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Goldenseal was used by indigenous people as a medicine in North America before the arrival of the settlers

Goldenseal

Hydrastis canadensis Ranunculaceae

This remarkable herb of the Buttercup family has a long history of use in North America as an effective antimicrobial and mucous membrane tonic.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Critically endangered in the wild. Listed on CITES or National Red Lists. Do not use unless from cultivated sources or from certified sustainable wild collection sold with appropriate guarantees and certification. Read more about our sustainability guide.

The sustainability status of Goldenseal:

 

CITES Appendix 2

Potential replacement(s): Garlic Triphala Barberry

Key benefits
  • Tonic to mucous membranes
  • Antimicrobial
  • Bitter
  • How does it feel?

    The infused tincture smells earthy and resinous, with an initially bitter taste.

  • What can I use it for?

    Goldenseal is considered an endangered plant in the wild, so before you use it, make sure you are purchasing cultivated Goldenseal from a reputable source. The sustainability concerns of this plant means it is rarely used, and is often substituted for other plants containing berberine in many herbal formulas.

    However, Goldenseal is an extremely effective antimicrobial herb applied both internally and externally. It can be applied to clean wounds, rashes, and fungal infections. It is also specific when there is excess mucous or catarrh in any mucous membrane, whether that is in the respiratory, digestive, or reproductive system.

    As a bitter, it is excellent for stimulating digestion, helping the body produce and release bile, and promoting an appetite.

  • Into the heart of goldenseal

    Goldenseal was used by indigenous people as a medicine in North America before the arrival of the settlers. It was valued as a wash for eyes and as a digestive remedy. This speaks to the value of its ability to soothe membranes and support digestion.

    Herbalists often support digestion as a central aspect of a holistic treatment, as this is how the body absorbs nutrients and eliminates most toxins. A well-functioning digestive system must be in place for health, and so effective remedies for this system are highly valued in the dispensary.

  • Traditional uses

    The early settlers of the United States learned of the medicinal uses of Goldenseal from the indigenous people. The Cherokee used the plant as a stomachic, a remedy for sore eyes, and a yellow dye. The plant quickly became a popular remedy with the pioneers for these uses. BY the twentieth century, it was widely in use. By 1905, The United States of Agriculture had recognised the growing demand for the plant as a medicine, when an estimated 20,000lb to 30,000lb per year was being supplied.

    Traditionally, the root has been used as a wide-ranging digestive remedy. Goldenseal was applied in cases of digestive inflammation, constipation, haemorrhoids, vomiting, dyspepsia, and loss of appetite. It was used as a snuff for nasal catarrh. Reportedly, it was historically used in cases of sexually transmitted diseases, though this is not an acceptable application of herbal medicine currently. It has been used in labour to aid in contractions, though this use is not recommended.

    It was considered to be a specific to prevent pitting of small pox.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Goldenseal is considered an extremely effective tonic for mucous membranes, and may be applied in a formula tending to any mucous membrane that may be over-producing catarrh or mucus.

    Digestive system: Goldenseal continues to be an excellent remedy for many digestive complaints because of its tonic effect on mucous membranes. Its bitter activity helps stimulate bile flow for cases of sluggish digestion or lack of appetite. It is also well applied to digestive ulcerations, such as peptic ulcers, and colitis. Goldenseal is especially indicated if there are hepatic symptoms.

    Integumentary system (skin): Goldenseal is very antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory which makes it a great remedy for wounds, fungal infections, and rashes. The tincture can be added to a cream. The powder is also useful topically. Goldenseal may also be added to a wash for infections of the eyes, mouth, and gums.

    Reproductive system: Goldenseal, although a uterine stimulant, is also anti-hemorrhagic and can be used in a formula to assist in reducing heavy menstrual bleeding. Goldenseal can also be used in a douche for thrush and other vaginal infections.

  • Research

    There is limited available clinical research on the root of Goldenseal, though berberine has been the focus of many studies.

    In animal and human studies, berberine has shown to be hypoglycaemic (1). In one pilot human study, berberine was found to be comparable to metformin for the treatment of diabetes mellitus 2 (2). As berberine has been found to increase insulin sensitivity, it is also useful in the treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). One study found that administration of berberine improved ovulation rate in patients with PCOS (3).

    Berberine has also been found to improve cardiovascular parameters. Berberine has been found to lower blood pressure, lower blood lipids, and have anti-arrhythmic effects (4,5,6).

    Berberine has been demonstrated to have a wide spectrum cytotoxic activity against human cancer cell lines (7). In addition to this, it has shown chemoprotective activity in vitro and in vivo (8).

