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Herbal Monograph

Herb: Golden Seal Root  (Hydrastis canadensis; Ranunculaceae)

Other Names: orange root, yellow root, yellow puccoon, ground raspberry, wild curcuma, turmeric root, Indian Dye, eye root, eye balm, Indian Paint, jaundice root, warnera, Indian plant.   (2)

Character/Energetics:  very bitter; strong unpleasant characteristic odor  (2); cold, bitter (6); drying   (15)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: heart, liver, stomach, colon (6)       

Part used:  air-dried rhizome with root fibers (2);  root (6)     

Identification & Harvesting:  Small, solitary, terminal, erect flower;  three small greenish white petals;  fruit is a group of small oblong carmine berries with 1 or 2 hard black glossy seeds, similar to raspberry but not edible.  Plant is a low perennial about a foot high, with horizontal bright yellow knotty twisted rhizome 1/4-3/4 inch thick, out of which root fibres grow  (2)

Harvest root and rhizome from three-year plants during autumn.  Dry slowly.   (8)

Populations in the wild now severely depleted.   (38)

Wild-harvested material becoming increasingly scarce and expensive, but cultivation has increased considerably of late.   (61)

Cayuga Botanicals R.D. Note — [Wildcrafting of goldenseal has become an intensely controversial issue:  it is thought by many to be nearing extinction.]

Cultivation: Prior to the 1930’s, experimental cultivation was disappointing, but has been more successful recently.  Best conditions for cultivation are a well-drained soil, rich in humus, partial shade.  Lath blinds placed overhead are considered preferable to tree shade, because tree roots interfere.  Plant requires 60-75% shade.  Seeds considered unreliable.  Fresh plantations are made in autumn when they are lifted for marketable rhizomes;  the roots sometimes develop buds that can be used as stock.  Rhizomes deteriorate in their fourth year;  but are not ready to harvest for two to three years.  For more extensive data on mass cultivation, see reference.   (34)

Avg time until harvest:  3.6-3.8 years after transplanting roots.  Cultivation has been increasing so dramatically recently, that by fall of 2000, up to 30% of the market could originate from cultivated sources.  Most surveyed agricultural producers intend to increase their acreage.  Projections indicate goldenseal farms will be the predominant source within the next decade.   (1b)

Active Constituents:  Isoquinoline alkaloids:  hydrastine, berberine, (-)-canadine   (2) hydrastine, berberine, resin, trace essential oils, chologenic acid, fatty oil, albumin and sugar (6); 5% alkaloids hydrastine, berberine, canadine  (8)

An excellent source of Vitamin C.   (1c)

Actions:  oxytocic, mild laxative, anti-inflammatory, vasoconstrictor, hypertensive   (2)

Alterative, antiperiodic, astringent, diuretic, laxative, bitter tonic, anti-bacterial. Dries and   cleanses the mucous membranes, inhibiting excessive flow, counteracts inflammation, regulates   menses, aids digestion, treats liver diseases, cleanses blood and counters infection. Stimulant to   the uterine muscles, contracts the blood vessels and inhibits excessive bleeding   (6)

Primarily a powerful tonic for the mucous membranes.  Tonic, astringent, anti-catarrhal,   laxative, muscular stimulant, oxytocic, bitter.   (8)

A potent cooling astringent;  also a hypertensive.  (15)

Antiseptic, bleeding inhibitor;  hydrastine lowers blood pressure;  berberine imparts the yellow   color and bitter taste, stimulates digestion and bile secretion, lowers blood pressure, reduces   spasms, inhibits bacteria growth.  Antispastic effects depend on a synergistic action of several   compounds moderated by hydrastine.   (61) Cayuga Botanicals R.D. Note — [An apparent inconsistency

in (61) regarding blood pressure:  most authorities say goldenseal exacerbates hypertension.]

Conditions & Uses: Not effective in early stages of cold or flu.   (1)

Use externally on wounds and herpes labialis.   (2)

Effective against flu, fevers and infections of all kinds; and in treating hemorrhoids, vaginal yeast infection and as an eyewash for inflamed eyes. It also relieves gastroenteritis, indigestion, gas and heartburn; and is effective in treating amoebic dysentery (giardia) when used over a ten day period. It probably is the strongest and most typical of the Western herbs in this category and may be used as a general antibacterial or general anti-inflammatory, externally as well as internally. (6)

As a mucous membrane tonic, can be used in all digestive problems:  gastritis, septic ulceration, colitis;  as a bitter it aids with low appetite;  benefits all catarrhal states.  As an astringent, useful in uterine conditions as menorrhagia, hemorrhage.  As a involuntary muscle stimulant, aids with childbirth.  Also used externally for eczema, ringworm, pruritis (itching), earache, conjunctivitis.   (8)

Primarily used for inflammations of mucous membranes.   (61)

Combinations:  combines well in digestive conditions with meadowsweet and chamomile;  for uterine hemorrhage, combine with Beth root;  externally as a wash for itching and irritation, combine with witch hazel;  as ear drops with mullein.   (8); Combine with eyebright for infections;  with fenugreek or agrimony or licorice for allergic conditions.   (15);  In the second stage of gonorrhea it should be used as an addition to other injections.   (57);   Works best when combined with other immune-stimulant and antibiotic herbs.   (1c)

      GOLDEN SEAL ROOT (Hydrastis canadensis; Ranunculaceae)

