Botanical name: Hydrastis canadensis
© Steven Foster
Parts used and where grown
Goldenseal is native to eastern North America and is cultivated in Oregon and Washington.
It is seriously threatened by over-harvesting in the wild. The dried root and rhizome are used
in herbal medicine.
Goldenseal has been used
in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual
health concern for complete information):
Historical or traditional use (may
or may not be supported by scientific studies)
Goldenseal was used by Native Americans as a treatment for irritations and inflammation of
the mucous membranes of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts. It was commonly used
topically for skin and eye infections and has been used historically as a mouthwash to help
heal canker sores. Because of its
anti-microbial activity, goldenseal has a long history of use for infectious diarrhea, upper respiratory tract infections, and
vaginal infections. Goldenseal is often recommended by herbalists in combination with echinacea for the treatment of colds and
flu. Its benefits are most likely limited to helping ease the discomfort of a sore throat associated with these conditions.
Goldenseal was considered a critical remedy for stomach and intestinal problems of all kinds
by early 20th century Eclectic physicians (doctors who recommended herbs).1
Little research has been done on whole goldenseal root or rhizome, but many studies have
evaluated the properties of its two primary alkaloids, berberine and hydrastine. Berberine,
the more extensively researched of the two, accounts for 0.5–6.0% of the alkaloids
present in goldenseal root and rhizome. However, the effect of goldenseal in the
gastrointestinal tract is most likely localized as its alkaloids (particularly berberine) are
poorly absorbed into the bloodstream, limiting any systemic antibiotic effects.2
Goldenseal also has strong astringent properties which may partially explain its historical
use for sore throats and diarrhea. In test tube studies, it has shown a wide
spectrum of antibiotic activity against disease-causing organisms, such as Chlamydia,
E. coli, Salmonella typhi, and Entamoeba histolytica.3 Human
trials have used isolated berberine to treat diarrhea and gastroenteritis with good
results.4 The whole root has not been clinically studied.
How much is usually taken?
Powdered goldenseal root and rhizome, 4–6 grams per day in tablet or capsule form, is
sometimes recommended.5 For liquid herbal extracts, use 2–4 ml three times
per day. Alternatively, 250–500 mg three times per day of standardized extracts
supplying 8–12% alkaloids, are suggested. Continuous use should not exceed three weeks,
with a break of at least two weeks between each use.
Due to environmental concerns of overharvesting,6 many herbalists recommend
alternatives to goldenseal, such as Oregon
grape or goldthread.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Taken as recommended, goldenseal is generally safe. However, as with all
alkaloid-containing plants, high amounts (several times higher than the recommended amount
above) may lead to gastrointestinal distress and possible nervous system effects.7
Goldenseal is not recommended for pregnant or
breast-feeding women. Also, despite some traditional reports, goldenseal is not a substitute
Are there any drug
Certain medicines may interact with goldenseal. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.
1. Ellingwood F. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and
Pharmacognosy. 1919. Reprint, Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1998.
2. Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Honest Herbal. New York:
Haworth Herbal Press, 1999, 195–7.
3. Hahn FE, Ciak J. Berberine. Antibiotics
4. Kamat SA. Clinical trial with berberine hydrochloride for the control
of diarrhea in acute gastroenteritis. J Assoc Physicians India
5. Murray, MT. The Healing Power of Herbs. Rocklin, CA: Prima
Publishing, 1995, 162–72.
6. Bannerman JE. Goldenseal in world trade: Pressures and potentials.
7. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide
for Health-Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 151–2.