Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is one of the most universally known, liked, and trusted herbal medicines of North America. The Cherokee, Crow, Iroquois, Catawba, and Kickapoo were all fond of goldenseal for its healing properties, and also as a dye for clothing and face paint. The settlers, too, quickly learned of its benefits and it eventually made its way into the US Pharmacopeia, 1830 – 1960.(1) Over the last 150+ years, since goldenseal entered the commercial market and became an export, the herb has gained a well-deserved reputation and been in demand the world over for its potency, efficacy, and versatility.`
Goldenseal is native to Canada and its natural habitat includes Ontario; it can also be found in the lower portion of New York state south to the northern border of South Carolina, with its epicenter in southeastern Ohio. Goldenseal is listed as endangered in all but three (Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia) of the 22 states in which it grows.
Goldenseal’s high demand caused a spike in price in the early 1900s and poaching and depletion of wild plant communities ensued. For this reason, many herbalists recommend sourcing from cultivated goldenseal only, in order to allow wild communities to regenerate. In North Carolina there is a movement to replant this valuable herb in landscapes where it thrives: rich soils of shady woods and moist areas along forest edges.(2)
Although goldenseal is in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, it looks amazingly like a raspberry because of its leaf shape. It even fruits a (not edible) crimson red berry in July. Unlike true raspberry, it is not a bush but a low-to-the-forest-floor woody plant. The coveted healing properties of this popular herb come from the underground portion know as the rhizome.
Goldenseal’s main claim to fame is its long history of use against infection. Both internally and externally, goldenseal has been used by Indigenous people, Ecclectic Physicians, Squibb, Park-Davis, Natropaths, and modern Western and Chinese Herbalists to fight infections.(1) The list of its possible uses is long but upper respiratory, urinary tract, and stomach infections are among the most common ailments for which it is used. Its bitter alkaloids have shown the ability to clear heat, infection, dampness, and swelling from mucous membranes.(3)
The Medicinal Root
Goldenseal’s formidable effect on the body as an immune stimulant is intended for judicious, short-term use. An ideal time to choose goldenseal as your remedy is once infection has occurred and the intention is to sweep the tissues of boggy mucous, flush the extracellular space, and start feeling better, faster.(3)(2) Appropriate use would be 10 days or less, to curtail or finally put an end to a wet, phlegmy cough, runny nose, or dampness in the sinus cavity. (2)(5)
Contraindicated for those who have dry, cracked mucus membranes, high blood pressure, unstable blood sugar, dizziness, and during pregnancy. Long-term use can weaken intestinal flora and affect B vitamin absorption. (4)(5)
The qualities of goldenseal medicine make for a very bitter tasting herb! The best way to take this remedy is via alcohol extracts, glycerites, and capsules. If dosing, the minimal amount necessary to get the desired result is 10-60 drops of tincture 1-4 x day, 2 “OO” capsules 1-3 x day. (4)
(4) Healing With The Herbs of Life, Lesley Tierra, L.Ac, Crossing Press. 2003. pg 90.
(5) The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine, Brigitte Mars, A.H.G., Basic Health Publications, Inc. 2007. pg 150.
Written by Christina Bertelli, Certified Clinical Herbalist.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.