Coptis laciniata

Today’s entry continues the medicinal plants diversity series, though I’ve not been able to find a reference to medicinal use of this particular species. However, other species in the genus are used in treatments (due to the same compounds in the roots), so it isn’t a stretch to imagine it has medicinal potential.

I became aware of the medicinal uses of Coptis while researching economic values of members of the buttercup family for my presentation to the Native Plant Society of BC last week. Modern economic uses for this family, beyond ornamentals, are few and far between, but the genus Coptis stands out. As one example, an eastern Himalayan relative of today’s species, Coptis teeta, is a prized Ayurvedic herb. Known as Mishmi (from the Mishmi Hills of Arunachal Pradesh), its roots contain berberine and it is used to treat gastrointestinal complaints and malarial infections. Due to a combination of deforestation and overharvesting, however, Coptis teeta has been brought close to extinction. Other members of the genus have also been used medicinally by their respective local indigenous peoples, including Coptis chinensis (China), Coptis japonica (southeast Asia) and Coptis trifolia (North America) (ref: The Cultural History of Plants, ed. Prance and Nesbitt, but also see: WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants – Volume 1, pp. 105-144).

Discussion on the pros and cons of berberine as a medicinal compound are difficult to find in specific relation to Coptis, but another member of the Ranunculaceae makes a good substitute. The increasingly-threatened goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) has been somewhat well-studied as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory due to its high concentrations of berberine; you can read about some of the evidence (or lack thereof) via the University of Maryland Medical Center: Hydrastis canadensis, or the Dietary Supplement Database from the University of California, San Diego: Hydrastis canadensis. As an aside, the reasons for the decline of Hydrastis canadensis in its native range of eastern North America are unsustainable harvesting and mountaintop removal mining.

Coptis laciniata is commonly known as Oregon goldthread, and this low-growing perennial is found in wet coniferous forests on the west side of coastal mountain ranges from Washington to California. For additional photographs, see the Burke Museum’s entry for Coptis laciniata or CalPhoto’s Coptis laciniata image collection.

Coptis laciniata
Coptis laciniata

6 responses to “Coptis laciniata”

  1. Janeal Thompson

    Daniel,
    Thanks for your continued interesting comments and high quality photographs for the education of plant lovers everywhere.
    Janeal Thompson
    Lamar, CO

  2. Dennis Schuster

    What oddly sparse petals. It’s almost as if the petals are there, not for display, but to provide an extra foothold for the pollinator.
    These pictures and comments are always topnotch. Thanks.

  3. phillip

    goldenseal is mentioned.
    in the 70’s this 80 year old german landloard of mine had skin cancer, he made a poultice with goldenseal, honey and ‘duck’, i believe plantain, and cured the cancer.
    he repeatedly told his doctors this fact, only to be dismissed as a fluke.

  4. Maggie Paquet

    The Rodale Herb Book, published in 1974, lists “Coptis groenlandica,” aka mouthroot or goldthread, which I assume is very closely related to your specimen. This book says it is used for canker sores in the mouth, or for thrush in children; medicine made from the whole plant or the roots. “One recipe calls forusing one ounce of crushed in a pint of diluted alcohol for an ulcerated mouth. Another book I have, The Compleat Herbal, by Ben Charles Harris, published 1972, calls it canker or mouth root, yellow root; says the part used is “the whole plant…often combined with other antidyspeptic herbs for disorders of the liver and gallbladder. Its chief constituent, berberine, is present also in barberry and goldenseal, thus permitting substitution for either. The thin spreading root yields a needle-thread effect to heal, as if to sew together, mouth lesions or cankers. It has an excellent reputation as an astringent wash for mouth sores, gumboils, and external ulcers. A decoction provides a good gargle for a sore throat.”

  5. Eric Simpson

    I’ve driven past it many times, but never been on the Myrtle Creek Trail. However, I have hiked on many other trails in the area – all around Jed Smith RSP and on the South Kelsey Trail – and have seen this little guy quite a bit. I love the 2nd photo, Daniel: the inclusion of the sorrel and fern(?) show just how small the Coptis flowers are.

  6. elizabeth a airhart

    thank you the flower has bloomed or ready to bloom
    would make a great pair of earrings
    thank you for walking the meadows and forests and mountains
    few of us could see it all bon jour

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