The goldenseal plant is an endangered perennial herb that’s native to the Great Lakes region, southeast United States, and Ontario Canada. It’s best known for purported medicinal uses which date back to the Native Americans. The Cherokee used root decoctions for eye infections, inflammation problems, and reportedly even cancer. Today it’s a top selling dietary supplement for immune support.
That map is where goldenseal grows naturally, according to the USDA. If you want to find and harvest the plant in the wild, good luck with that! Due to over-harvesting throughout history, it has become an endangered species. Today you are most likely to find it on a commercial farm versus its natural habitat. (2)
Other names for goldenseal are yellow root, yellow puccoon, Indian dye, eye root, jaundice root, and ground raspberry. Its scientific name is Hydrastis canadensis.
What is goldenseal good for?
With only 3 clinical trials published and roughly 150 mentions in medical journals, there is too little evidence to substantiate any of the claimed health benefits. However what is believed to be its active ingredient – the alkaloid berberine – has nearly 100 clinical trials and 4,500 citations about it listed in the PubMed database.
Research suggests this goldenseal extract might have the ability to reduce blood sugar, HbA1c levels, cholesterol, and inflammation. It’s also being studied for colds and other respiratory tract infections, as well as seasonal allergy relief. A number of these benefits have been observed in animal studies, however they have not yet been proven in human clinical trials.
It’s also good for making an herbal tea. If you don’t have the pre-filled bags, here’s a simple recipe of how to make goldenseal tea:
Measure 1/4 teaspoon of the powder and place in mug
Pour 1 cup of hot water into the mug
Allow to cool for several minutes before drinking
The instructions from Frontier Natural say to use “boiling” water but really, just below boiling (around 170° F) is preferred. That will better preserve the phytonutrients.
Goldenseal vs. berberine
Berberine is also found in barberry, Oregon grape, Californian poppy, and several other plants. So the berberine content in itself is not a unique alkaloid. However, the goldenseal plant contains other ingredients which might have mechanisms of action, including synergistically, and the content of these differs among the berberine-containing plants. (3)
For the dry root powder, the active constituents of goldenseal root are believed to be its isoquinoline alkaloids and flavonoids, which are found in the following percentages (4):
Berberine – 2.5%
Hydrastine – 1.5–4%
Canadine – 0.5%
Sideroxylin – <1%
8-Desmethyl-sideroxylin – <1%
6-Desmethyl-sideroxylin – <1%
Hydrastine was actually patented by Bayer over 100 years ago and used as a medication to stop bleeding (antihemorrhagic). (5)
Canadine has been found to act as a calcium channel blocker (CCB). That is a category of chemicals known to lower blood pressure caused by vessel stiffness. (6)
Goldenseal and echinacea
Finding goldenseal for sale by itself can be a challenge. Most supplements marketed for immune support will combine both of these herbs.
Echinacea is a member of the daisy family and it too was reportedly used by the Native Americans as an herbal remedy for infections and wound treatments. It has some natural antibiotic and antiviral-like properties and was used in medicine throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, prior to the invention of antibiotics. (7)
There have been around two dozen human clinical studies which look at echinacea for cold and flu. In Scandinavia, there is even a formulation made with it that their government has approved for respiratory tract infections. However to be clear, here in the US, UK, and Canada, it is for use as a dietary supplement only, as it has not been proven effective for any disease/condition. (8)
For use as a dietary supplement, popular brands which combine these two herbs are Nature’s Way echinacea goldenseal liquid and capsule form, Gaia Herbs Rapid Relief capsules, and NOW Foods.
There are high quality supplements that even add in a 3rd or 4th herb, like Futurebiotics garlic echinacea goldenseal which are available on Amazon.
Other common combos include cat’s claw, cayenne pepper, ginger, turmeric, and vitamin C.
Goldenseal benefits and uses
According to the U.S. government’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the following list is what goldenseal is used for in alternative medicine and/or what scientists are researching it for:
Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
Respiratory tract infections
To reiterate, none of those purported health benefits have been proven. The NCCIH reports:
“The scientific evidence does not support the use of goldenseal for any health-related purpose.”
