Skip to main content
Select Source:



Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis ) is a woodland plant belonging to the family Ranunculaceae. The plant is also known as eyebalm, eyeroot, hydrastis, orangeroot, turmeric root, and yellowroot. Mainly found in the wild, goldenseal grows to a height of about 1 ft (30 cm). It has an erect, hairy stem, and produces small, greenish-white flowers that bloom in early spring, and later turn into clusters of red berries. The plant gets its common name from its thick yellow rhizome.

Native Americans used goldenseal as a multipurpose medicinal plant. The Cherokees used it as a wash to treat skin diseases and sore eyes and mixed a powder made from the root with bear fat for use as an insect repellent. Other uses were as a diuretic, stimulant, and treatment for cancer. The Catawbas used the boiled root to treat jaundice, an ulcerated stomach, colds, and sore mouth; they also chewed the fresh or dried root to relieve an upset stomach. The Kickapoo used goldenseal as an infusion in water to treat eyes irritated by smoke caused by burning the prairie in the autumn. Some Native American tribes made use of the plant as a source of a natural yellow dye.

Many early European settlers turned to Native American remedies to treat their ailments. In the seventeenth century, colonists in Virginia used such native plants as ginseng (Panax pseudoginseng ), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum ), sassafras (Sassafras albidum ), snake-root (Echinacea angustifolio ), Collinsonia (Collinsonia canadensis ), Sanguinaria (Sanguinaria canadensis ), and lobelia (Lobelia inflata ) to treat medical problems.

Goldenseal grows in high, open woods, usually on hillsides or bluffs with good drainage. It is found in its native habitat from the northeast border of South Carolina to the lower half of New York, and east to northern Arkansas and the southeast corner of Wisconsin, as well as in Nova Scotia. Today it is only found in abundance in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and parts of Illinois. Goldenseal has vanished from some of its historical locations, mostly because of habitat loss. However, it has been cultivated in other places.

The roots and rhizomes of goldenseal contain a number of isoquinoline alkaloids, including hydras-tine, berberine, canadine, canadaline, and l-hydras-tine. It is berberine that gives the rootstock its distinctive golden color.

The medical uses for goldenseal are quite numerous. It has been used to treat a variety of infections from tonsillitis, gonorrhea, and typhoid fever, to hemorrhages, gum disease, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Traditional uses have been as an antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, laxative, antihemorrhaging agent, digestive aid, tonic, and deworming agent. Goldenseal has also been used as an anticancer agent. Its effectiveness against sores and inflammations is presumably due to the antiseptic properties of berberine against bacteria and protozoa, and to berberines antimalarial and fever-reducing properties. The alkaloids hydras-tine and hydrastine hydrochloride have been reported to stop uterine bleeding and prevent infection, and canadine acts as a sedative and muscle relaxant.

Goldenseal stimulates the liver, kidneys, and lungs, and is often used to treat ulcers. It has excellent antimicrobial properties that treat inflammation and infections of respiratory mucous membranes, the digestive tract, and urinary tract. External applications of goldenseal can be used to treat impetigo, ringworm, conjunctivitis, and gum disease.

The use of goldenseal as an herbal medicine is not restricted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which does not regulate herbs. Consequently, goldenseal remains a popular medicinal herb among many practitioners of alternative medicine. However, some health professionals recommend not using goldenseal for medicinal purposes because of the plants toxicity. If ingested as a fresh, raw plant, goldenseal can be very poisonous. Improper preparations may cause serious side effects such as mouth and throat irritation, skin sensations including burning or tingling; paralysis; respiratory failure; and even death. Before using goldenseal, patients should consult with their health practitioner.

Randall Frost

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Goldenseal." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Goldenseal." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . (December 17, 2017).

"Goldenseal." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from




Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis ) is a perennial North American native plant found wild in eastern deciduous woodlands and damp meadows as far north as Vermont and Minnesota, and south to Georgia and Arkansas. This versatile herb is sought for its valuable rootstock and inner twig bark. Goldenseal is a member of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family. It is a mainstay of Native American medicine , and a popular folk remedy. Goldenseal has multiple uses, both internally and externally. It is sometimes called poor man's ginseng. This traditional medicinal herb has been known by many names, including yellow paint root, orange root, eye root, Indian plant, tumeric root, eye balm, jaundice root, yellow puccoon, and ground raspberry . Native American tribes valued this natural antiseptic herb for many medicinal uses and as a clothing dye. Early colonists soon came to appreciate its infection-fighting action. The Native American use of goldenseal as a cancer treatment was first mentioned in the herbal, Essays Toward a Materia Medica of the United States first published by Benjamin Smith Barton in 1798.

