Adams Herbs



(Hydrastis canadensis)

Antibacterial which tones the mucous membranes of the nose and sinuses. Mild liver stimulant.

OTHER NAMES: Yellow Root, Orange Root, Golden Root (although plenty of other plants go by these names, too).

PART USED: Root. The leaf may also be used, but it is extremely limited – see below.

FOUND IN: Immune Dragon Super Brew

NOTES: Goldenseal was once one of the most important and widely used medicinal plants of North America. It was an official drug plant in either the United States Dispensatory or the National Formulary from 1830 to 1955. My 1877 Dispensatory says:

“Very diversified powers have been claimed for hydrastis. Thus, while all admit its tonic properties, it is considered by different practitioners as aperient, alterative in its influence on the mucous membranes, cholagogue, deobstruent in reference to the glands generally, diuretic, antiseptic, etc.”

Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Associationpublished the results of a survey of 10,000 U.S. medical doctors under the title “Vegetable Drugs Employed By American Physicians.” Goldenseal was the second most-prescribed plant (The cardiac remedy, Night-Blooming Cereus [Selenicereus grandiflorus] was #1).

As time went on, however, people began to view Goldenseal less as a broad tonic, and more as a simple “herbal antibiotic.” This did Goldenseal a great disservice. First of all because it’s not really true. While Goldenseal will kill bacteria and yeasts on contact, its active compounds absorb poorly into the bloodstream. And if you can’t get your antibiotic into the bloodstream, you’re not going to kill any bacteria that live there, are you? (Besides, if you’re looking for an antibiotic, why not just take a pharmaceutical one? Seriously: it will work better).

I still use Goldenseal as an “herbal antibiotic,” but only when I can put it in direct contact with infected tissue. So I might use a Goldenseal tea swished around the mouth for thrush, or an ointment with a little pinch of powdered Goldenseal root on cuts and scrapes, or a throat spray with Goldenseal, or even a very dilute extract as an eyewash for conjunctivitis. Higher doses may be useful in infections of the GI tract, although I do not have experience using them this way.

Still, the mainstream take on Goldenseal in 1877 is a lot closer to the truth than what’s being marketed at us today. Yes, Goldenseal is an “alterative in its influence on the mucous membranes.” In fact, that’s its primarily value, as far as I’m concerned. A moderate dose of Goldenseal tincture (5-15) drops has a subtle but noticeable toning action on the membranes, especially from the neck up. (Most good mucous-toners work more in the lungs). So whether your snot is boggy and congested, or doing the leaky faucet thing, Goldenseal seems to just “tighten things up.” This can prove invaluable when you’re fighting something off. The herbalist, Paul Bergner, has written an informative paper on the subject.

Goldenseal is also a mild stimulant to sluggish and “cold” liver function, which will help clear an infection, at least indirectly, by promoting clearance of immune-antibody complexes and other residues.

Stimulated liver function will help clear eruptive skin conditions such as acne (although here, Goldenseal’s cousin, Oregon Grape Root will work better). The liver stimulant effects also promote better digestion of fats. And the taste of Goldenseal (acrid, bitter, and altogether nasty) will effectively stimulate digestion in general.

But back to “herbal antibiotic.” The idea that goldenseal was a germ-killer also hurt, paradoxically, by making the plant more popular. (An “herbal antibiotic” is a much easier sell than a “deobstruent in reference to the glands generally.”) Goldenseal was already overharvested and scarce, but when Echinacea-Goldenseal combos started being touted as some sort of a cross between chicken soup, penicillin, and Sudafed™, it threatened to push the plant over the edge. In 1997, the United States began regulating trade in Goldenseal.

Goldenseal isn’t so endangered that responsible wildcrafters shouldn’t harvest a root or two for their personal use. But large-scale commercial harvesting of the wild plant should be avoided. If you’re buying it in a store, stick to cultivated Goldenseal. Or, if you’re really a fan of wildcrafted herbs, there are other plants that can sub for Goldenseal in a pinch: look into Oregon Grape Root (Berberis aquifolium), Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica), Chinese Goldthread (Coptis spp.), and Barberry (Berberis vulgaris).

QUALITY ISSUES: Because of people willing to pay top dollar for Goldenseal – any Goldenseal – you’ll see products made from Goldenseal leaves on the market now. The leaves aren’t useless. They have some small value as a topical antimicrobial. But for internal use, you most definitely want the root.

SAFETY: in small doses, there isn’t much to worry about. In the higher doses used sometimes to treat traveller’s diarrhea, it can irritate the GI tract. Paul Bergner has suggested that higher doses may exhaust the mucous-producing capacity of the goblet cells.

DOSING: 5-15 drops of the tincture, 3-5 times a day.



© 2009 Adam Herbs. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Use common sense. Don't jump into a full therapeutic dose of anything the first day. Trust your experience more than someone's learned opinion. If you're dealing with something scary or serious, work with a professional. If the professional appears incompetent, find a better one.