Traditional Herbal Uses for Goldenseal

By Lisa Barger

Native to the damp woodland areas of the Northeast, goldenseal is one of the top selling medicinal herbs in the North America. Known botanically as Hydrastis canadensis, goldenseal has a long history of use as a medicinal plant. Native Peoples throughout the area recognized the healing potential of this unassuming-looking herb and used it extensively.

Traditional Medical Uses for Goldenseal

Native Americans used goldenseal both medicinally and non-medicinally. The best known non-medicinal use for goldenseal was as a fabric dye. The Cherokee used goldenseal for inflammation, as a cancer treatment, and to treat digestive problems. The Iroquois used goldenseal to treat diarrhea, to bring down fevers and to treat ear and eye infections. Other problems treated with goldenseal included whooping cough, heart disease and mouth sores.

Goldenseal Today

By the mid-1800s, goldenseal had become so popular that wild populations of this small perennial began to decline dramatically. In 1997 goldenseal was place on the Endangered Species list and gathering the herb on public lands became illegal. Today, because of continuing demand, many goldenseal products are adulterations using goldenseal leaves instead of the vastly more valuable roots.

Today’s herbalists understand that goldenseal is poisonous in large doses so they use the herb sparingly–mainly for its anti-microbial properties. A handful of studies have shown goldenseal to be an effective antibacterial and anti-parasitic. Herbalists prescribe goldenseal to treat bacterial infections, tapeworm infestations, bacteria-caused diarrhea and more.

Current Research

Both of goldenseal’s active constituents, berberine and hydrastine, appear to strengthen the circulatory system and berberine has shown significant antispasmodic properties. Additional studies seem to indicate that goldenseal may someday prove effective in the fight against cancer. Berberine has been shown to be toxic to some types of cancer cells.

Other unproven herbal uses for goldenseal include using it as an immune stimulant, a natural antibiotic and as a digestive tonic.

Lisa Barger is a traditional naturopath specializing in natural health education. To learn more about Ms. Barger’s belief in “Empowerment through Education” or to take a free online natural health class see her website,

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