The yellow rootstock is the main, known medicinal part of the herb. In cultivation, goldenseal requires up to four years growth before the rootstock is ready for harvest. The thick and knotty rhizome produces a hairy stem

that grows to 2 ft (61 cm) high. Goldenseal has only two large leaves, each five-lobed with double-toothed edges growing atop a forked stem. Leaves are serrated at the top edges. A single flower with greenish-white sepals crowns the hairy stem. The fruit looks like a raspberry, hence one of the plant's common names. Pharmaceutical companies harvest goldenseal root in large quantities for use. The herb is fully endangered on extinction risk lists in the wild due to over-collection of the rhizome. An estimated 250,000 pounds of rootstock of this popular herbal remedy are sold each year, and most of this has been collected in the wild.

General use

The underground portion of the stem, called the rhizome, as well as the inner twig bark, are the medicinal part of this multiple-use native remedy. The goldenseal rhizome is rich in alkaloids: hydrastine, berberine, and canadine, in addition to other phytochemicals, oils, and resin. Goldenseal has been considered a cure-all medicinal herb because of its wide variety of medicinal applications. It is a bitter herb that is effective when taken internally to promote digestion. The herb is particularly helpful when used to treat inflammation and infection of the mucous membranes lining the upper respiratory tract, and the digestive and genitourinary tract. Its anti-bacterial properties improve all catarrhal conditions, and it is helpful against amoebic infection. Goldenseal potentiates insulin and stimulates liver, kidney, and lung function. The astringent herb may also be used to help control bleeding, so it is helpful in circumstances of excessive and painful menstruation or postpartum hemorrhage. It is antiseptic, diuretic, and acts as a mild laxative and internal body cleanser. Goldenseal is used in treatment of peptic ulcers, and stimulates the flow of bile. Applied externally as rhizome bark powder or tincture, the herbal preparations can help treat gum disease , vaginal infection, eczema, impetigo, conjunctivitis , inflammations of the ear, and possibly ringworm. Its diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects can help lower blood pressure. The berberine alkaloid in goldenseal stimulates uterine contractions, and the herb is useful to treat pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Goldenseal is high in iron, manganese , silicon, and other minerals. Goldenseal was once considered a good substitute for quinine. The herb has been used as a remedy for diphtheria, tonsillitis , chronic catarrh of the intestines, typhoid fever, gonorrhea , leucorrea, and syphilis . It is no wonder that with all these medicinal benefits, this wonderful herb is disappearing in the wild.


The rootstock of goldenseal, harvested in spring or fall in the third or fourth year of growth, can be used in decoction, liquid extract, tablet, and tincture. When purchasing commercially prepared remedies, avoid the wild-crafted sources to help protect this valuable herb in its wild habitat.

To prepare an eyewash of goldenseal, mix equal parts of powdered rootstock and boric acid with boiling hot water. Stir well and allow to cool. Strain the mixture and store in a dark glass container. For one dosage, retrieve one teaspoon of the resulting liquid per one half cup water as a soothing eyewash solution. It is important to keep all equipment totally sterile, apply with a sterilized eyedropper, and discard old liquid eyewash (over one or two days).

For an infusion, use one teaspoon of powdered root-stock to a pint of boiling water. Let stand until cold. Dosage is 12 teaspoons, three to six times per day, for up to seven days. The infusion may also be used as a gargle.

To prepare a tincture, combine one part fresh herb to three parts alcohol (50% alcohol/water solution) in glass container. Set aside in dark place. Shake daily for two weeks. Strain through muslin or cheesecloth, and store in dark bottle. The tincture should maintain potency for two years. Standard dosage, unless otherwise prescribed, is one teaspoon, three times daily, for short periods (one or two weeks).

To make capsules, pulverize the dried root into a fine powder. Place in gelatin capsules. Dosage is two capsules, three times daily for three weeks, then discontinue for the next three weeks.


Pregnant and breast-feeding women should not use this herb as it may stimulate uterine contraction. Patients with high blood pressure should also avoid goldenseal. The herb should be taken only for very limited periods, as it builds up in the mucosa of the system and its strong alkaloids are neurotoxic over an extended time (i.e., several months of daily use). Three weeks on and three weeks off is a good routine for dosage. Do not eat the plant fresh, as it can irritate mucous tissues.

Side effects

Goldenseal use can destroy organisms that are beneficial to the body, as well as those that are pathological. It should be used only for limited periods of time.


Goldenseal is often combined with other herbs in preparations. Myrrh gum (Commiphora myrrha ) and echinacea (Echinacea augustifolia ) extract may be added to goldenseal in salve preparations. Goldenseal combines well with mullein (Verbascum thapus ) for earache , and with chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla ) and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria ) for stomach aches. Combine in infusion with gotu kola (Centella asiatica ) for a brain tonic.



Balch, James F., M.D., and Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 2000.

Bown, Deni. The Herb Society of America, Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses. New York: DK Publishing, Inc., 1995.

Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal. Boston: Element, 1991.

Lust, John. The Herb Book. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

Werbach, Melvyn R., M.D., and Michael T. Murray, N.D. Botanical Influences on Illness. Tarzana, CA: Third Line Press, 2000.


Foster, Steven. Goldenseal's Future.

Clare Hanrahan

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Goldenseal." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Goldenseal." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . (December 17, 2017).

"Goldenseal." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from