Hydrastis canadensis


Known as yellow root to First Nations people, goldenseal is valued by them mostly as yellow paint for bodies and clothing. Now mistakenly considered a powerful alterative and antibiotic, goldenseal is used too often. This potent member of the buttercup family is safest when employed externally, as it has some potential to cause liver distress.  

I sometimes use freshly ground goldenseal powder to help heal sores, ulcers or nasty wounds I fear may become infected. The first time I rode my new motorbike, I slid on some gravel. The entire front of my sneaker was torn off, as was a slice of my big toe, and my face was so scratched it resembled the lower forty-eight states on my cheek with Alaska up on my forehead. Back home, I carefully washed my toe and face, and applied a paste of goldenseal and slippery elm powders mixed with water, which hardened into a firm protective bandage. I soaked my toe and reapplied this paste daily - and my toe healed beautifully. So did the road rash on my face!     

Goldenseal has a marked effect on all mucous membranes in the body. Its roots contain a crystalline substance, hydrastine, which is of some benefit in cases of inflammation of the colon and rectum including gastritis, ulcers and colitis. And, goldenseal's drying effect may counter sinus and ear congestion. Some herbalists recommend up to 30 drops of fresh plant tincture twice a day.

Goldenseal also affects vaginal membranes. Wild hearted herbalists make a bolus with goldenseal, slippery elm, and cocoa butter to use against vaginal infections and yeast overgrowth. Freshly ground goldenseal powder, mixed with white or green clay (or arrowroot powder), and patted around the vaginal area, helps heal and prevents recurrences. Goldenseal's astringency makes it effective for those with stubborn hemorrhoids. The dried plant infusion is used as a sitz bath for 20 minutes each day. Well-strained infusion can help clear persistent eye infections. And, as a mouthwash it is used against thrush, mouth sores or ulcers, gum infections, and as a gargle to relieve sore throat.     

The Cherokee use goldenseal against cancer; several modern animal studies show it does help shrink tumors (but can cause liver damage). Cherokee also traditionally mix it with bear grease for use as an insect repellent. It’s been employed by First Nations of the Northeast to treat skin diseases, eye ailments and mouth sores.

To treat stubborn eczema, ringworm and athlete's foot, I apply infusion or tincture diluted in water to the affected area as a wash or soak, mix powdered root with clay and dust this over the foot before putting on a sock and going to bed at night.

Among goldenseal's constituents are berberine (responsible for its yellow color), canadine, resin, albumin, starch, fatty oil, sugar, lignin and a trace of volatile oil. It also offers high levels of zinc, vitamin C, silicon, manganese, magnesium and iron, and provides niacin, protein, riboflavin, selenium, thiamine and a small amount of vitamin A.

WARNING! Goldenseal is a powerful, potentially toxic, herb and must be used moderately and wisely. Goldenseal increases hypertension, so internal use should be avoided by people with high blood pressure. In addition, combining goldenseal and echinacea is basically overkill and may impact healthy gut flora if used excessively. Please steer clear of casual use of goldenseal.

If you choose to take goldenseal internally, do not exceed 5-30 drops of fresh root tincture, or half cup of dried plant infusion daily. Larger amounts act as a laxative and may impair liver function. 

Flower Essence Goldenseal flower essence has powerful cleansing effects and will remove stuck patterns and allow an easy flow of energy.

Magical Lore Goldenseal is considered to be a powerful guardian and healer that provides strength and protection to those who live near where it grows. The root is traditionally worn or carried to ward off negativity and bring good luck in health matters. It can be used in any healing spell and ritual.

Culture The goldenseal plant likes well-drained, humus-rich soil, and about 75 percent to 90 percent shade. The seed is unreliable and difficult to germinate so it is best to start with rootstock. Goldenseal is endangered in the wild so please don't buy or collect wildgathered roots. Instead, buy naturally woods grown rootlings from a reputable seed dealer. After several years you can divide the roots in fall or early spring to increase your stock.

Goldenseal makes a dramatic appearance in spring. Soon after it unfurls its two large, dark green and uniquely wrinkled leaves, its solitary white flower emerges from between them. It's a very pretty sight in a shade garden or on a woodland walk. Later on in summer, the flower transforms to become a bulb of bright red berries. Harvest goldenseal roots after the third year's growth. Tincture them while fresh or dry them whole. Goldenseal root loses potency rapidly after being powdered, so store it whole in an airtight container and powder as needed.     

WARNING! Do not use goldenseal in high dosages or for extended periods. Pregnant women avoid use of this uterine-stimulating herb.

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