However, they do mention they are currently funding research to evaluate how it might inhibit bacterial growth and whether or not that could be one of the medicinal properties of goldenseal. (9)
Is goldenseal a natural antibiotic?
No. Any website reporting that is exaggerating the evidence. It has never been tested in humans or animals. That being said, in over a dozen laboratory studies it has demonstrated broad antibacterial activity, including against Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus sanguis, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. (28)
Goldenseal side effects
Increased risk of bleeding
Increased sensitivity to light
Low blood sugar
Low blood pressure
Electrolyte imbalance (hypernatremia)
Frequent drug interactions
Not safe during pregnancy
Not safe during breastfeeding
Not all of these side effects have been recorded in human data. Several are theoretical, based on animal research. Unlike many supplements and foods, with average dosage sizes you don’t hear of the common adverse reactions like headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and so forth. This root is very well tolerated in those regards. (10) (11) (12)
Side effects of echinacea and goldenseal taken together will be more likely, since echinacea is more commonly associated with nausea, upset stomach, worsening of asthma symptoms, joint pain, and allergies. Being a member of the daisy family, it’s closely related to ragweed, marigolds, and other known triggers of nasal allergies and itchy eyes. (13)
An allergic reaction to goldenseal is theoretically possible, but there are no case studies or published reports of an allergy.
For both adults and children, the biggest danger with this plant is that the berberine in it can increase levels of bilirubin. That’s a brownish-yellow substance found in your liver’s bile that’s made during the breakdown of old red blood cells. Too high of bilirubin levels can lead to yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). (14)
Since the berberine in this plant is believed to have low bioavailability, it’s unlikely to occur with regular supplemental dosing in adults. (15)
Goldenseal interactions with prescription and over-the-counter drugs are common. It can alter liver function and most medications are broken down by the liver. That means it can cause decreased and/or slower absorption of a medication.
Possible drug interactions include cyclosporine, digoxin, antibiotics (i.e. tetracycline), anticoagulants (blood thinners), cancer medications, HIV therapies, antidepressants, antihistamines (i.e. Allegra), and numerous others. This is why it should not be used without consulting your doctor. (18) (19) (20)
Is goldenseal safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding? Definitely not. Babies are at increased risk of jaundice, which can even lead to kernicterus, a form of permanent brain damage. This is why goldenseal and pregnancy are not safe. Nursing while using this supplement is also dangerous, since it passes into the breast milk. (16) (17)
Is goldenseal safe for cats and dogs? Those uses have never been studied. The topoisomerase inhibition will also occur in other mammals. Aside from that, around a decade ago an article was published in a veterinarian journal where 29 participants reported “plants used for pregnancy support and milk production in pets.” Goldenseal for infections of the uterus in dogs was mentioned once, but there was no scientific scrutiny of it. (26)
Long term use of goldenseal in humans has not been studied. While there are lab studies which suggest it may offer anti-cancer properties, with high dosages the opposite may occur based on long term usage in rodents. In a two year toxicity study with both male and female rats and mice “the primary finding was an increase in liver tumors.” (21)
It’s believed that’s due to its topoisomerase-inhibiting property. Topoisomerase enzymes help control the integrity of your DNA structure when they undergo routine breaking and rejoining. With their activity inhibited, more DNA damage can occur and hence, mutations like cancer can result.
The amount of topoisomerase-inhibiting was directly related to berberine content. The more there was, the higher the amount of DNA damage. This is why too much goldenseal could be bad for you. Even though noticeable side effects may not be apparent with a goldenseal overdose, this DNA damage may be occurring without your knowledge. (22)
Is goldenseal safe? In theory, it seems there may be a “tipping point” of where the root powder goes from being a benefit to a health risk.
In one lab study, it was said to suppress breast cancer growth by increasing DNA damage of the tumors, in combination with cisplatin (a chemotherapy drug). This chemoprotective action has been seen in other research, too. (23) (24)
In a different manner, it was found to inhibit a pathway of lung cancer cells. (25)
Just as with UV from the sun, our body can combat some exposure but not too much. This herb’s interference with topoisomerase enzymes might be similar – perhaps a little is manageable and the offsetting benefits are worth it. But no one really knows, so at the end of the day, no one can conclusively claim this root powder is 100% safe for humans.
Does goldenseal work for a drug test?
To be clear, this is a topic we normally would never discuss on Superfoodly, as we definitely do not support drug usage. But with this particular plant, this topic gets brought up often – mostly out sheer curiosity – so we at least feel obligated to address what’s fact vs. fiction.
Using the root to clean your system for a drug test is among the most popular uses. Legend has it that you can clean your urine for a drug test in 24 hours, by using it as a detox remedy. So does goldenseal clean THC?
Nope. Using goldenseal to pass a drug test is a big myth!
It stems from a story written by John Uri Lloyd, an author and pharmacist from Kentucky. The origin of this bizarre idea came from his 1900 novel, Stringtown on the Pike.
The book does not even talk of using it for drug detox from marijuana, cocaine, or any other substance. Rather, he talks of it creating a false-positive for poisoning from strychnine, which is a pesticide for killing small parasites.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, that led to so-called goldenseal drug tests. The “strategy” that using it would create testing errors and therefore, nullify the results.
Because so many people try this, now drug labs actually have protocols in place for detecting the berberine and hydrastine alkaloids from this plant. When they find a urine sample spiked with goldenseal root powder, it’s a clue that person is probably up to no good! (27)
Other detox myths
Drugs aside, how long does it take for goldenseal to clean your system of other contaminants, such as chemicals and heavy metals?
Using it as a body cleanser isn’t backed by science, either. In fact, the opposite may be true… it might actually slow down the rate at which your body rids itself of toxins!
When it comes to purifying your blood, your liver does the heavy lifting. As you will recall from the list of side effects, this plant can alter your liver function and therefore interact with medications. It can slow down the rate at which chemical compounds are broken down by the liver. However based on research, it is at least feasible that the goldenseal antibiotic-like properties might help to “detox” from bacterial infections.
Goldenseal herb vs. root
While most supplements are made from the root, research suggests that herb uses (the leaves) may be better for antibacterial activity. Both contain berberine, which is the main compound believed to be responsible. Even though the roots have more berberine, it has been found that goldenseal leaves contain other compounds which appear to enhance the effect.
“…some constituent(s) other than berberine in the extract from H. canadensis aerial portions synergistically enhance the antimicrobial activity of berberine. This synergistic enhancement is not due to hydrastine or canadine in the leaf extracts.”
That’s the finding when both the herb and the root extract were standardized to contain the same percentage of berberine. When done, the herb (leaf extract) worked better against the tested bacteria. (29)
It’s unknown as to which compound(s) in the leaves are causing them to work better. But they have ruled out the 3 major active ingredients (berberine, hydrastine, and canadine).
Using Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause staph infections in the nose, lungs, and skin, the observed antibacterial effect was greater with the goldenseal leaf extract when it contained the same percentage of berberine as the root.
When tested against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), it was said that the leaf extracts work “via several different mechanisms.” (30)
There are many websites out there touting goldenseal root UTI treatments. The dosage instructions they purport typically involve teas, tinctures, or pills which are taken 2-3x daily for 10 consecutive days. The problem is that these remedies are unproven, untested, and may not be safe for everyone.
Now it is true that UTIs are among the most common types of kidney infections. They’re often caused by E. coli bacteria from food poisoning.
And yes, as mentioned above, there are lab studies which have shown it to inhibit the growth of E. coli in Petri dish-like experiments. It appears to work comparably to oregano oil. (31)
Does goldenseal really work? In the lab yes, but in humans that remains unknown. It’s one thing to have antimicrobial effects on a plastic surface. The same effect inside of a living human or animal is something entirely different. You can’t compare the two.
What has even weaker evidence is garlic and goldenseal oil for ear infections. Or more accurately said, there is no evidence. Similar to the scam of garlic and honey, it’s a combo of ingredients that may sound intriguing for infections of the ear, but totally lacks validation and could actually be dangerous.
Can goldenseal cure chlamydia? Nope, but there’s at least one study which suggests it might help in a different way. Though the research is too preliminary at this point.
A total of 51 patients received eye drops at an outpatient clinic for their eye infection of Chlamydia trachomatis. Some received a standard treatment of sulfacetamide drops, while others received eye drops containing berberine. (32)
Even though the clinical results were slightly better with the medicine, the patients with berberine chloride eye drops were also said to be cured and no relapses were noted for them during the following year.
The strange part was that the berberine didn’t seem to work by having a direct effect against the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. They speculated it worked by triggering some sort of immune system response.
That study was from the 80’s and not much more has been done on the topic of chlamydia, neither as an eye infection or STD. It’s far too preliminary to know whether berberine might help, let alone the yellow root plant which was not even used in that study.
Yeast infections in lab experiments have been studied and it appears to work against several types, at least in that environment.
One study looked at strains of Candida and Cryptococcus fungus which are resistant to fluconazole, a prescription antifungal treatment. The scientists used isolated berberine extract against it. (33)
MIC = berberine extract. As you see, the fluconazole treatment (FLC) is not effective, since this strain is resistant to it. The more berberine that was used, the more damage there was to the Candida albicans’ cell membranes.
The minimum inhibitory concentration only took 8 µg (micrograms) per milliliter. That’s a very low concentration of just 0.0008%.
Now keep in mind that tiny percentage is in reference to pure berberine. Goldenseal yeast infection remedies you may read about are using the root powder, which is roughly 98% other compounds.
If human studies find it to work, then it may end up being a candidate for use in mouth rinse, to combat oral thrush caused by Candida, as well as liquid or capsules for intestinal infections of this fungus, which are notoriously difficult to treat. Lab research also also found it to inhibit biofilm formation in dental applications, which may lend itself to natural cleaning applications. (34)
Does goldenseal cure BV? That’s the nickname for bacterial vaginosis, which can produce symptoms of pain, itchiness, a white or grey vaginal discharge, and a fish-like odor.
BV is typically not caused by external or foreign bacteria, but rather an imbalance of bacteria which are naturally found down there. Balancing them out with this plant or its extracts has never been studied, not even in the lab. However on a related note, many women who think they have BV actually have vaginal yeast infections. Those are caused by fungus, not bacteria.
You will come across home remedy websites which talk of goldenseal suppositories for BV and vaginal yeast infections. Many reviews claim douches filled with the powder in a liquid form can work great. Soaking a clean tampon in the solution prior to insertion is the dosage instructions you often read about.
In a similar way for men, using a goldenseal cream for jock itch and athlete’s foot are also purported remedies you may stumble across. Opening a capsule and mixing the powder with a pump of lotion is the typical instruction given.
Neither of these uses have been proven and while Candida can be one cause of “BV” yeast infections, it’s not a cause of jock itch. The types of fungi which cause that and athlete’s foot have not been tested. If you want to try either of those alleged remedies, you should consult your doctor first and understand their effectiveness and safety is unknown.
There are several skin care products on that market which make use of it as ingredient, but they do not claim it has antifungal or antibacterial properties:
The root, along with myrrh, are the two main ingredients in Country Comfort Herbal Savvy. Its label describes the cream as a “disinfecting ointment for psoriasis, eczema, hemorrhoids, burns, infections, cuts, wounds, scraps, dry skin, etc.” You can get Country Comfort on Amazon.
The least amount of research is about viruses. Unlike bacteria, there’s very little evidence that it works for them.
Scientists at North Carolina State University claimed “our results suggest that berberine may indeed be useful for the treatment of infections with influenza A.” That was based in lab research showing that it inhibited growth. However, there’s also evidence to suggest that goldenseal for flu may be bad for you! (35)
Various herbs from Traditional Chinese Medicine were evaluated in the lab to see how they interacted with oseltamivir (Tamiflu). The models used involved cultured human cells. (36)
“Goldenseal had strong inhibitory activity and reduced carboxylate formation by about 75%”
Carboxylate is the active metabolite that is created from Tamiflu in the body. That’s a clue that the plant probably interferes with the effectiveness of this influenza drug.
