Hydrastis rhizoma (Pharmacopeial)
Goldenseal was originally a Native American medicinal herb, introduced to
early settlers by Cherokee and Iroquois tribes. They used it as a yellow dye, as
well as a wash for skin diseases and sore eyes, and various forms of catarrh. It
has acquired a considerable reputation as a general bitter tonic,
anti-infective, and remedy for various gastric and genitourinary disorders. In
recent years it has been over-harvested and is now considered a threatened
species. Fortunately, commercial cultivation has alleviated the shortage, but it
is still quite expensive.
Goldenseal is an herb that is particularly applicable to disorders and
infections of the mucous membranes. It is thought to strengthen the immune
system, potentiate the effects of insulin, and cleanse the system. Extensive
laboratory research has shown that the alkaloid constituents of goldenseal
possess anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. One of the main ingredients
in goldenseal, berberine, has been shown to have activity against a broad range
of microbes, from trichomonas to giardia to candida to tapeworms.
Goldenseal is considered by naturopathic physicians to be astringent and
healing to the gut wall and other mucous membranes, making it useful for
disorders of the intestine and stomach. It also is considered to act as a
digestive stimulant and cholagogue, a laxative, and as a stimulating adjunct to
other remedies for the lungs, kidneys, and reproductive tract. Goldenseal may be
especially useful for congestion and chronic inflammation of the respiratory and
urogenital tracts; catarrhal affliction of the nose; chronic gastritis and
enteritis; catarrh of the bladder; hepatic congestion; eye inflammation;
inflammation of the vagina, uterus, and urethra; chronic constipation;
hemorrhoids; and anal fissures.
Externally, goldenseal is valuable for chronic inflammation of mucous
membranes, cracks and fissures of the nipples, indolent ulcers, and as a lotion
to stop profuse sweating. It is also useful as an eyewash.
Goldenseal is a small perennial plant, with a single hairy stem producing two
five-lobed, serrated leaves and a small single apetalous flower with greenish
sepals. These give way to a raspberry-like fruit. The rhizome is a bright
yellow-brown in color, twisted, and wrinkled with many fine rootlets attached.
This breaks easily to reveal a dark yellow interior. The taste is bitter.
Goldenseal can be found growing wild in rich, shady woodlands throughout
northern North America. It is now also commercially cultivated.
Alkaloids: berberine, canadine, corypalmine, hydrastine, reticuline
Also contains: tannins, vitamins, minerals
Goldenseal is available in the following forms.
- Dried root/rhizomes
- Tablets, various concentrations
- Powdered root in capsules, various concentrations
- Alcoholic tinctures
- Low-alcohol extracts
Traditional herbal actions: cholagogue, astringent, digestive bitter,
vulnerary (heats ulcerated surfaces internally and externally), laxative,
- For gastric and enteric inflammations (e.g., gastritis, enteritis,
diarrhea, peptic ulcers)
- Useful for colds, flu, and glandular swelling
- Acts as a cholagogue, improves digestion and reduces food
- May be helpful in diabetes
- Used as a nasal infusion to reduce excess mucus
- As external application for lacerations, abrasions, abscesses, boils,
and other skin eruptions
- As a rinse for throat, gum, and mouth inflammation or sores, use
extract or tincture as mouthwash, or prepare a rinse as follows: In 1 cup of
warm water, mix ½ tsp. salt and ½ tsp. (or the contents of 1 capsule) of
goldenseal powder. (It will not dissolve completely.)
- For vaginal problems, use tea or extract, or the rinse described
above as a douche. (Strain out suspended particles before using.)
- For middle-ear inflammation and congestion, mix with olive oil and
use several drops in each ear.
- For mild conjunctivitis or eye irritation, use sterile water to make
the rinse above and use as eyewash. (Discard if the solution becomes cloudy,
indicating bacterial growth.)
- Antibiotic, anti-infective: Berberine has been shown to have
antibacterial, antifungal, and antiprotozoal properties. It has been shown to
inhibit the growth of Giardia lamblia, Trichomonas vaginalis, and Entamoeba
histolytica in culture, as well as numerous other bacteria and microorganisms,
including Candida, C. vibrio, and trypanosomes. It may also be an immune
stimulant. Hydrastine has been found to kill tapeworms, and also has
bactericidal properties. Reticuline has bactericidal properties as well.
- Anti-diabetic/hypoglycemic: Berberine is known to be effective in
lowering blood glucose.
- Anti-diarrheal: Berberine has been shown to have antidiarrheal
properties. In addition to its antimicrobial properties, laboratory studies have
shown that it can halt the excessive intestinal secretion of electrolytes caused
by endotoxins from bacteria such as E. coli.
- Anti-inflammatory/analgesic: Berberine has been found to have
anti-inflammatory properties. One study found that this may arise in part from
the inhibition of DNA-synthesis in activated lymphocytes. Berberine and
reticuline both have analgesic and antispasmodic properties. Berberine and
corypalmine are both antioxidant, which may also help reduce
- Carminative and cholagogue: Berberine has both carminative and
|Dosage Ranges and Duration of
- Tincture (1:5): 60% alcohol 0.5 to 1.5 ml tid
- Tablets or powder/capsules: 0.5 to 2 g tid
- Tea, 1/4 tsp. to 1/2 tsp. powdered root per
cup, steeped 10 minutes. Up to 2 cups/day.
- Extract: 0.03 to 0.12 g tid
In very large doses, goldenseal may cause convulsions and over-stimulation of
the nervous system. Long-term use of high dosages have caused elevated white
blood cell counts. Signs of toxicity take the form of irritation of the mouth
and throat, diarrhea, and vomiting. Ulceration can occur internally and
externally with severe overdosing.
- Not recommended for use in
pregnancy—contains berberine which has abortifacient
- Not recommended for use in presence of hypertension.
- Long-term use may weaken the beneficial bacterial flora of the
digestive tract. Acidophilus capsules or yogurt should therefore be taken to
restore proper balance of probiotic flora.
- Extended consumption of large amounts of this herb have been shown to
lower B vitamin absorption and utilization.
Goldenseal extract inhibited the cytochrome P450 enzyme system in vitro
(Budzinski et al. 2000). Specific interactions between this herb and
conventional medications metabolized via the P450 system have not been
documented to date. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine (NCCAM) is funding research to further evaluate interactions between
botanicals and drugs (Council for Responsible Nutrition 2000).
|Regulatory and Compendial
Goldenseal has been officially recognized by most Western pharmacopeias.
However, a federal interagency committee has recommended that the National
Toxicology Program review and possibly test goldenseal for its potential to
cause developmental problems or cancer of the reproductive system or both.
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Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine
CommunicationsThis publication contains
information relating to general principles
of medical care that should not in any event be construed as specific
instructions for individual patients. The publisher does not accept any
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