Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) was originally introduced to early
American settlers by Native American tribes, who used it primarily for skin
problems and as a wash for sore eyes. A member of the buttercup family,
goldenseal was also commonly used to produce a golden-yellow dye.
In the early 1900's, tonics containing goldenseal became popular for the
treatment of upset stomach and menstrual disorders. By the mid-1990's, a rumor
began to circulate that drinking goldenseal tea would allow illicit drug users
to avoid detection. Although this rumor proved to be untrue, the popularity of
goldenseal soared and the herb became severely over harvested. In 1997, the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
reported that goldenseal is at risk of becoming an endangered species. As a
result, the international trade of goldenseal continues to be closely controlled
Today, goldenseal is marketed as a tonic to aid digestion and sooth upset
stomach. It is also considered a natural antibiotic and is often combined with
echinacea in preparations designed to strengthen the immune system. Many
professional herbalists recommend goldenseal in herbal remedies for hay fever
(also called allergic rhinitis), colds, and flu. Goldenseal is considered a
useful antiseptic (which is why some herbalists use it topically to disinfect
cuts and scrapes) and astringent, and is commonly used to treat a host of skin,
eye, and mucous membrane inflammatory and infectious conditions (such as
sinusitis, conjunctivitis ["pink eye"], and urinary tract infections). It is
also available in mouthwashes for sore throats and canker sores.
Goldenseal has not been thoroughly investigated in scientific studies, but
some trials have looked at berberine, one of the active compounds in goldenseal.
Berberine is a substance widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat
dysentery and infectious diarrhea.
Laboratory studies suggest that this substance has antibacterial and
immune-enhancing properties and may also have cardiovascular benefits. Berberine
has been shown to dilate blood vessels and, therefore, may prove useful in the
treatment of irregular heartbeat and heart failure. However, oral doses of
goldenseal contain only trace amounts of berberine, so it is unlikely that the
herb confers the same benefits as berberine alone. It is possible that topical
goldenseal preparations and goldenseal extracts containing high concentrations
of berberine may be as effective as berberine alone, but further studies are
needed to investigate this possibility before any recommendations can be
Goldenseal is a small plant with a single hairy stem. It has two five-lobed,
jagged leaves, small flowers, and raspberry-like fruit. The bitter-tasting
rhizome, or root, is a bright yellow-brown in color, twisted, and wrinkled.
Goldenseal can be found growing wild in rich, shady soil in the northern U.S.,
but is now grown mostly on farms.
What's It Made Of?
Goldenseal contains a compound called berberine that kills many of the
bacteria that cause diarrhea. Berberine has also been shown to kill a wide range
of other types of germs, such as those that cause candida (yeast) infections, as
well as various parasites such as tapeworms and giardia. Berberine may also
activate white blood cells, making them more effective at fighting infection.
For these reasons, berberine is used as an all-around disinfectant, both
externally and internally.
Goldenseal is available in tablets, capsules (containing powdered root),
alcoholic tinctures, and low-alcohol extracts. See
How To Take It for directions to make
topical forms of goldenseal.
How to Take It
Adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most
herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult.
Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the appropriate dose of
goldenseal for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.
Capsules or tablets: 500 to 2,000 mg up to three times a day.
Standardized extract: 30 to 120 mg, up to three times a day.
Tinctures (1:5): 3 to 7 mL every day
For disinfecting cuts, scrapes, boils, and acne: Place goldenseal
extract or tincture on a clean cloth, and press the cloth gently on the affected
For earaches: Mix with olive oil and use as eardrops.
For sore throat, gums, or mouth, make a mouthwash as follows: In one
cup of warm water, mix 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp, or the contents of one capsule,
of goldenseal powder. (It will not dissolve completely.) Rinse and spit out.
For vaginal irritation, make a goldenseal douche as follows: Mix 1/4
tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp, or the contents of one capsule, of goldenseal powder in 1
cup of warm water. Let the mixture settle, and strain out any suspended
particles before using it. (Keep the mixture as clean as you can.) Over-douching
can make you more susceptible to certain kinds of vaginal infections. See your
health care provider if your symptoms do not improve after a few days.
For eye infections and irritations, make an eyewash as follows: Use
one cup of sterile water with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp goldenseal (or the
contents of one capsule), and strain out all particles. Discard if the solution
becomes cloudy, which indicates bacterial growth.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women as well as those with high blood pressure
should use avoid goldenseal.
If used for long periods of time, goldenseal can irritate the skin, mouth,
throat, and vagina. It can also reduce the number of "good" bacteria in the
digestive system, which can cause nausea and diarrhea.
There are no known scientific reports of interactions between goldenseal and
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven
Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's
Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD, Director,
Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts,
University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David Winston, Herbalist
(April 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ; Leonard Wisneski,
MD, FACP (April 1999), George Washington University, Rockville, MD; Tom Wolfe,
P.AHG (April 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD. All interaction sections
have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July
2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh
(August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in
Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland
School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD;
Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State
Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
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regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed