Goldenseal is a valuable medicinal herb native to North America. Used and valued by Native Americans, it was introduced to European settlers and is now one of the top five herbal supplements in the U.S. The benefits of goldenseal include infection-fighting power both internally and externally.
Unfortunately, its popularity has led to the over-harvesting of goldenseal root in the wild. This incredibly important plant was at risk of becoming endangered until plant savers stepped up and started cultivating it.
Here's more about the powerful benefits of goldenseal, what it's used for, and precautions to be aware of.
What Is Goldenseal?
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is a perennial plant that belongs to the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family. It's native to regions of the eastern United States and parts of Quebec, Canada.
In the wild, goldenseal grows in moist and rich soils with lots of humus. It needs about 70% shade, which explains why its natural habitat is under the trees of hardwood forests. (Rosemary Gladstar. Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide, pg. 140)
Native American tribes like the Cherokee and Iroquois used goldenseal for many purposes including respiratory infections, digestion, and wound healing. Early settlers in America also discovered its benefits, and it was later introduced in Europe. Goldenseal became very popular during the 1800's with the Eclectics and Thomsonians (natural medicinal practitioners). (1)
As mentioned, this surge to popularity led to goldenseal becoming over-harvested and endangered. The destruction of hardwood forests has also contributed to habitat loss, and wild populations of goldenseal remain at risk today. (2)
Chemically speaking, one of the most powerful compounds in goldenseal is berberine. Berberine has been the subject of many studies and possesses anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. (3)(4)
Medicinally, both the leaves and the bright yellow roots are used.
Top Benefits of Goldenseal
Colds and Infections
The powerful benefits of goldenseal for fighting infections have long been known by herbalists. It has become a popular cold and flu remedy, often used alongside echinacea, because of its ability to stimulate the immune system. (5)
Sometimes referred to as a natural antibiotic, this term is a little misleading. Herbs do not work like systemic antibiotics to kill off all bacteria, and goldenseal isn't even specifically antibacterial.
It can help to boost your immune system, but the strongest work of goldenseal is on the mucous membranes of your body. It's an astringent herb that tones and tightens tissues. This gives it a twofold purpose: to address infections of mucous membranes and to keep them healthy as a barrier against pathogens from the outside world.
This is why goldenseal has often been used for infections related to our mucous membranes, especially respiratory, digestive, and sinus infections.
You can try it in this Echinacea Goldenseal extract.
Skin Infections and Issues
Goldenseal is also frequently used topically for skin infections and fungal issues. The powdered root can be used to make a salve or paste that can be applied to infected areas, bug bites, and rashes (like poison ivy).
The skin benefits of goldenseal are helpful for eczema, psoriasis, and possibly acne as well, though it's most often used in conjunction with other herbs. Berberine, the active compound in goldenseal, has shown an ability to inhibit the bacteria that can cause acne and calm psoriasis-related inflammation. (6)(7)
For fungal-related skin issues, try this Awesome Salve with goldenseal powder. (Safe for adults and children!)
Eye and Oral Health
Commonly used for eye and mouth infections, goldenseal can be made into a mouthwash or eye wash.
As an eye wash, it's most frequently used for conjunctivitis. As a mouthwash, goldenseal helps soothe the mucous membranes in your mouth. It can help with sore or inflamed gums and a sore throat. It may even reduce the bacteria that cause plaque and gingivitis. (8)
You may not think of it this way, but you digestive tract has a large surface area of mucous membranes. These membranes can become inflamed, irritated, and infected. Digestive disorders are indeed very common in our modern world.
Goldenseal can be very helpful for certain digestive problems and has most frequently been used for ulcers, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel problems, and loss of appetite.
The bitter compounds found in goldenseal also make it a good herb for stimulating bile production and digestive juices. This aids overall digestion as well as liver health.
Because of its actions against fungal conditions, goldenseal is a recommended herb for infections cause by yeast. This includes vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
There haven't been any clinical studies specifically on goldenseal and yeast infections, but one study did find that patients given berberine were less were less likely to experience the recurrence of a UTI. (8)
Unless you're taking it as part of a well-formulated herbal product, goldenseal is best used in small amounts. If too much is used, it can dry out mucous membranes rather than toning them. Larger amounts can be used in certain cases, but you should do so under the recommendation of a clinical herbalist or naturopath.
Goldenseal root is very bitter, so most people prefer to take it as a tincture or capsules rather than in tea form. You can make an infusion to use as a mouth or eye wash by steeping the root in boiling water and straining.
Externally, the powdered root is most often used to make salves, pastes, and poultices.
The use of goldenseal internally should not exceed three weeks, especially for large doses. It can become an irritant to mucous membranes and cause inflammation. However, it can be used long term by cycling three weeks on and one week off. (Gladstar, pg. 140)
Rarely, goldenseal can cause nausea, digestive upset, or skin irritation. Discontinue use if any of these occur.
The biggest "precaution" is to be mindful of the at risk state of this plant. Only buy cultivated goldenseal, not wildcrafted. There's a misconception that wildcrafted herbal products are somehow better, but this isn't always the case, especially when the plant in question is in decline in the wild.
Goldenseal: A Native & Valuable Herb
With many powerful health benefits, goldenseal is certainly one of the most valuable native herbs of North America. It can help with both internal and external infections and supports health all throughout your body.
Get to know more about goldenseal, and don't forget to repay the many benefits herbs give us by being careful of where you buy at-risk herbal plants!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.