Xanthorhiza simplicissima

Common name: Yellowroot Family: Ranunculaceae
Author: Marshall. Botanical references: 11, 43, 200
Synonyms: Zanthorrhiza apifolia (L’Hér.), Xanthorhiza apiifolia ((L’Hér.)Guimpel.,Otto.&Hague.)
Known Hazards: The root, when taken in high doses, is potentially toxic222.
Range: Eastern N. America – New York to West Virginia and south to Florida and Alabama.
Habitat: Damp woods, thickets and the banks of streams43.
Edibility Rating (1-5): 0 Medicinal Rating (1-5): 2
Other Common Names: From various places around the Web, may not be correct. See below.
Shrub Yellowroot B, Yellowroot P,
Epithets: From a Dictionary of Botanical Epithets
simplicissima = simplest;
Systematics: From a UDSA Plants Database
Order: Ranunculales. Buttercup family
Other Range Info: From the Ethnobotany Database
Us; Us(Amerindian); Us(Appalachia)

Physical Characteristics

A decidious shrub growing to 1m by 3m at a fast rate. It is hardy to zone 6. It is in flower from March to April. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). We rate it 0/5 for edibility and 2/5 for medicinal use.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist or wet soil.

Habitats and Possible Locations

Woodland, Sunny Edge, Dappled Shade, Shady Edge, Deep Shade, Ground Cover.

Edible Uses

None known

Medicinal Uses

Antihaemorrhoidal; Astringent; Stomachic; Tonic.

The root is astringent and a blood tonic

222. A tea made from the roots is used to treat mouth ulcers213, stomach ulcers, colds, jaundice etc222, 257. An infusion of the roots has also been used to treat piles, though the report does not specify if it is used internally or externally257. Some caution is advised in the use of this plant, see the notes above on toxicity. The root contains the alkaloid ‘berberine’ which is used for its tonic properties and for digestive disorders213. Berberine is anti-inflammatory, astringent, haemostatic, antispasmodic, immuno-stimulant, uterine tonic and antimicrobial222. It stimulates the secretion of bile and bilirubin and may be helpful in correcting high tyramine levels in people with liver cirrhosis222.

Other Uses

Dye; Ground cover.

A yellow dye is obtained from the root

46, 61. The entire plant can be crushed to yield a yellow dye257. A good ground cover for damp semi-shaded positions11, 200. Plants should be spaced about 1.2 metres apart each way208.

Cultivation details

Requires a moist acid soil in sun or part shade184. Prefers shade or semi-shade188. Succeeds in any moist fertile soil according to other reports1, 182, 200. Hardy to about -20°c184. Plants can spread considerably by means of suckers182, especially when they are growing in a light soil208. A greedy plant, inhibiting the growth of nearby plants, especially legumes54.


Seed – best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the autumn200. Sow stored seed in a cold frame in late winter. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division in the autumn or late winter11.