Goldenseal Introduction

Goldenseal is also called Eye Balm, Ground Raspberry, Indian Paint, Jaundice Root, and Yellow Root. It is a small shrub-like perennial that reaches heights approaching 1 foot. It has large broad leaves and produces a single red raspberry-like berry that is not edible. [1] It has a large yellow root or rhizome, and it is this part of the plant that is used medicinally. The plant has a very bitter taste that is recognizable in any preparation; as well as a disagreeable odor when one encounters the plant in the wild.

Goldenseal is native to North America, particularly within the mountainous regions of the Eastern United States. Because of potential health benefits concerning its supplementation, goldenseal has been over harvested in those areas and is now considered a threatened herb. Luckily, it is still cultivated in the Pacific Northwest and is available for use as a medicinal herb. [2]

The Native Americans first introduced goldenseal to Western herbalists in the early 19th century. It also has historical reference for use by the Chinese and Ayurvedic herbalists. Traditionally goldenseal was used as a remedy for stomach ailments, skin diseases, wounds, and eye infections. [3]

The main constituents in Goldenseal responsible for its purported medicinal activiy are its alkaloids. The three alkaloids with the greatest percentage in Goldenseal are berberine, hydrastine, and canadine. Other constituents found in goldenseal include volatile oils and resins. [4] The alkaloids give Goldenseal most of its therapeutic action by being anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, a bitter digestive stimulant, and a mild laxative. Berberine also provides for mild cardiovascular effects including increasing the force of the heartbeat, while decreasing the overall rate of the heartbeat. [5] The resins lend some styptic action, while the volatile oils may stimulate the uterus.

Today Goldenseal is widely used for many ailments of the mucous membranes, a tissue which it has a specific affinity for. It can be equally helpful in conditions of the digestive tract, genitourinary tract, mouth, eyes, and skin.

Goldenseal Uses

Parts Used

The root or rhizome of Goldenseal is the medicinally active component of the plant.

Goldenseal Uses

Goldenseal is a potent antibiotic for infections that affect the mucous membranes. It has been proven effective against bacteria, fungus, virus, protozoans, and worms. [6] Goldenseal has also shown the ability to inhibit the growth of staph, strep, Chlamydia, E.coli, Giardia, Candida, salmonella, trichomonas, and gonorrhea; as well as many others. [7]

  • Goldenseal is an excellent antibacterial agent for infectious diarrhea. It has been proven effective against enterotoxigenic e.coli, Vibrio cholera, shigella, salmonella, and Giardia. [8]
  • Goldenseal may be effective against H.pylori, an infection which can lead to the development of stomach ulcers. It has been proven to inhibit growth of H. pylori in vitro. [9]
  • Goldenseal is an effective treatment for inflammation and infections involving the mucosa of the mouth. It can help treat aphthous ulcers and periodontal disease caused by bacteria in the mouth. Because it is also effective at killing Candida species it may be a useful treatment for thrush. [6]
  • Goldenseal can help treat conjunctivitis when used in eyewash. It is an antibacterial agent that attacks many of the pathogens that can infect the eye. Golden is considered to be safe to the eye when administered in the proper or physician recommended dosages. The constituent Berberine has been proven especially effective in the treatment for eye infections; more specifically, those caused by Chlamydia trachoma, a common occurrence in underdeveloped countries. [11]
  • Goldenseal can be used to treat sinusitis. It is a very effective remedy for relieving symptoms of sinusitis, as well as eliminating the pathogen due to its anti-bacterial activity. It is best accomplished with a nasal wash using an infusion of goldenseal.
  • Goldenseal has also been used to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs). E.coli is one of the most common pathogens in the development of UTI. Goldenseal can help prevent the adhesion of bacteria on the bladder wall, thereby inhibiting the subsequent growth and preventing spreading of infection into the kidneys. Berberine, one of the active constituents of Goldenseal, also concentrates in the urine.
  • Goldenseal may be used in a douche to treat vaginal infections caused by gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Candida. [12]
  • Goldenseal is a mild bitter digestive stimulant. It has been shown to improve digestion, increase the secretion of bile, and improve tone in the gallbladder.
  • Goldenseal may be an effective treatment for congestive heart failure. Berberine has been shown promise in the treatment of congestive heart failure and may increase the quality of life of patients with heart failure. It also showed positive results by increasing exercise capacity, decreasing difficulty breathing, and decreasing overall mortality rates associated with congestive heart failure. [13]
  • Recent studies have shown that Berberine may possess specific anti-cancer properties. It is not known if Goldenseal has this activity as well; further research studies are needed to validate this initial finding. [14]

