Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is native to northeastern United States and the southeastern Canada. It is also known as Yellow root, Ground raspberry, Orange root, Puccoon, and Wild curcuma. The plant is a perennial herb under the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. It is a small plant that has a single hairy stem and two five lobed, pointy leaves, small flowers, with raspberry-like fruit. The bitter tasting bulb, or root, is bright yellow or brown, wrinkled, and bent. Goldenseal was traditionally used by Native Americans to treat skin disorders, liver conditions, digestive problems, diarrhea, and eye irritations. The plant became part of primitive colonial medical care as the European settlers learned of it from the Iroquois and other tribes. Goldenseal gained widespread status in the early 1800s due to its support by a charismatic herbalist named Samuel Thompson.
Over the years, goldenseal has gone through phases of popularity. There is currently great demand for the herb, which coupled with regulated supply of wild-crafted sources, has pushed up its cost. Part of goldenseal’s esteem is likely due to the rumor that taking the herb can help cover a positive test for illegal drugs but there’s no evidence to prove it.
Goldenseal is, however, desired for its many healthful properties. It is a mild anti-inflammatory, a strong antimicrobial, and a digestive tonic. The herb’s astringent characteristics make it useful for relieving swelling, inflamation, or infections of the throat and stomach. The yellow-tinted powder of the root also makes a good antiseptic skin bath for wounds and for internal skin surfaces, such as in the vagina and ear canal. Made into a paste with water, it is useful in treating poison ivy. For sore throats, it works well mixed with myrrh and echinacea.
For general weakness of the stomach and digestion, such as indigestion, chronic gas, and difficulty with absorption of nutrients, herbalists prescribe a combination of equal parts goldenseal and cayenne pepper, in capsules or tincture, before meals on a regular basis.
The herb has been found to be effective against a number of disease-causing organisms, including Staphylococcus, Chlamydia, and Streptococcus species, E. coli, Entamoeba histolytica, Salmonella typhi, and many others. Berberine and related alkaloids in the plant have been recognized with its antimicrobial effects. Berberine may be accountable for the increased white blood cell activity connected with its use, as well as its increasing of blood flow in the liver and spleen.