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Common Names Goldenseal , Yellow Root Botanical Name Hydrastis canadensis

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 the Native Americans 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'.

TJ Lyle writes 'Golden Seal is the king of Tonics to the mucous membranes. It is a mild, positive and permanent stimulating Tonic. Its influence, though primarily given to the mucous membrane, extends to all parts of the body, wherever it may be required by the necessities of the vital force or influenced thither by its combination with other agents. It improves the Appetite and assists Digestion. In the weak and debilitated Stomach, especially if there be Nervous disturbances or if the gastric membrane be clogged with congested or Catarrhal mucous, and in cases of gastric ulceration, Hydrastis given in small and frequent doses will not unfrequently give relief both to the gastric membrane and to the Nervous system'

WM Cook writes 'this root is one of the purest Tonics... it acts slowly and steadily, holding its influence for several hours. Its influence upon the system is very general; and there seems to be no organ or tissue that cannot be benefitted by its appropriate use, though it is most prominently advantageous to mucous membranes, the Digestive apparatus, and the Uterine organs. Though a Stimulant, and hence sustaining to the Circulation, it never excites or forces the pulse; and is unlike almost all other stimulating Tonics in soothing the irritation connected with feeble and congested conditions of mucous membranes... It improves Appetite and Digestion; and through the Stomach proves one of the most acceptable of all general Tonics in inDigestion, feeble assimilation, biliousness, leucorrhea, prolapsus, and all forms of debility... It has an excellent sustaining influence on the Nervous tissues, and upon the pulse when its caliber is diminished from Nervous fatigue and exhaustion'

H Felter writes 'Hydrastis is known to stimulate the salivary, gastric, and intestinal secretions, and, to a slight extent, that of bile. It certainly has a most decided action on mucous surfaces, and is one of the most effective of bitter Tonics. It sharpens the Appetite and promotes Digestion. Disorders of a subacute character and aTonic states with increased flow of Mucus are the types benefited by Hydrastis. It is preeminently a mucous membrane remedy, allaying irritation when present, toning Relaxation and correcting Catarrhal tendencies... the more the tendency toward chronic debility with oversecretion the more effective is Hydrastis. It first relieves the irritation, then restrains the secretions, and finally gives tone to the gastric membranes. Without question it is our best single drug for chronic gastric Catarrh, or chronic Gastritis'

King's Dispensatory writes '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'

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 a month'

The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP) describes Golden Seal's actions as Stimulant to involuntary Muscle, Stomachic, oxytocic, antihaemorrhagic, Laxative and says it is indicated for Digestive disorders, Gastritis, peptic ulceration, Colitis, Anorexia, upper Respiratory Catarrh, menorrhagia, post-partum haemorrhage, dysmenorrhoea and specifically indicated for aTonic dyspepsia with hepatic symptoms. The BHP suggests a dose of 0.5-1 gms of the extract in 60% ethanol.

Thomas Bartram writes that Golden Seal's actions are 'Alterative, choleretic, antiSeptic, Anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, bitter, Diuretic, Laxative, powerful Stomach and Liver Tonic, detoxifier, increases blood supply to the spleen' and says that its uses include 'Mucus membranes generally, ulceration of mouth, throat, Intestines. Heartburn, chronic dyspepsia, gastric and duodenal ulcer, diverticulosis, ulcerative colitiis, Liver damage. To assist function of old age. Drying to the Mucus surfaces and therefore indicated in all forms of Catarrh. Painful and excessive menstruation and Bleeding from the womb... once used to stimulate contractions of the womb to hasten deLivery'

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)

~ 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 well with Golden Seal but only moderate doses will be needed.

It may be best avoided by people with high Blood Pressure though this is really only a theoretical precaution and the Blood Pressure may simply need some regular monitoring to use it safely. I have not personally seen any issues in any of my own patients with high Blood Pressure using Golden Seal and, whilst I would want them to be self-monitoring or would check them myself, I would not hesitate to use it if it was indicated.

Goldenseal is a popular herb and therefore not easy to find in the wild. It is one of the most beneficial herbs on the planet due to its therapeutic and medicinal properties. It can actually lower Blood Sugar levels and aid the Pancreas in its general function as well as motivating beta cells contained inside the Pancreas, which is of extreme benefit to diabetics. Goldenseal also has anti-Bacterial, Laxative, antiSeptic, Tonic, Muscle Stimulant, Anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.