    The anti-bacterial properties of berberine have also been extensively studied. It has been shown to be effective against Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae, Shigella dysenteriae, Streptococcus agalactiae, and Helicobacter pylori. It has also been demonstrated to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics against antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria (5).

    Further human trials with both Goldenseal and its constituents are required.

  • Did you know?

    Goldenseal was traditionally used as a dye by the Cherokee in North America.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Goldenseal is a small herbaceous perennial herb that grows up to 30cm tall. The thick, knotted rhizome is yellow-is brown on the outside, with bright yellow interior pulp and has numerous roots growing from it. The stem is erect, thick and hairy, and grows from the root in spring. There are two leaves, that are alternate, dark green, and the lower leaf is larger than the upper leaf. There is one solitary flower with no petals but several stamens and pistils. The fruit looks like an enlarged raspberry. It flowers from April to May and fruits in July. 

    The plant is native to North America, and grows best in moist deciduous woodland. It requires 75% shade and moist, well-drained, rich soil that is covered in dead leaves. The roots are harvested in the second or third year.

    Due to being over harvested over a prolonged period of time, Goldenseal was listed as endangered in 1997 and is now rarely found in a wild habitat. Cultivated Goldenseal should be sought for medicinal use, and it used rarely by herbalists because of the sustainability concerns.

  • Common names

    • Goldenseal
    • Yellow root
    • Orange root
    • Yellow puccoon
    • Ground raspberry
    • Wild curcuma
    • Jaundice root
    • Eye root
    • Eye balm
    • Hydrastis root
  • Safety

    When used within the recommended dose, Goldenseal is considered a safe herb.

    Goldenseal is contraindicated for those with high blood pressure as hydrastine may increase blood pressure. Prolonged use may inhibit vitamin B absorption.

    Goldenseal is not recommended for use during pregnancy or lactation.

    Due to the high price of the root and its status as an endangered plant, many Goldenseal products may be adulterated. Sourcing sustainable and reputable Goldenseal is imperative to safety.

  • Dosage

    • Dried root: 0.7-2g per day
    • Tincture 1:3: 2-4ml per day
    • Tincture 1:5: 3.5-7ml per day
  • Constituents

    • Isoquinoline alkaloids (2.5- 6%): hydrastine (3.2-4%), berberine (up to 6%), canadine (0.5-1%), berberastine (2-3%)
    • Fatty acids
    • resin
    • phenylpropanoids: meconin, chlorogenic acid
    • phytosterins
    • small amount of volatile oil
goldenseal illustration
  • Sustainability

  • Recipe

    Digestive bitter concoction

    Ingredients:

    • 15g Dandelion root
    • 10g Goldenseal or Oregon Grape root
    • 15g Bitter orange peel
    • 5g   Liquorice root

    Method:

    • Mix all ingredients well together.
    • Take 2 tsp and boil in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes.
    • Not suitable for those who are pregnant or who have high blood pressure.
  • References

    1. Zhang Y, Li X, Zou D et al. Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes and Dyslipidemia with the Natural Plant Alkaloid Berberine. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2008;93(7):2559-2565. doi:10.1210/jc.2007-24046. 
    2. Yin J, Xing H, Ye J. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2008;57(5):712-717. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.0137. 
    3. Li L, Li C, Pan P et al. A Single Arm Pilot Study of Effects of Berberine on the Menstrual Pattern, Ovulation Rate, Hormonal and Metabolic Profiles in Anovulatory Chinese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PLoS One. 2015;10(12):e0144072. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.01440728. 
    4. Lan J, Zhao Y, Dong F et al. Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;161:69-81. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.09.0499.
    5.  Imenshahidi M, Hosseinzadeh H. Berberine and barberry (Berberis vulgaris): A clinical review. Phytotherapy Research. 2019;33(3):504-523. doi:10.1002/ptr.625210. 
    6. Zeng X, Zeng X, Li Y. Efficacy and safety of berberine for congestive heart failure secondary to ischemic or idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Am J Cardiol. 2003;92(2):173-176. doi:10.1016/s0002-9149(03)00533-2
    7. Cheng Y-T, Yang C-C, Shyur L-F. Phytomedicine—Modulating oxidative stress and the tumor microenvironment for cancer therapy. Pharmacological Research. 2016;114:128-143. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2016.10.022
    8. Chidambara Murthy KN, Jayaprakasha GK, Patil BS. The natural alkaloid berberine targets multiple pathways to induce cell death in cultured human colon cancer cells. European Journal of Pharmacology. 2012;688(1-3):14-21. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2012.05.004
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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