Precautions:  Extended use can bring digestive disorders, constipation, hallucination, agitation and occasional delirium.  High doses lead to vomiting, difficulty breathing, bradycardia, spasms, eventually central paralysis.   (2); Long-term or excessive use can weaken the flora of the colon. (6)      Because goldenseal stimulates involuntary muscles of the womb, it should be avoided during pregnancy.   (8)     Do not use eardrops if there is a risk of perforated eardrum.  Eating fresh plant can cause ulceration of mucous membranes.  Hypertensive patients should avoid this herb.   (15)     Destroys beneficial intestinal flora as well as pathogens, so it is prescribed for limited periods (three months).   (38)

External fresh applications may cause ulceration of skin;  however, reports of this relate to remedies from 1800’s which also contained jimson weed and zinc oxide, and there are no recent reports of it.  Some herbalists recommend taking acidophilus with goldenseal, due to a putative broad-spectrum antibiotic effect that includes intestinal flora.   (61) Cayuga Botanicals R.D. Note — [Recommend any acidophilus supplementation occur immediately after acute conditions have been treated with goldenseal, to allow unimpeded proliferation of acidophilus.  Since chronic use of the herb is contraindicated, there seems to be little danger of complications due to defloration.]

Can cause malabsorption of vit. B, resulting in fatigue and listlessness, when used too long.   (1c)

Berberine has coagulant activity;  therefore will offset the anti-coagulant activity present in herbs like chamomile, dong quai, or horse chestnut.    (1d)

Tincturing Process: Vita Mix (Speed 5): 410 gr (whole) Golden Seal root ideal amount for tincturing in (1) 2-qt mason jar. The whole root breaks down extremely well under Vita Mix processing; hence, it is superior to purchasing this root in its powdered form.

Fill VM container 2/3 full. Process for 90 seconds.  Alcohol–60% (1a) (10)

Vegetable Glycerine Menstruum: When utilizing (66.7%) vegetable glycerine as menstruum, 150 gr  (whole) Golden Seal root is an ideal amount for tincturing in (1) 1-qt mason jar. (1a)

Applications:  Infusion — pour one cup boiling water over 1 tsp powdered herb;  infuse 10-15 min;  3 x           daily.  Tincture — 2-4 ml, 3 x daily.   (8);  10 ml tincture in 100 ml water as eardrops.   (15)

Divination:  XX  Judgment:  Goldenseal

Hydrastis canadensis

Goldenseal is the bitter brew one  must take for overindulgence and self-abuse, since bitterness is detoxifying and cleansing.  It is an alterative, a tonic, a cholagogue, and is used as an antibiotic, to dry up mucus discharges, and to purify the blood and lymphatic system.  (Ruled by p)

Symbolically used for:  An extremely overindulgent person.  One who eats too many sweets.  Craving for extremes of pleasure and fun at the expense of one’s own well-being.

Divinatory meanings:  Renewal.  Changes.  Awakening to the truth.  New possibilities.

Reverse meanings:  Facing the consequences of one’s actions.  A time of personal reckoning.  Strong considerations and decisions to be made about the future.   (52)

Dosage: infusion, one teaspoon in a cup of boiling water; tincture, 10-30 drops; 3-6 grams in formula (6)    

1-2 capsules, 2 or 3 x daily, taken no more than 10 days.  For infection take high doses, 3 capsules 3 x daily.   (1c)

General Notes:  “I am informed that the Cheerake cure [cancer] with a plant which is thought to be the Hydrastis canadensis.”  Benjamin Smith Barton, 1798.  Originally a North American herb.  Introduced in Europe in 1760.   (15)

The alkaloid berberine first discovered in Berberis vulgaris or barberry (hence the nominal);  this suggests that barberry has similar uses as a liver and digestive tonic, and this is in fact the case.   (38)

Cayuga Botanicals R.D. Note — [There seems to be some confusion concerning the identity of H. canadensis (goldenseal) with various species of Berberis known in India as daruharidra, “wood turmeric”, so-called because of similarity with Curcuma longa, or turmeric, or haridra, a domesticated ingredient in curry powder.  All the daruharidra species contain berberine, and in fact the various Curcuma species, wild or domestic, are also used as liver tonics and digestive stimulants.  But Hydrastis, Berberis and Curcuma are all in different families and should not be confused or equated.  This distinction is important because of recent attention to so-called “curcumins”, powerful anti-oxidants apparently found only in Curcuma that aggregate in joint cartilage and delay long-term free radical damage and subsequent onset of arthritic symptoms.]   (38)

One modern but foundless folk use of goldenseal, based on John Lloyd’s novel Stringtown on the Pike, is to mask presence of illicit drugs in urine;  now some labs test for goldenseal in urinalysis.   (61)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, “Medical Herbalism”, Winter ’96-’97

(1a) as above “Golden Seal Tincture” file

(1b) as above Research Data, “HerbalGram”, Spring ’99

(1c) as above  Research Data, “Nature’s Field”, July/Aug ’98, p. 24

(1d)  as above Research Data, “The Herb-Drug Mix” by Robert Rountree, M.D., Herbs for Health,Jul/Aug ’99, pgs. 52-54

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), p. 903

(6)  Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 204-5

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 204

(10)  Herbal Preparations and Natural Therapies by Debra Nuzzi St. Claire, M.H., pg.127

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 67, 139, 157

(34) A Modern Herbal (Vol. 1 A-H) by Mrs. M. Grieve, p. 363

(38) Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown, pgs. 248, 270, 294-95

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin), p. 14

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 155-56

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 104-105


PHOTO: Wikipedia