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Look Up > Herbs > Goldenseal
  Goldenseal (English)
Hydrastis canadensis (Botanical)
Ranunculaceae (Plant Family)
Hydrastis rhizoma (Pharmacopeial)
Macro Description
Part Used/Pharmaceutical Designations
Commercial Preparations
Medicinal Uses/Indications
Dosage Ranges and Duration of Administration
Side Effects/Toxicology
Regulatory and Compendial Status


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.

Macro Description

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.

Part Used/Pharmaceutical Designations
  • Root/rhizomes


Alkaloids: berberine, canadine, corypalmine, hydrastine, reticuline

Also contains: tannins, vitamins, minerals

Commercial Preparations

Goldenseal is available in the following forms.

  • Dried root/rhizomes
  • Tablets, various concentrations
  • Powdered root in capsules, various concentrations
  • Alcoholic tinctures
  • Low-alcohol extracts

Medicinal Uses/Indications

Traditional herbal actions: cholagogue, astringent, digestive bitter, vulnerary (heats ulcerated surfaces internally and externally), laxative, anti-pathogenic

Clinical applications:

  • 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 sensitivities
  • 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 tsp. salt and 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 inflammation.
  • Carminative and cholagogue: Berberine has both carminative and cholagogic actions.

Dosage Ranges and Duration of Administration
  • 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

Side Effects/Toxicology

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 properties.
  • 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 Status

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.


Balch J, Balch P. Prescription for Nutritional Healing: A-to-Z Guide to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs, & Food Supplements. New York, NY: Avery Publishing Group; 1990.

Budzinski JW, Foster BC, Vandenhoek S, Arnason JT. An in vitro evaluation of human cytochrome P450 3A4 inhibition by selected commercial herbal extracts and tinctures. Phytomed. 2000;7(4):273-282.

Council for Responsible Nutrition. NIH Reacts to Herbal Concerns. Released September 7, 2000. Available at Accessed November 17, 2000.

Duke JA. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press; 1992.

Foster S. Goldenseal. American Botanical Council: Botanical Series No. 309.

Genest K, Hughes DW. Natural products in Canadian pharmaceuticals, Hydrastis canadensis. Can J Pharm Sci. 1969;4.

Kaneda Y, Tanaka T, Saw T. Effects of berberine, a plant alkaloid, on the growth of anaerobic protozoa in axenic culture. Tokai J Exp Clin Med. 1990;15:417-423.

Mills SY. Dictionary of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Rochester, Vt: Healing Arts Press; 1988.

Nishino H, et al. Berberine sulfate inhibits tumor-promoting activity of teleocidin in two-stage carcinogenesis on mouse skin. Oncology. 1986;43:131-134.

Shideman FE. A review of the pharmacology and therapeutics of Hydrastis and its alkaloids, hydrastine, berberine and canadine. Comm on Nat Formulary Bull. 1950;18:3-19.

Sun D, Courtney HS, Beachey EH. Berberine sulfate blocks adherence of Streptococcus pyogenes to epithelial cells, fibronectin, and hexadecane. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1988;32:1370-1374.

Swanston-Flatt SK, et al. Evaluation of traditional plant treatments for diabetes: studies in streptozotocin diabetic mice. Acta Diabetol Lat. 1989;26:51-55.

Zhu B, Ahrens FA. Effect of berberine on intestinal secretion mediated by Escherichia coli heat-stable enterotoxin in jejunum of pigs. Am J Vet Res. 1982; 43:1594-1598.

Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine Communications

This 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 responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. The reader is advised to check product information (including package inserts) for changes and new information regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.