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Goldenseal is a small plant with a single hairy stem. It has two five-lobed, jagged leaves, small flowers, and raspberry-like fruit. The bitter-tasting rhizome, or root, is a bright yellow-brown in color, twisted, and wrinkled. Goldenseal can be found growing wild in rich, shady soil in the northern United States, but is now grown mostly on farms.goldenseal 150x150 Goldenseal

It was originally introduced to early American settlers by Native American tribes, who used it primarily for skin problems, digestive disorders, and as a wash for sore eyes. It is now one of the most popular herbs in the United States.


What is Goldenseal Most Often Used For?

Goldenseal contains a compound called berberine that, in lab tests, kills many types of bacteria.  It has also been shown to kill a wide range of other types of germs such as those that cause candida (yeast) infections and various parasites such as tapeworms and Giardia.

Goldenseal is marketed as a tonic to aid digestion, sooth upset stomach, and as an antibacterial agent. It is considered a natural antibiotic and is often combined with echinacea to help strengthen the immune system.

Used for Upper Respiratory Problems

Goldenseal is found in many herbal remedies for hay fever (also called allergic rhinitis), colds and the flu.  It is often used to help ease a sore throat, which often accompanies these ailments.

Used to Treat Minor Cuts

Because goldenseal appears to have antiseptic properties, it’s sometimes used to disinfect cuts and scrapes.  Herbalists often use goldenseal as a topical antibiotic for skin wounds, as well as to treat viral mouth sours and superficial fungal infections, such as athletes’ foot.

Other Uses

It is commonly used to treat several skin, eye, and mucous membrane inflammatory and infectious conditions (such as sinusitis, conjunctivitis, and urinary tract infections). It is also available in mouthwashes for sore throats and canker sores.

Berberine is widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat dysentery and infectious diarrhea Berberine may be effective in humans for malaria, heart failure, and various types of infections, including upper respiratory problems. It may also dilate blood vessels and help in treating heart failure. However, oral goldenseal contains only trace amounts of berberine, so it’s impossible to say whether the herb would be effective or not.


How to Take Goldenseal


Goldenseal is not recommended for children unless under a doctor’s supervision.


  • Capsules or tablets: 500 – 1,000 mg, up to 3 times daily
  • Standardized extract: 30 – 120 mg, up to 3 times daily
  • Tinctures (1:5): 2 – 3 mL, three times daily
  • For disinfecting cuts, scrapes, boils, and acne: Place goldenseal liquid extract on a clean cloth, and press the cloth gently on the affected area.
  • For sore throat, gums, or mouth, make a mouthwash as follows: In one cup of warm water, mix 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp (or the contents of one capsule) of goldenseal powder. (It will not dissolve completely.) Rinse and spit out.
  • For vaginal irritation, make a goldenseal douche as follows: Mix 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp (or the contents of one capsule) of goldenseal powder in 1 cup of warm water. Let the mixture settle, and strain out any suspended particles before using it. (Keep the mixture as clean as you can.) Douching can make you more susceptible to certain kinds of vaginal infections. See your health care provider if your symptoms do not improve after a few days.
  • For eye infections and irritations, make an eyewash as follows: Use one cup of sterile water with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp goldenseal and strain out all particles. Discard if the solution becomes cloudy, which indicates bacterial growth or spoilage.


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use goldenseal.

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