Common name: Goldenseal
Other names: Yellow root paint, ground raspberry, Indian dye, yellow Indian paint, yellow puccoon, jaundice root
Latin name: Hydrastis canadensis
Affinities: Digestive system, nervous system, immune system
Actions: Astringent, anti-catarrhal, laxative, muscular stimulant, oxytocic, digestive bitter, antibacterial, cholagogue, mucous membrane tonic, antihemorrhagic, immune stimulant
Specific indications: Catarrhal states of the mucous membranes w/o acute inflammation, muscular tenderness and soreness, gastric irritability, skin diseases depending on a gastric abnormality
Diseases: Gastritis(3), septic ulceration(3), colitis(3), menorrhagia(3), haemorrhage(3)
Parts used: Rhizosomes and roots
Energetics: Cooling, drying
Characteristics: Goldenseal is a small perennial found in North Americas damp forests from Vermont to Arkansas (Kuhn and Winston, 2000). It yields dark berries in the Autumn and its rhizosomes are gold-yellow and knotted. It is almost extinct in the wild, but now is commercially grown.
History: This herb has an ancient history of use in Northern America, as the Native Americans extracted a yellow juice from the roots of goldenseal for use as a dye (Castleman, 2001). They medicinally used goldenseal for an eyewash, and to treat skin wounds, sore throats, and digestive complaints. The Cherokee Indians mixed goldenseal with bear grease to form an insect repellent. Goldenseal was popularised as an antiseptic by Samuel Thomson, a famous American herbalist in the early 19th century. He changed the name from yellow root to goldenseal, a combination of ‘golden’, meaning the colour, and ‘seal’, referring to the circular scars each year’s stems left on the root. He thought the circular scar resembled early wax seals on envelopes.
The Eclectic physicians of 19th century America widely used goldenseal, they referred to it as hydrastis, after the latin name (Felter and Lloyd, 1898). In the Eclectic text, King’s American Dispensatory, it is written, ‘Hydrastis… sharpens the appetite… (it) exerts its chief action upon the mucous and glandular structures, and to some extent… upon the nervous system’. In this text, they also specifically recommend it for catarrhal states of the mucous membranes without acute inflammation, but also muscular tenderness and soreness, gastric irritability, and skin diseases depending on a gastric abnormality. Finley Ellingwood wrote of hydratis in his text, The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, ‘In its influence upon the gastro-intestinal tract it is tonic, restorative and soothing in its action. It promotes the appetite… and conduces a restoration of the normal condition (Ellingwood, 1919).
Current applications: David Hoffman, in his text, Holistic Herbal, mentions goldenseal is one of the most useful herbs available to us (Hoffman, 1988). Most of its specific uses are related to the powerful tonic effects it has upon the mucous membranes of the body. It finds use in all digestive problems, such as gastritis, septic ulceration, and colitis. As it is a digestive bitter it may be useful for appetite loss. All states of catarrhal (inflammation of mucous membranes) benefit from goldenseal. It also finds use in menorrhagia and haemorrhage. Matthew Wood in the, Complete Earthwise Herbal Volume II, mentions that goldenseal used in small doses is a mucous membrane tonic that removes the propensity for bacteria to flourish by strengthening the mucosa (Wood, 2009). He recommends as a tonic it be used 3 drops thrice daily. As an antibiotic and stimulator of the immune system, goldenseal is often combined with echinacea and taken to treat upper respiratory tract infections (Yamaura et al., 2011).
Science: Goldenseals characteristic antibacterial activity is related to its alkaloids, the most abundant of which is berberine (Ettefagh et al., 2011). However, there are other alkaloids with antibacterial properties present in the root such as canadine and canadaline (Scazzocchio et al., 2001). Furthermore, synergy between different compounds from the root of goldenseal has been detected, together, sideroxylin, 8-desmethyl-sideroxylin, and 6-desmethyl-sideroxylin were found to enhance the antimicrobial activity of the compound, berberine, against Staphylococcus aureus. It also has been shown using an in vivo model that goldenseal increases immune activity via raising antigen-specific immunoglobulin production (Rehman et al., 1999).
Safety: Moderate. It should be avoided during pregnancy and if breastfeeding. This is not an herb for children or infants. The elderly only need very moderate doses. Goldenseal may potentially increase blood pressure.
Dosage: Tincture: 5-20 drops 2-3 times daily.
Research on models
Antibacterial activity: An ex vivo study demonstrated antibacterial properties of the major isolated alkaloids from hydrastis, including berberine, canadine, and canadaline on some bacterial strains (Scazzocchio et al., 2001).
Antibacterial activity(II): One ex vivo study identified synergist compounds from goldenseal called sideroxylin , 8-desmethyl-sideroxylin, and 6-desmethyl-sideroxylin (Junio et al., 2011). These flavonoids synergistically enhanced the antimicrobial activity of the alkaloid berberine against Staphylococcus aureus by inhibition of the NorA multidrug resistance pump.
Immunomodulatory activity: One study found that treatment of rats with goldenseal root extract resulted in an increase in the primary IgM response during the first 2 weeks of treatment (Rehman et al., 1999). The authors concluded that, goldenseal may enhance immune function by increasing antigen-specific immunoglobulin production.
Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.
Ellingwood, Finley. The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 1919.
Ettefagh, Keivan A., et al. “Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) extracts synergistically enhance the antibacterial activity of berberine via efflux pump inhibition.” Planta medica 77.08 (2011): 835-840.
Felter, Harvey and Lloyd, John. King’s American Dispensatory, 1898.
Junio, Hiyas A., et al. “Synergy-directed fractionation of botanical medicines: a case study with goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).” Journal of natural products 74.7 (2011): 1621-1629.
Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
Rehman, Jalees, et al. “Increased production of antigen-specific immunoglobulins G and M following in vivo treatment with the medicinal plants Echinacea angustifolia and Hydrastis canadensis.” Immunology letters 68.2 (1999): 391-395.
Scazzocchio, F., et al. “Antibacterial activity of Hydrastis canadensis extract and its major isolated alkaloids.” Planta medica 67.06 (2001): 561-564.
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books, 2009.
Yamaura, Katsunori, et al. “Protective effects of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) on acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity through inhibition of CYP2E1 in rats.” Pharmacognosy research 3.4 (2011): 250.