Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) a member of the family Ranunculaceae, is a native American medicinal drug introduced to early settlers by Cherokee Indians who used it as a wash for skin diseases and sore eyes. Goldenseal extract, derived from the rhizome and roots of this small forest plant, has acquired a considerable reputation as a general bitter tonic and as a remedy for various gastric and genitourinary disorders.

Goldenseal’s benefits can be attributed to its alkaloids, especially hydrastine and berberine. The latter is also responsible for the drug’s characteristic golden color. These alkaloids are strongly astringent and help reduce inflammation of mucous membranes. Hydrastine has also been reported to lower blood pressure and stimulate peristalsis, along with being an anti-tussive (relieves coughs).

Berberine and its sulfate, berberine sulfate, have been demonstrated to have anti-cancer activity in vitro and also have been shown to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and immunostimulatory activity, as well. Berberine has shown marked effects on acute diarrhea and its antibacterial qualities interfere with the ability of micro-organisms to adhere to the walls of host cells.

Goldenseal has been recommended for a variety of inflamed mucous membranes, including stomach, intestinal, vaginal and rectal. It has been reported that the plant relieves pains and helps heal wounds and stop bleeding. In addition, the antibacterial action helps reduce or prevent infection of open sores.

Recently, a “detox” tea made from comfrey, goldenseal, orange peel, mullein and spearmint has been used to help addicts kick their cocaine, heroin, and methadone habits. This would be great if it worked, but without scientific testing we can’t say one way or the other. Besides, one of the ingredients, comfrey, may be quite toxic.

High doses of goldenseal may cause nausea, vomiting, a decrease in the white blood count and feelings of pins and needles in the hands and feet.

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