leaves on long slender stalks, triangular shape, 2-5 cm wide, compound with 3 leaflets, upper surface is shiny dark green, margins with rounded teeth.
Height: 7-15 cm.
Habitat: Cool, moist habitats in coniferous forests, swamps, bogs, road banks, thickets, mossy places, cedar swamps, and in damp woods. Prefers low light, cool, moist conditions on relatively infertile soils, which are acidic. Goldthread does not tolerate disturbance and disappears after logging. Requires some shade, possibly because of its preference for moist sites.
Interest: The Goldthread rootstalk is bright yellow or gold in colour and looks like a bit of golden wire. It is reported that Native Americans chewed roots to treat mouth sores and made tea from the roots to treat mouth sores. The name Coptis means "cut", referring to the divided leaves.
Thanks and Photo Credits to Blupete (Nova Scotia) and Andy (Northern Ontario) Book References: MicMac Medicine, Laury Lacey