The Health Benefits of Goldenseal

Can this traditional Native American remedy treat infections?

hydrastis
James Steakley/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is one of the most popular herbs on the market today. It was traditionally used by Native Americans to treat skin disorders, digestive problems, liver conditions, diarrhea, and eye irritations. Goldenseal became part of early colonial medical care as the European settlers learned of it from the Iroquois and other tribes.

Goldenseal gained widespread popularity in the early 1800s due to its promotion by a herbalist named Samuel Thompson. Thompson believed goldenseal to be a magical cure for many conditions. Demand for this herb dramatically increased, until Thompson's system of medicine fell out of popularity. Over the years, goldenseal has gone through periods of popularity.

Goldenseal is available in nutritional supplement form. It is also available as a cream or ointment to heal skin wounds. Other names include yellow root, orange root, puccoon, ground raspberry, and wild curcuma.

Goldenseal herbal tincture can be used as a mouthwash or gargle for mouth sores and sore throats

Health Benefits of Goldenseal

According to some alternative medicine practitioners, goldenseal is ​a bitter that stimulates the secretion and flow of bile, and can also be used as an expectorant. In alternative medicine, goldenseal is used for infections of the mucous membranes, including the mouth, sinuses, throat, the intestines, stomach, urinary tract, and vagina. Additional purported uses include:

  • Minor wound healing
  • Bladder infections
  • Fungal infections of the skin
  • Colds and flu
  • Sinus and chest congestion

Goldenseal became the center of a myth that it could mask a positive drug screen. This false idea was part of a novel written by pharmacist and author John Uri Lloyd.

So far, scientific support for the claim that goldenseal can treat infections (or any other condition) is lacking.

Possible Side Effects

Side effects of goldenseal include irritation of the mouth and throat, nausea, increased nervousness, and digestive problems, however, side effects are rare. The liquid forms of goldenseal are yellow-orange and can stain.

Interactions

According to recommendations published in the journal American Family Physician, goldenseal should not be taken in combination with most over-the-counter and prescription medications.

One of goldenseal's chief constituents, berberine, has been reported to cause uterine contractions and to increase levels of bilirubin. Goldenseal should not be used by people with high blood pressure. Those with heart conditions should only use goldenseal under the supervision of a health professional.

Dosage and Preparations

Goldenseal is sold in capsules, powder, tincture, and tea. There is no recommended daily allowance for goldenseal. There is not enough scientific evidence to support any standard dose of goldenseal and product manufacturers vary widely in their labeling recommendations.

What to Look For

When selecting a brand of supplements, look for products that have been certified by Consumer Labs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. 

Other Questions

How much goldenseal do I need to take to pass a drug test?

Despite its reputation as an agent that can mask illegal drugs in urine, there is no evidence that taking goldenseal prior to a drug test can result in a false negative.

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