Common Names

Goldenseal , Yellow Root
Botanical Name
Hydrastis canadensis

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What is it?

In herbal medicine we use the roots of Golden Seal, a small, long-lived and slow-growing plant that thrives in shady woodlands with rich soil in the Northern parts of the United States. The roots are bright yellow and the taste of Golden Seal is extremely penetrating.




How has it been used?

Golden Seal was widely used by Native American Indians as a natural antibiotic and disinfectant. It was much used as an eyewash in particular and was known by the common names of 'Eye-root' and 'Eye-balm'. The root was boiled in water and the resulting tea applied as a wash for skin diseases (which use was passed on to the colonists). The Cherokee Indians pounded the rootstock together with bear fat and smeared it on as an insect repellent.

After the American civil war Golden Seal became extremely popular as a general tonic for health and longevity, its price nearly equalled the other most prized herb of the time 'Ginseng' and it was collected to the point of near extinction. The Eclectic physicians especially valued it for digestive disorders saying 'as a remedy for various gastric disorders it takes the leading place'. Jethro Kloss in his book 'Back to Eden' is especially fond of Golden Seal saying it is 'one of the most wonderful remedies in the entire herb kingdom'.

In modern herbal medicine practice Golden Seal is seen to help bind and heal damaged surfaces such as in ulceration in the mouth or throat, gastric or peptic ulcers and chronic indigestion and heartburn

Golden Seal is regarded as a particularly potent medicine for liver congestion. It is seen to be very good for conditions where excess mucus is present such as sinusitis, ear infections, nasal polyps, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia and pleurisy


Science on Golden Seal

~ Golden Seal is a rich source of the alkaloid berberine which has been the subject of some compelling clinical trials with people:

~ For example, studies have shown it was able to help people with congestive heart failure improve their quality of life, strengthen cardiac function and decrease vascular resistance and incidence of ventricular premature complexes.(Marin-Neto, J. A., Maciel, B. C., Secches, A. L., and Gallo, Junior L. Cardiovascular effects of berberine in patients with severe congestive heart failure. Clin.Cardiol. 1988;11(4):253-260) and (Zeng XH, Zeng XJ, Li YY. Efficacy and safety of berberine for congestive heart failure secondary to ischemic or idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Am J Cardiol 2003;92:173-6)

~ The goldenseal constituent berberine was administered to subjects orally three times daily in a dose of 50mg for 1-4 weeks. The authors reported that leukocyte (white blood cell) counts increased to >4,000 after one week in 40.2% of patients and after two weeks in 38.8% of patients. In subjects with a leukocyte count <1,000, 54.8% of patients experienced increases to >4,000 after two weeks (Liu CX, Xiao PG, and Liu GS. Studies on plant resources, pharmacology and clinical treatment with berbamine. Phytotherapy Research 1991;5:228-230)

Berberine was more effective than the drug ranitidine in clearing Helicobacter pylori and improving gastritis in H. pylori-associated duodenal ulcer in a randomised, comparative clinical trial (Hu Fl. Chung Hua I Hsueh Tsa Chih 1993; 73(4):217-219, 253)

~ In two controlled trials berberine was superior to placebo and compared favourably with established drugs in treating giardiasis in children (Gupte S. Am J Dis Child 1975; 129(7):866)

~ in an uncontrolled study berberine taken from 1-3 months improved the major symptoms of patients with non-insulin-dependent-diabetes in combination with a therapeutic diet. Berberine improved patient's strength, decreased blood fats, improved blood pressure and in 60% of the patients it normalised fasting blood sugar levels*(Ni YX, Liu AQ, Gao YF et al. Chin Integr Med 1988; 8(12):711-713)

~ In his book Miracle Healing Herbs John Heinerman writes 'a small number of diabetics I've known over the years have successfully managed to lower their insulin levels by taking two capsules of Golden Seal root per day. One fellow in Toronto, Canada went from close to 30cc of insulin to needing injections of about half that amount each day, after taking the herb for about a month.

~ There are nearly 200 published studies and articles on Goldenseal, a PDF showing their titles, authors and when and where they were published can be found here

Safety of Golden Seal

Golden Seal should not be taken whilst breastfeeding (the Berberine alkaloid will pass into the milk) and nor should it be used during pregnancy although it may help with stimulating labour at the end. Generally this is not a herb to use for children and definitely not for infants. The elderly can do very well with Golden Seal but only in very moderate doses. May be best avoided by people with high blood pressure though this is more a theoretical precaution and would be wise to test by regularly self-monitoring the blood pressure whilst using the herb rather than assuming it would be a problem before taking a 'try and see' approach.

Endangered Herb Alert!

Golden Seal is a rare and precious herb that has been badly over-harvested. If there is any question that it might be harvested from the wild then don't use it but use Barberry instead. Barberry is still a great herb that shares many of the tastes and actions of Golden Seal' you just might need a bit more of it to get the same effects (about double is my rough rule of thumb), more info on Barberry here

Golden Seal is a magnificent herb to work with; it is very pricey but it's as potent as it is pungent! In our clinic we only import certified cultivated, organic Golden Seal root to make into tinctures or use in the raw dried form.
One of these days I am hoping someone will grow some in New Zealand... I'm still waiting for that one!


Personal experiences

I often think of trying Golden Seal with someone when they have a characteristic combination of a heavy, coated tongue, a languid or sluggish pulse, excess debris in their blood plasma and symptoms of mucus congestion, poor recovery from infections, heaviness in the head or a low mood.

Anyone reading this that is studying herbal medicine or, for their own personal reasons, wants to get to know this potent plant ally much more deeply, is warmly recommended to take a few drops of the tincture of Golden Seal, hold them in the mouth for a few moments and then swallow and observe what happens next. If you do this with a quiet and attentive mind, I am sure you will get a palpable experience of the herb that will do more to help you to truly understand it than any amount of abstract and academic learning. This is a herb that does things in the body and keeps doing them long after you have been introduced! Cleansing, activating, penetrating, uplifting... these are the kind of words that have come to me and fellow students or colleagues with whom I have made the same experiment, but the words are only guides; try for yourself and see what you feel.

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

In my own practice I have found that Golden Seal to be a wonderfully strong, cleansing and energetic medicine and, fortunately given its great expense, I find that only small amounts are required for excellent results, For most people this equates to not more than 1 or 2 mls of the tincture in a day.

Golden Seal works particularly well with Dandelion and/or Celandine to treat and cleanse the liver and it combines perfectly with Myrrh and Echinacea to treat resistant bacterial or fungal infections on the skin or in the throat.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Golden Seal is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B.

There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Golden Seal can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Golden Seal (Hydrastis) is a valuable drug in disordered states of the digestive apparatus, especially when functional in character. Hydrastis is bitter to the taste, and induces increased activity of the salivary glands. It sharpens the appetite and aids digestion when indicated. It increases contraction of the muscular fibers of arteries and decreases congestion of the genito-urinary tract.

Hydrastis is a hepatic (liver) stimulant, and as a stimulant of the gastric and intestinal mucous surfaces its action is marked. Hydrastis exerts its chief action upon the mucous and glandular structures, and to some extent, upon the nervous system.

Hydrastis should be remembered in convalescence from diseases, as a remedy for various gastric disorders it takes the leading place.

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd