Before You Take That Goldenseal

Goldenseal, or Hydrastis canadensis, is a popular "herbal antibiotic" readily found in stores. Even the big box stores that carry mostly toxic items (like Walmart) will carry a Goldenseal-Echinacea blend in capsules. *Please note the quotation marks, that is an allopathic label and my practice is more holistic and follows more of a vitalist herbalist path.

That must mean that is a super-herb...an all around panacea for us, right?

Wrong.

Yes, Goldenseal is an absolutely amazing herb and is also one of our native plants (it prefers the forest floor) but isn't necessarily the herb for everyone AND is at risk for being endangered due to overharvesting.

First, lets learn more about Goldenseal as a plant.

Goldenseal is part of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) which an interesting "flower" that is primarily composed of filaments (the male reproductive part of the plant) that looks like thin petals. The flower will turn into a red "fruit". The rhizome/roots are the part of the plant used medicinally and have the characteristic yellow that we see with the berberine containing plants. It takes 3-5 years before it can be harvested, the seeds themselves can take 3 years just to germinate...so we are looking at 6 years before it can even be considered for harvest!

 Photos from Minnesota Wildflowers database at minnesotawildflowers.info 

Photos from Minnesota Wildflowers database at minnesotawildflowers.info 

 Photos from Minnesota wildflower database at minnesotawildflowers.info 

Photos from Minnesota wildflower database at minnesotawildflowers.info 

 Roots photo from Smile Herb. www.smileherb.com 

Roots photo from Smile Herb. www.smileherb.com 

Next, why we use Goldenseal.

Goldenseal is astringent, which means it helps to tighten tissues and membranes. This red wine and how it makes your mouth feel tight (super cliche but it is a really helpful way to learn about astringency). This makes it great for damp conditions...and for keeping bacteria out of tissues. THAT is why it is well loved as an "herbal antibiotic". We use this plant for digestive membranes, urinary tracts, and respiratory system. When dampness is present in those areas, Goldenseal might be indicated (remember no herbs should be used as a panacea for everything, even when it sounds like it would be!).

Externally, it is a well loved for wounds and sores. The powder is typically used in this fashion.

There are some safety considerations with Goldenseal- large doses can cause upset in liver, gallbladder and small intestine as well as cause drops in blood sugar (Wood). It is not recommended for use in pregnancy.

Lastly, the sustainability issue.

As discusses previously in this post...Goldenseal takes several years before being ready for harvest. It is in high demand which is why we are facing this issue to begin with. Harvesting from the wild, by those without an appreciation for the plant or having been taught (or if they care) about ethical and sustainable wildharvesting guidelines. Just like we see with wild ramps and ginseng, harvesters will dig up entire populations and only take the plants that fit the required size for selling. The rest they leave thrown on the floor. 

When we are wanting to use Goldenseal in our home or practice, we need to know exactly where our Goldenseal to come from...and the price should reflect on that. Here are the questions you should ask your herb supplier when it comes to Goldenseal (or any at risk plant):

Is your Goldenseal cultivated or wildharvested?

If it is wildharvested, what guidelines do you have in place to ensure sustainability long term?

Thankfully, there are other herbs that we can use instead of Goldenseal in our formulas. This is why looking at energetics of the disease and the person is important. What is the goal of our formula and what other herbs do this as well?

Other berberine containing plants, for example, are Algerita (Berberis trifoliolata), Coptis or Goldthread (Coptis chinensis), Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium), and Barberry (Berberis spp). *You will also want cultivated Oregon grape root as it is currently listed on the "at watch" list for United Plant Savers.

Are you a user of Goldenseal? What steps do you take to ensure the long term sustainability of this wonderful plant? 

Don't forget that its wonderful people like you sharing these articles and sources that help to spread this message! Thank you.


Sources:

  • United Plant Savers Goldenseal - https://www.unitedplantsavers.org/goldenseal-hydrastis-canadensis 
  • Extension on Goldenseal - http://articles.extension.org/pages/68255/goldenseal-hydrastis-canadensis-l 
  • Matthew Wood "The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Plants"
  • James Green "The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook"
  • Sam Coffman "The Herbal Medic"