The Forager's Path - School of Botanical Studies

Final Research Project: Goldenseal

 I am pleased to share a final project research paper from a recent graduate of the 9 month “Foundations of Herbal Medicine”  program. This student has chosen to remain anonymous but would like to publicly share the project.

Goldenseal – Hydrastis canadensis
Prepared by …
Foundations of Herbal Medicine
The Forager’s Path School of Botanical Studies

Botanical Name: Hydrastis canadensis
Common Name: Goldenseal
Family: Ranunculaceae, Buttercup Family

Energetics: Cooling, Bitter, Drying

Part Used: Rhizome and root

Biochemical Constituents: Hydrastine, berberine, resin, traces of essential oil, chlorogenic acid, albumin and sugar

Goldenseal (Hydrastis conadensis) derives its name from two Greek words that mean water and to accomplish. It is a North American perennial woodland herb with a yellow perennial rhizome. In the spring, a new cylindrical flowering, downward pointing hairy stem grows about 30 cm high. The flower contains no petals, instead is made up of many stamens surrounding the pistil, creating the white to rose color of the plant. The leaves are large (up to 30cm wide) and contain 5 lobes with prominent veins. By mid to late summer, a single red fruit, resembling a raspberry, emerges with 10 to 30 black seeds. The fruit, while possibly valued by wildlife, is considered inedible by humans. Its root-stock is horizontal, irregularly knotted and bright yellow and produces slender roots below, The root stock is often marked with scars from past flower stems. 

Habitat and Growing Conditions

Goldenseal is native to eastern North America. It grows well in rich moist forests through out its natural range. Researchers wishing to cultivate Goldenseal suggest that it grows well in any soil except heavy clay or light sand. The largest populations grow in mesic woodlands (moderately moist, hardwood forest or by streams). Cultivators suggest the best success is found with a loam soil.

Long before Europeans came to North American, Native people used goldenseal for a number of conditions. According to Moerman (1998), the Cherokee are the best known for their use of the herb, but he also shows that the Iroquois and Micmac used the herb. All three used goldenseal for digestive and dermatological conditions, also for its antibiotic properties. Along the same lines, Ingrid Naiman (1999) states that the settlers learned many of their treatments from the Cherokee but also the Blackfoot, Crow and the Seminole.

Once settlers learned of the healing properties, their knowledge was communicated back to European countries. Goldenseal was first introduced to England in 1760 and it received official recognition, documented in medical papers after 1798. Specialists used Goldenseal as pastes for cancer lesions, as well as tinctures, and teas.

Increased interest commercially first appeared in 1850 and in 1905 The Department of Agriculture documents increased interest for medicinal purposes.

Current Status
Due to over harvesting, Goldenseal is threatened. Elpel (2012) suggests substituting other plants with similar properties such as Xanthorhiza simplicissima or Coptis. In order to diffuse market impact on the wild crop, Sinclair and Catling ( 2001) suggest a move from wild crops to cultivated crops. They suggest that goldenseal can grow well in wide-ranging conditions, is a good plant in rotation with Ginseng, remains an environmentally friendly plant , is inexpensive to cultivate and requires low energy, land use or fertilizations.

Indications & Contraindications
-Canker sores
-Subacute head cold

-Vasculitis, leg ulcers
-Poor circulation

-Chronic gastritis
-Gas caused by alcohol, gastroenteritis (recuperation), nausea from alcohol use
-Atonic colon with mucus in feces
-Digestive bitter

Genito -urinary
-Uterine hemorrhage, dysmenorrhea
-Bacterial vaginitis

-Hard and painful tumors
-Active against cancer malignant tumor cells
-Restores and protects against anemia

-topical disinfectant for abrasions
-rectal fissures
-skin ulcers in general

Goldenseal is contraindicated for use during pregnancy.
When taken in large amounts or when not needed goldenseal can cause irritation.
Avoid the use of goldenseal in hypotension , hypoglycemia.

Goldenseal can be used as a tincture, tea, general skin, eye, and oral wash and in salves and pastes.

Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.  offers a great skin wash and salve for simple wounds.

Herbal Skin Wash: Minor skin wounds you want to protect from  infection and promote healing.
2 Tablespoons goldenseal + 1 1/4 c. clean water.
Flush the wound with the above wash then apply salve

T’s Wound Salve
10 grams Goldenseal root
10 grams Calendula flowers
5 grams Yarrow flowering tops
5 grams Echinacea root
240 ml carrier oil.

Grind your herbs, place them in a glass jar and add the carrier oil. Let it steep 2 to 4 weeks. Strain and retain the oil and compost the herbs.
When ready put the oil in a double boiler and slowly add 2 oz grated beeswax while gently stirring. After checking for consistency remove from heat.
As it begins to harden, stir until smooth.
Let it cool for 5 minutes, mixing periodically.

4 ounces raw honey
50 drops of Tea tee oil
1 tsp vitamin E oil (optional)
Pour into salve containers and store in a dark cool place. Use for any minor cut, burn, fungal infection

1. Alfs, Matthew. (2003) 300 HERBS Their Indications & Contraindications Old Theology Book House, New Brighton. MN

2 Elpel, Thomas (2012). Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. An Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families of North

America. HOPS Press, LLC, Pony, MT.

3 Tierra, Michael (1998) The Way of Herbs. Pocket Boos, New York, NY pp141

4 Grieve, M. (2015) A Modern Herbal: the medicinal, culinary, cosmetic and economic properties cultivation and folk lore or herbs, grasses, fungi, shrubs & trees with all their modern scientific use. Vol.1, Dover publications, New York, NY pp. 362-364. Kauffman, Gary.

(2016) Plant of the Week , “Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. canadensis.shtml. Sinclair, Adrianne and Catling, Paul. (2001).

Cultivating the increasingly popular medicinal plant, goldenseal: Review and Updates. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture. Vol 16(3) pp. 131-140


Naiman, Ingrid (1999) Cancer Salves, A Botanical Approach to Treatment. Seventh Ray Press. Suquamish, WA. Pp 174-175.

5 Sinclair and Catling, (2001)

6 Moerman, Daniel (1998) Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland, OR. pp 270.

7 Grieve (2015) Vol. 1 pp. 362

8 Green, James (2000) pp. The Herbal Medicine-Makers Handbook: a Home Manual.Crossing Press, Berkley, CA. pp.319.

9 Sinclair and Catling, (2001).

10 Moore, Michael (1997) Specific Indications for Herbs in General Use 2nd Ed. Southwest school of Botanical Medicines, Bisbee, AZ pp 27; Alfs, (2003). Pp 62, Naiman, 2012

11 Low Dog, Tieraona (2014) Healthy at Home. National Geographic, Washington D.C., DC pp . 240


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