What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Goldenseal?

Although goldenseal root is one of the most popular herbs sold today, it is taken almost entirely for the wrong reasons. Originally, it was used by Native Americans both as a dye and as a treatment for skin disorders, digestive problems, liver disease, diarrhea, and eye irritations. European settlers learned of the herb from the Iroquois and other tribes and quickly adopted goldenseal as a part of early colonial medical care.

In the early 1800s, an herbalist named Samuel Thompson created a wildly popular system of medicine that swept the country. Thompson spoke of goldenseal as a nearly magical cure for many conditions. His evangelism led to a dramatic upsurge in demand, followed by over-collection and decimation of the wild plant. Prices skyrocketed and then collapsed when...

Goldenseal contains a substance called berberine that has been found to inhibit or kill many microorganisms, including fungi, protozoa and bacteria. 1 On this basis, contemporary herbalists often use goldenseal as a topical antibiotic for skin wounds, as well as to treat viral mouth sores and superficial fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot . However, there is no direct scientific evidence that goldenseal is effective for any of these purposes.

Note that goldenseal probably is not likely to work as an oral antibiotic, because the blood levels of berberine that can be achieved by taking goldenseal orally are far too low to matter. 2 However, goldenseal could theoretically be beneficial in treating sore throats and diseases of the digestive tract (such as infectious diarrhea )...

Safety Issues

Although there are no reports of severe adverse effects attributable to use of goldenseal, this herb has not undergone much safety testing.

One study suggests that topical use of goldenseal could cause photosensitivity (an increased tendency to react to sun exposure). 3 Goldenseal should not be used by pregnant women because the herb has been reported to cause uterine contractions. Also, berberine may increase levels of bilirubin and cause genetic damage. 4 The last of these effects indicates that individuals with elevated bilirubin levels (jaundice) should also avoid use of goldenseal. Safety in young children, nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease is also not established.

Just as there are incorrect rumors regarding the benefits of...