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Botanical Description & Habitat

Hydrastis canadensis


Common names

GoldenrootTumeric root
Yellow paintYellow root

Native to eastern North America, most abundant west of the Alleghenies in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky. It flourishes in shady woodlands and mountain meadows with rich, soft, damp soils.

Has a rough, wrinkled, yellow root which sends up a hairy, purple stem 8 to 20 inches in height. It bears three to five slightly hairy, five-parted, dark green leaves. A solitary, small, green-white flower appears in May or June, developing on a portion of the stem extending beyond the upper leaf. The flower matures into a bright red berry-like fruit which resembles a raspberry, but is inedible.

Medicinal part
Rhizome and root - dried, collected in autumn

Historical Properties & Uses

Goldenseal is primarily an antibiotic, anti-infectious agent. Physicians of the 19th century were almost unanimous in the opinion goldenseal possessed a variety of therapeutic qualities, including the ability to cure indigestion, nausea, gas, and heartburn (for which the herb still finds application today).

The alkaloids in goldenseal stimulate bile production and secretion, destroy noxious bacteria, increase the tone and responsivity of the gastrointestinal tract, and cure gastroenteritis. These alkaloids, especially berberine and hydrastine, are used to treat a wide variety of infectious diseases. Berberine protects experimental animals from amoebic infectious agents and against cholera. Goldenseal extract is effective against both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, as well as against giardiasis.

Goldenseal is hypotensive, anticonvulsant, and antispasmodic; it is a good tonic, generally and for the heart, intestines, and uterus in particular. Use of goldenseal to relieve the nausea of pregnancy has not been objectively investigated, but may be related to the above effects. The herb's use as a styptic is supported by research indicating a hemostatic action; its astringent, antiseptic, and disinfectant uses are related to its antibacterial properties.

Method of Action

Goldenseal action is due partly to presence of berberine. The main active constituents of goldenseal are the alkaloids hydrastiane, berberine, canadine, and berberastine.

It has been estimated goldenseal contains as much, or more, berberine and related alkaloids than does barberry.

Some experts believe, therefore, goldenseal possesses all the properties of barberry, plus others (or the same in higher potency) due to the presence of hydrastine. The potency-enhancing theory gains some support from the observation berberine has pharmacological properties very similar to hydrastine.

Berberine has been shown to possess excellent antibiotic properties against bacteria, amoebae, and protozoa. It has been effective in the treatment of experimental cholera and giardiasis. Berberine has a depressant effect on the CNS and stimulates the respiratory center, the uterus and the bladder. Berberine also has very good choleretic principles.

Goldenseal affects cardio-vascular parameters
Goldenseal extracts have been shown to have strong anticonvulsive properties on isolated uterine and intestinal tissue. However, other studies have found hydrastine itself to be a convulsant, cardiac depressant, and uterine/intestinal stimulant or depressor. Whole plant material would therefore appear to be different from, if not opposite to, this major single component.

The hydrastine-induced convulsions are believed to be of spinal origin. Hydrastine's depressor effect of heart tissue is evident at concentrations as low as 1:500,000 (interestingly, although contractility is decreased, tonus is increased). In sub-convulsive doses, hydrastine causes a temporary fall of blood pressure (due to cardiac depression) and an increase in pulse pressure.

Hydrastine is hypotensive
Hydrastine hydrochloride injected intravenously causes a fall in blood pressure. Hydrastinine, another constituent, appears to stimulate many kinds of involuntary muscles, and causes a rise in blood pressure; however, is inferior to digitalis as a cardiac tonic.

Goldenseal has antispasmodic action
Studies on the sympathetic and spasmolytic properties of goldenseal extract show it is effective in counteracting the spasmodic effects of adrenaline in both guinea pig seminal vesicle and uterus.

This property is greatly enhanced in the presence of small amounts of Secale alkaloids or ergotamine tartrate. Likewise goldenseal extract potentiates the action of those two substances.

Goldenseal extract is hemostatic
Goldenseal extract has been used clinically as an effective uterine hemostatic, but was found to be inferior to ergot in the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage.

Goldenseal has antibiotic action
The herb is effective against Staphylococcus aureus in dilutions of 1000 to 6000; it is also effective against several other gram negative and gram positive pathogens.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
The topical application of the astringent herb goldenseal, in conjunction with the acne product tretinoin (retinoic acid, vitamin A acid), may adversely affect the skin.

The anti-inflammatory activity of this herb can be seriously inhibited by phenobarbital and certain other sedatives and hypnotics, such as chloral hydrate and meprobamate. This is also true of beta-adrenergic blocking agents, such as propranolol.

There is evidence to show combining bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the bacteriostatic agent. How this finding applies to herbal anti-infectives is still unknown.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

If administered in high doses, any of goldenseal's alkaloids can produce toxic symptoms ranging from mouth irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea to cardiac depression, central nervous system paralysis and death. The use of whole goldenseal, however, has not led to significant toxicity.

There is a widely held, but experimentally unsubstantiated, belief goldenseal causes abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. From an analysis of the components of the herb, there are no indications it should cause abortions.

Popular consumer-orientated books like those from Dr. James Balch: "Prescription for Nutritional Healing" contain the following proviso:

"Do not take goldenseal internally on a daily basis for more than one week at a time, do not use it during pregnancy. Use with caution if you are allergic to ragweed."

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day
Avoid in pregnancy and if hypertensive

Dried tuber
0.5-1 gram

made from 1/4 - 1/2 tsp of dried tuber

Fluid extract
1:1 in 60% alcohol, 0.3-1 ml

1:10 in 60% alcohol, 2-4 ml

Purified berberine
5 mg

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


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Hydrastis canadensis

? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine


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