Neither the plant or berberine extract has ever been studied for the rhinovirus, which is a frequent cause of the common cold. Despite the lack of evidence, many people use echinacea goldenseal for colds and flu. Ironically, they may be prolonging their flu symptoms if they’re using it with Tamiflu. Goldenseal has not been studied for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Berberine also appears to work against some larger lifeforms.
Coccidiosis is what’s known as a protozoan parasite. It infects the digestive tracts of animals. In a study involving chickens where it was added to their feed, it appeared to have a healing effect. (37)
Before goldenseal medicinal uses came about in India, the history says they were first using it as a natural repellent for mosquitoes. It turns out that the bitterness of the berberine might have something to do with that, as research has found that it alters “the feeding decision of a blood-sucking insect via two sensory inputs.” (38)
In mice infected with blood-flukes (the parasite Schistosoma), berberine was found to “promote recovery of colitis” and inflammation caused by them. (39)
While these and other findings are interesting, they don’t tell us if goldenseal kills parasites. Virtually all of the studies involve isolated berberine, not the yellow root or its leaves.
The final verdict
There is a lot of promising research about the Hydrastis Canadensis plant, but not sufficient studies to prove it works for any ailment or as a preventive measure.
Although its ORAC value has not been measured, the berberine it contains has demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities in the liver, kidney, and pancreas of animals. (40)
In that research it was also found to be an AMPK activator. The AMPK pathway has been dubbed “the anti-aging enzyme” due to its apparent correlation with longevity/life extension, weight loss, and brain health as seen in numerous animal studies.
In short, there’s nothing proven about yellow root, which is another name for goldenseal that’s commonly used. Still though, at least the potentially beneficial things about it appear to outweigh the drawbacks. At least with small amounts.
A standard goldenseal dosage is 400 to 1,000 mg per day, which typically equates to 1 or 2 capsules depending on the brand. Barring drug interactions, this dosage is believed to be safe for most adults on a short-term basis.
Some are a higher dosage, like this bottle from Oregon’s Wild Harvest. They list 1,605 mg per day in the form of 3 capsules taken with food. Long term usage of that high amount would not be recommended.
You can also find it the form of a liquid dropper, alcohol tincture, cream, and even a nasal spray. Those forms can be riskier since their content may not be standardized.
As far as a “best” brand it’s tough to say, because there are many high quality goldenseal products on the market. One differentiator though is finding USDA certified organic. Almost none of the supplements are organic.
Best brands and where to buy
For capsule supplements, you have a number of options when it comes to blends:
Oregon’s Wild Harvest echinacea goldenseal
Radiance Root capsules
Solgar echinacea goldenseal and cat’s claw
Spring Valley echinacea goldenseal complex
Other common blends include barberry bark or Oregon grape root and goldenseal, as those are also natural sources of berberine.
Finding pure is more of a challenge. Manufacturers include Mediherb, Nature’s Way, Nature’s Sunshine, NOW Foods, Oregon’s Wild Harvest, and Solaray.
When it comes to liquids and droppers:
Zand Insure Immune Support (blend)
The concept of goldenseal essential oil is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, you can buy it in a little glass vial which looks like what essential oil is sold in, but when you read the label, you will see it’s just powder mixed with water or alcohol. Currently you will not find Young Living, Edens Garden, Plant Therapy and similar brands offering a steam distilled version of the root’s essential oils.
Rather than a specific brand, you may be wondering “who sells it near me” in any form! Well you can find at least one variety of capsules or tablets for sale at most locations of Walmart, CVS, GNC, Fairway, Whole Foods, Vitamin Shoppe, Kroger, and Sprouts.
The stores we checked only carried a couple brands and several of these places only offered it as part of a blend with other herbs. You can’t buy liquid goldenseal at Walmart or the other major retailers we checked. To get specialty forms like that, you may have to go to Amazon, Vitacost, etc.