Goldenseal Dosages

The usual dosage of Goldenseal is 200 milligrams, taken 3 to 4 times daily in a capsule form. [15] Most supplements are standardized to an alkaloid content of 8 - 12%. Of relevance, dosages can be increased to as much as 1500 mg per day, without any noted side effects. Other common preparations and dosages:

  • Tea: Decoction of root; 2 - 4 grams per day
  • Tincture: 1:5; 6 - 12 ml per day
  • Fluid Extract: 1:1; 2 - 4 ml per day
  • Solid Extract: 4:1; 250 - 500 mg per day

Goldenseal should not be taken long term. After a 3-week period of treatment it is recommended to discontinue for at least 2 weeks before beginning again to avoid possible alkaloid toxicity. [16]

Goldenseal Toxicities and Deficiencies

Side effects from the ingestion of Goldenseal may include; digestive complaints, constipation, nervous excitement, difficulty breathing, decreased blood pressure, flu-like symptoms, and cardiac damage. Overdose can lead to hallucinations, delirium, vomiting, decreased hear rate, convulsions, and even paralysis. [17]

  • Goldenseal can cause photosensitivity if applied topically. Serious skin damage may occur, so limiting one’s exposure to UV rays is recommended when supplementing with goldenseal. [18]
  • Goldenseal is contraindicated in pregnant women because of its stimulating effects on the uterus and the possibility of causing miscarriage. It is also contraindicated in newborns with jaundice, due to the effects on the production of bilirubin. [19]
  • Goldenseal is relatively contraindicated in conditions of the digestive system in which stimulation may worsen the condition. This includes, but is not limited to, peptic ulcer disease, gallstones, hyperchlorhydria, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and increased bilirubin.
  • Goldenseal has the potential to interact with heparin, a drug prescribed for anti-coagulant activity, and may decrease its effectiveness. Goldenseal can also decrease the absorption of B-vitamin compounds when administered in high doses. [20]


1. Goldenseal. February 2005.

2. Chevallier A. Encyclopedia of Natural Health, 2nd Ed. 2000; Dorling Kindersley, New York: 107.

3. Berberine. Altern Med Rev. 2000 Apr; 5(2): 175-177.

4. Chevallier A. Encyclopedia of Natural Health, 2nd Ed. 2000; Dorling Kindersley, New York: 107.

5. Lau CW, Yao XQ, Chen ZY, Ko WH, Huang Y. Cardiovascular actions of Berberine. Cardiovasc Drug Rev. 2001 Fall; 19(3): 234-244.

6. Berberine. Altern Med Rev. 2000 Apr; 5(2): 175-177.

7. Pizzorno J et al. The Textbook of Natural Medicine, 2nd Ed., Churchill Livingstone, New York. 1999: 776-777.

8. Rabbani GH. Mechanism and treatment of diarrhea due to Vibrio cholerae and Escherichia coli: roles of drugs and prostaglandins. Dan Med Bull. 1996 Apr; 43(2): 173-185.

9. Mahady GB, Pendland SL, Stoia A. Chadwick LR. In vitro susceptibility of Helicobacter pylori to isoquinoline alkaloids from Sanguinaria canadensis and Hydrastis canadensis. Phytother Res. 2003 Mar; 17(3): 217-221.

10. Chevallier A. Encyclopedia of Natural Health, 2nd Ed. 2000; Dorling Kindersley, New York: 107.

11. Mills S, Bone K. Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone, New York, 2000: 293.

12. Chevallier A. Encyclopedia of Natural Health, 2nd Ed. 2000; Dorling Kindersley, New York: 107.

13. Zeng XH, Zeng XJ, Li YY. Efficacy and safety of berberine for congestive heart failure secondary to ischemic or idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathies. Am J Cardiol. 2003 Jul 15; 42(2): 173-176.

14. Lin CC et al. Cytotoxic effects of Coptis chinensis and Epimedium sagittatum extracts and their major constituents (berberine, coptisine, and icariin) on hepatoma and leukemia cell growth. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2004 Jan-Feb; 31(1-2): 65-69.

15. Berberine. Altern Med Rev. 2000 Apr; 5(2): 175-177.

16. Goldenseal. February 2005.

17. Goldenseal. February 2005.

18. Inbaraj JJ, Kukielczak BM, Bilski P, Sandvik SL, Chignell CF. Photochemistry and phototoxicity of alkaloids from Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L. )1. Berberine. Chem Res Toxicol. 2001 Nov; 14(1): 1529-1534.

19. Berberine. Altern Med Rev. 2000 Apr; 5(2): 175-177.

20. Goldenseal. February 2005.


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