With a long history of traditional use to treat a broad spectrum of infections, it is now known that Goldenseal contains the powerful plant alkaloid berberine.
Berberine has been shown to stimulate the immune system by activating the macrophages that devour harmful micro-organisms. Macrophages are a type of white blood cell within the immune system that engulf and digest cellular debris, foreign substances, microbes and anything else that does not have the type of proteins specific to healthy body cells on its surface, in a process called phagocytosis.
Additionally, berberine is naturally antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal and has been shown to inhibit the ability of bacteria to attach itself to human cells.
Goldenseal is classed as a “bitter herb”, bitters stimulate the production of enzymes and stomach acid, readying the digestive system for the optimum assimilation of nutrients from food consumed.
As well as stimulating digestive juices, Goldenseal has a balancing effect on the microbiome. The beneficial bacteria play an important part in the digestive process by breaking down food into usable energy. In a healthy gut, the beneficial bacteria far outnumber the pathogens. However, a course of antibiotics, stress and bad diet can cause an imbalance, allowing the “bad bacteria” to run amok.
A beneficial effect of Goldenseal on the microbiome is “selective microbial inhibition”. In other words, the plant alkaloids in this herb (including berberine), inhibit the growth of dangerous pathogens whilst actually enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria.
With a powerful anti-inflammatory action, Goldenseal can protect and heal the gut and intestinal tract, providing relief from constipation, bloating and cramping.
The active properties in Goldenseal, particularly its star phytonutrient “berberine”, make it highly effective for protecting and supporting the heart. Berberine can help to regulate heart rhythm and provide relief from arrhythmias and heart palpitations.
A clinical study published in 2001 found that berberine has anti-arrhythmic properties and was found to “prolong the duration of ventricular action potential”. Also known as "cardiac action potential", this is a brief change in voltage across the cell membrane of heart cells. The study concluded that, "the cardiovascular effects of berberine suggest its possible clinical usefulness in the treatment of arrhythmias and/or heart failure."1
It also has vasodilating properties, meaning that it relaxes and opens the blood vessels which supports healthy blood pressure.
With powerful antioxidant and anti-microbial properties, Goldenseal can be used to combat skin problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. It has also been found to be effective against herpes, ringworm, blisters and sores.
Goldenseal can be made into a poultice and applied directly to problem areas, or used as an ingredient in salves, ointments and skin creams.
Also great for cleaning and healing wounds, Goldenseal can be used in place of harsher skin disinfectants to gently clean cuts and bruise and speed up healing.
Folklore and history
Goldenseal has a long and esteemed history as a medicinal herb among the native people of the north eastern United States. The Cherokee used it for treatment of general debility, dyspepsia (indigestion), to improve appetite and as a tonic and wash for skin wounds and inflammations. The Iroquois made a decoction of roots for treatment of whooping cough and diarrhoea, liver trouble, fever, digestive issues, flatulence and as an emetic for biliousness. They also prepared a compound infusion with other roots for use as drops in the treatment of earache and as a wash for sore eyes. Mixed with bear’s grease it was used as an insect repellent. Native people also valued the yellow roots as a stain and dye.
Goldenseal was introduced into Europe in 1760. During the 19th century it was a favourite with Thomsonian and Eclectic practitioners and was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia until 1926. Nowadays it is grown throughout the world because of its medicinal value.
Goldenseal is a perennial woodland herb that is a member of the buttercup family. As a native plant of North America, it was highly prized by the Native Americans who used it as a multi-purpose medicinal plant.
It was widely used as an immune booster and for all manner of infections. The roots were boiled and made into a healing tea, poultices and tinctures. It is classed as a bitter herb and as such was an important herb for digestive complaints and stomach aches. Other uses included for fevers, skin conditions and ulcers.
Goldenseal Tincture can be added to water or fruit juice. Traditionally taken: 1 - 3ml up to 3 times per day, or as directed by a Herbal Practitioner.
Goldenseal Powder can be used with a dressing to cover abrasions and wounds. It can be re-hydrated in water or fruit juice, encapsulated or added to a herbal powder blend.
Take 1/3 to 1 gram a day. For wounds, use a very small amount of paste directly on wounds. Do not exceed recommended serving.
5% of the root consists of isoquinoline alkaloids, hydrastine, berberine and canadine) chlorogenic acid, traces of essential oil, resin, fatty oil, starch, sugar