Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is a perennial North American native plant found wild in eastern deciduous woodlands and damp meadows as far north as Vermont and Minnesota, and south to Georgia and Arkansas. This versatile herb is sought for its valuable rootstock and inner twig bark. Goldenseal is a member of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family. It is a mainstay of Native American medicine, and a popular folk remedy.

Goldenseal has multiple uses, both internally and externally. It is sometimes called poor man’s ginseng. This traditional medicinal herb has been known by many names, including yellow paint root, orange root, eye root, Indian plant, tumeric root, eye balm, jaundice root, yellow puccoon, and ground raspberry.

Native American tribes valued this natural antiseptic herb for many medicinal uses and as a clothing dye. Early colonists soon came to appreciate its infection-fighting action. The Native American use of goldenseal as a cancer treatment was first mentioned in the herbal, Essays Toward a Materia Medica of the United States first published by Benjamin Smith Barton in 1798.

The yellow rootstock is the main, known medicinal part of the herb. In cultivation, goldenseal requires up to four years growth before the rootstock is ready for harvest. The thick and knotty rhizome produces a hairy stem that grows to 2 ft (61 cm) high.

Goldenseal has only two large leaves, each five-lobed with double-toothed edges growing atop a forked stem. Leaves are serrated at the top edges. A single flower with greenish-white sepals crowns the hairy stem. The fruit looks like a raspberry, hence one of the plant’s common names.

Pharmaceutical companies harvest goldenseal root in large quantities for use. The herb is fully endangered on extinction risk lists in the wild due to over-collection of the rhizome. An estimated 250,000 pounds of rootstock of this popular herbal remedy are sold each year, and most of this has been collected in the wild.

General use

The underground portion of the stem, called the rhizome, as well as the inner twig bark, are the medicinal part of this multiple-use native remedy. The goldenseal rhizome is rich in alkaloids: hydrastine, berberine, and canadine, in addition to other phytochemicals, oils, and resin.

Goldenseal has been considered a cure-all medicinal herb because of its wide variety of medicinal applications. It is a bitter herb that is effective when taken internally to promote digestion. The herb is particularly helpful when used to treat inflammation and infection of the mucous membranes lining the upper respiratory tract, and the digestive and genitourinary tract. Its anti-bacterial properties improve all catarrhal conditions, and it is helpful against amoebic infection.

Goldenseal potentiates insulin and stimulates liver, kidney, and lung function. The astringent herb may also be used to help control bleeding, so it is helpful in circumstances of excessive and painful menstruation or postpartum hemorrhage. It is antiseptic, diuretic, and acts as a mild laxative and internal body cleanser. Goldenseal is used in treatment of peptic ulcers, and stimulates the flow of bile.

Applied externally as rhizome bark powder or tincture, the herbal preparations can help treat gum disease, vaginal infection, eczema, impetigo, conjunctivitis, inflammations of the ear, and possibly ringworm. Its diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects can help lower blood pressure. The berberine alkaloid in goldenseal stimulates uterine contractions, and the herb is useful to treat pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Goldenseal is high in iron, manganese, silicon, and other minerals. Goldenseal was once considered a good substitute for quinine. The herb has been used as a remedy for diphtheria, tonsillitis, chronic catarrh of the intestines, typhoid fever, gonorrhea, leucorrea, and syphilis. It is no wonder that with all these medicinal benefits, this wonderful herb is disappearing in the wild.


The rootstock of goldenseal, harvested in spring or fall in the third or fourth year of growth, can be used in decoction, liquid extract, tablet, and tincture. When purchasing commercially prepared remedies, avoid the wild-crafted sources to help protect this valuable herb in its wild habitat.

To prepare an eyewash of goldenseal, mix equal parts of powdered rootstock and boric acid with boiling hot water. Stir well and allow to cool. Strain the mixture and store in a dark glass container. For one dosage, retrieve one teaspoon of the resulting liquid per one half cup water as a soothing eyewash solution. It is important to keep all equipment totally sterile, apply with a sterilized eyedropper, and discard old liquid eyewash (over one or two days).

For an infusion, use one teaspoon of powdered rootstock to a pint of boiling water. Let stand until cold. Dosage is 1–2 teaspoons, three to six times per day, for up to seven days. The infusion may also be used as a gargle.

To prepare a tincture, combine one part fresh herb to three parts alcohol (50% alcohol/water solution) in glass container. Set aside in dark place. Shake daily for two weeks. Strain through muslin or cheesecloth, and store in dark bottle. The tincture should maintain potency for two years. Standard dosage, unless otherwise prescribed, is one teaspoon, three times daily, for short periods (one or two weeks).

To make capsules, pulverize the dried root into a fine powder. Place in gelatin capsules. Dosage is two capsules, three times daily for three weeks, then discontinue for the next three weeks.


Pregnant and breast-feeding women should not use this herb as it may stimulate uterine contraction. Patients with high blood pressure should also avoid goldenseal. The herb should be taken only for very limited periods, as it builds up in the mucosa of the system and its strong alkaloids are neurotoxic over an extended time (i.e., several months of daily use). Three weeks on and three weeks off is a good routine for dosage. Do not eat the plant fresh, as it can irritate mucous tissues.

Side effects

Goldenseal use can destroy organisms that are beneficial to the body, as well as those that are pathological. It should be used only for limited periods of time.


Goldenseal is often combined with other herbs in preparations. Myrrh gum (Commiphora myrrha) and echinacea (Echinacea augustifolia) extract may be added to goldenseal in salve preparations. Goldenseal combines well with mullein (Verbascum thapus) for earache, and with chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) for stomach aches. Combine in infusion with gotu kola (Centella asiatica) for a brain tonic.