Goldenseal is a small perennial plant, usually cultivated for the mass herb product, but also occurring wild in rich, shady woods and damp meadows from Connecticut to Minnesota and southward. A thick, knotty, yellow rootstock sends up a hairy stem, almost a foot high, with a pair of five-lobed, serrated leaves near the top terminated by a single greenish white flower. The yellow color of the root is due to the alkaloid, berberine.
Although not officially recognized as effective, Goldenseal is a popular remedy for canker sores, sore throat, and upper respiratory infections. It also has a long-standing history as a remedy for urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, and infectious diarrhea, and has also been used for indigestion and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), although its effectiveness for these ailments has never been scientifically verified. Applied externally, it is used to treat wounds and skin and eye infections.
Goldenseal root has a reputation for being a "natural antibiotic." Native American groups used it topically for inflammation, and it has been used in folk medicine as an eyewash and a rinse or gargle to relieve sore mouth, sore throat, canker sores, or thrush. No clinical studies confirm its effectiveness for these purposes. Several Indian tribes used goldenseal for digestive disorders, and berberine has proved effective in treating diarrhea due to toxic pathogens such as cholera. In another study, it was more helpful than placebo against giardia infections in children. Hydrastine and berberine lower blood pressure when injected into laboratory animals. Berberine can increase the secretion of bile, and canadine is reported to trigger uterine contractions. In mice, goldenseal ingredients increase blood flow to the spleen and stimulate the activity of macrophages, blood cells that are an important part of the immune system. Goldenseal is sometimes used as an "alternative medicine" for strep or sinus infections. Goldenseal has been considered for the treatment of certain cancers, but these uses are still experimental.
Goldenseal was used by Native Americans as a treatment for irritations and inflammation of the mucous membranes of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts. It was commonly used topically for skin and eye infections and has been used historically as a mouthwash to help heal canker sores. Because of its anti-microbial activity, goldenseal has a long history of use for infectious diarrhea, upper respiratory tract infections, and vaginal infections. Goldenseal is often recommended by herbalists in combination with echinacea for the treatment of colds and flu. Its benefits are most likely limited to helping ease the discomfort of a sore throat associated with these conditions.
Goldenseal contains calcium, iron, manganese, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, B-complex, and other nutrients and minerals. Considered to be a "broad-spectrum" herb, Goldenseal is extremely popular and very much in demand. Goldenseal's numerous uses are attributed to its antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and astringent properties. It soothes irritated mucus membranes aiding the eyes, ears, nose and throat. Taken at the first signs of respiratory problems, colds or flu, Goldenseal helps prevent further symptoms from developing. It has also been used to help reduce fevers, and relive congestion and excess mucous. Goldenseal cleanses and promotes healthy glandular functions by increasing bile flow and digestive enzymes, therefore, regulating healthy liver and spleen functions. It also eases inflamed peptic ulcers, aids digestion and relieves constipation. Goldenseal may be used to treat infections of the bladder and intestines as well. Its properties are largely due to its alkaloids, which include berberine, hydrastine and canadine. Because demand for the herb is high and supplies are low, Goldenseal is one of the most expensive herbs on the market.