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What is Goldenseal?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Goldenseal is a medicinal herb in the buttercup family native to Eastern North America, and it has been used for centuries by the Native Americans to treat a wide variety of complaints. Early European settlers were introduced to goldenseal and began to include it in their health care as well, and today the plant is very popular in the United States and in some European nations, especially combined with echinacea, another medicinal plant. It can be used both topically and internally, and is available in tinctures, capsules, infusions, and lozenges. A number of names are used to refer to goldenseal including poor man's ginseng and orangeroot.

The formal name for goldenseal is Hydrastis canadensis, and the perennial plant can be found growing wild in woodland areas. Because of excessive harvesting for the distinctive yellow root, wild goldenseal is listed as an endangered species, and consumers concerned about the viability of this valuable herb are encouraged to purchase cultivated goldenseal. Fortunately, goldenseal takes very readily to cultivation, although the plants must be allowed to grow for at least four years before the roots can be used.

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The leaves of goldenseal are deeply lobed, and appear in groups of two. Usually, two leaves are located close to the ground, with a tall forked stalk growing in between them. At the tips of the stalk, two more sets of leaves can be found, along with the greenish to white flowers, during the blooming season. If fertilized, the flowers will turn into small red fruits which superficially resemble raspberries. Wildcrafters take note of blooming goldenseal, so that they can return to collect the roots, and responsible plant collectors will ensure that enough plants survive to propagate new growth in the next year.

The uses for goldenseal are myriad, although the plant has not been extensively tested in a laboratory environment. The alkaline compounds in the root appear to have antibiotic properties, and can be useful for wound healing, digestive issues, and urinary tract infections. Some individuals also use goldenseal as a laxative, to treat inflammations, and to soothe sore eyes in the form of a gentle eyewash. Goldenseal may not be healthy for pregnant women or people with liver issues, and should not be considered viable for long term use, as it can be neurotoxic in large volumes.

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