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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):

Science Ratings Health Concerns

Canker sores

Chronic candidiasis

Cold sores

Common cold/sore throat


Diarrhea (berberine)





Pap smear (abnormal)


Urinary tract infection


3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

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

Active constituents

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 for antibiotics.

Are there any drug interactions?
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 1976;3:577–88.

4. Kamat SA. Clinical trial with berberine hydrochloride for the control of diarrhea in acute gastroenteritis. J Assoc Physicians India 1967;15:525–9.

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. HerbalGram 1997;41:51–2.

7. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 151–2.

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