Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Golden sealGoldenseal is a perennial root native to the moist woods and meadows of eastern North America.  From a rough, yellow root grows a single hairy stem about eight to ten inches in height.  Between May and June, each goldenseal plant sprouts a single white or rose-colored flower which is followed by a crimson head or a group of small raspberry-like berries.  

Native North Americans used the bright yellow juice of goldenseal’s root as a dye, but it was the Cherokee Indians who first noticed that clothing dyers who used golden seal seldom got ill.  Those who wore the garments dyed with golden seal juice were also spared many common illnesses.  This effect was soon linked to the root itself, and the Cherokee began using goldenseal root to treat a variety of illness and ailments including: sore eyes, ulcers and arrow wounds.  Early European settlers and explorers of these regions learned of the herb’s many qualities from the Cherokee, Iroquois, and Micmac and used it widely as a stomach and liver remedy, a laxative, and a cure for painful digestion.   

The most important components of golden seal are a group of isoquinoline alkaloids consisting mainly of hydrastine, berberastine and berberine. Berberine is an antimicrobial agent and is found in other antimicrobial herbs like Oregon grape, barberry and coptis. The alkaloids in goldenseal have a tonic effect on skin and mucus membranes.  They reduce inflammation and stagnation, making goldenseal one of the best remedies for subacute inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract, respiratory passages, urinary passages, reproductive organs and skin. 

In short, goldnseal reduces mucus secretions, cools inflammation and fights infections on mucus membranes and skin.  It also works on cell membranes, helping to reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels.

The most common use of goldenseal is to fight infections. Two of goldenseal’s alkaloids, hydrastine and berberine, have been found to combat a wide variety of infections such as staph, strep, E. coli bacteria and giardia.  

Goldenseal is often paired with echinacea as an infection-figher and the combination of Goldenseal and Echinacea is one of the most commonly used herbal formulas in modern herbalism.  It is a great formula for colds where mucus is thick and discolored.  Goldenseal also finds it’s way into other infection fighting formulas like JP-X (for urinary tract infections), IN-X and Lymph Gland Cleanse (for infections in the lymph nodes and tonsils), Sinus Support (for sinus infections), CC-A (for colds), FV (for flu) and EW (used as an eye wash for eye infections).

Goldenseal helps tissues to heal and is often used to treat skin infections, rashes, acne, sores and ulcerations.  It is found in both Golden Salve and Black Ointment and in the poultice formula PLSI II.

One of the alkaloids in goldeneal was once used in commercial eye drops for tired, sore and red eyes.  Goldenseal tea still works to remove redness from the eyes, tone the eye tissue and fight infections.  This is why it is included in the eye formula EW.

As mentioned earlier, goldenseal is very good at reducing high blood sugar levels. It also helps prevent ulcerations and infections in diabetics. It is a key ingredient in the blood sugar lowering formulas Pro-Pancreas, PBS and Target P-14 and can also be used as a single for this purpose.

Goldenseal is a great remedy for canker sores.  It works best when applied topically or the bitter powder is sucked on to coat the mouth. In a liquid form, or when tasting the powdered form, goldenseal can also help to settle an acid stomach brought on by a lack of digestive secretions.

Goldenseal has an effect on the reproductive system.  It is mildly oxytocic, which is why many herbalists recommend it should be avoided during pregnancy.  I find it safe during pregnancy in small doses, but if a woman has a tendency to miscarriage she should probably avoid it.  Goldenseal has beneficial affect on uterine and prostate tissue, which is why it is an ingredient in FCS II and NF-X for women and PS II for prostate problems in men.

Goldenseal is a strong medicinal plant and should only be used as needed.  Continual use in large doses is discouraged as it may lead to lower vitamin B absorption and utilization. It is fine as part of a formula, but large doses of goldenseal alone should only be used for short periods (10-14 days maximum). Externally, it can be used as often as needed.

Because this herb is rapidly disappearing from overharvest and may soon become an endangered species, other plants should be used as substitutes wherever possible.  Oregon grape, barberry and coptis contain berberine alkaloids and can be used for some of the same problems. When goldenseal is needed, the amount is generally one or two capsules two or three times daily.


A Handbook of Native American Herbs by Alma R. Hutchens
Creating Your Herbal Profile by Dorothy Hall
“Golden Root of the Cherokee:  Golden Seal” by Terry Tucker Francis, in The Herbalist (March 1979).
Herbal Extracts by Dr. A. B. Howard
Herbs that Heal by Michael A. Weiner, Ph.D. and Janet Weiner 
The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes
The Wild Rose Scientific Herbal by Terry Willard, Ph. D.

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