Family: Ranunculaceae, Hydrastis canadensis L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis L., a small perennial herb native to the northern and eastern forested regions of the northern America, is also known as eyebalm, eyeroot, hydrastis, orangeroot, tumeric root, and yellowroot. The plant, which is collected mainly from the wild, reaches a height of about 0.3 meters and is characterized by an erect, hairy stem, small, greenish-white flowers that bloom in early spring and subsequently become clusters of red berries, and a thick yellow rhizome.

The ecological zone of goldenseal appears to be in moist forest soils and damp meadows. The plant is often found in high, open woodlands or hillsides with natural drainage (14.1-28). Cultivated goldenseal does best in well-drained, rich, moist soils that are covered with plenty of leaf mold or forest litter and shaded by natural woodland or constructed lath and net coverings. Collection of the plant is becoming more difficult because of overpicking and commercial development of natural habitats.

Cultivated goldenseal is generally seeded and grows in outdoor propagation beds before transplanting to a permanent location. Optimun plant development requires approximately five years from seed, and from three to four years from root bulbs (14.1-29). After the seeds ripen in the autumn, roots are harvested, washed, and dried in partial shade. Dried leaves and stems of goldenseal, known as seal herb, are collected in the late summer (14.1-28).

The roots and rhizomes of goldenseal contain many isoquinoline alkaloids, including hydrastine, berberine, canadine, canadaline, and l--hydrastine (7.2-24, 7.2-25, 11.1-50, 11.1-136). The plant also contains a volatile oil (11.1-136).

American Indians used goldenseal as a dye and medicinal plant. The juice can be used to stain skin and clothing yellow or, mixed with indigo, to produce green-colored dyes (11.1-50, 11.1-67). The rhizomes of the plants were used to treat sore and inflamed gums, eyes, ulcers, and wounds. Traditionally, the rhizome material is used as an antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, laxative, hemostatic, stomachic, tonic, and vermifuge agent, and as a remedy against dyspepsia, diphtheria, gastric catarrh, skin rashes, scarlet fever, smallpox, venereal disease, vomiting, internal inflammations, spinal meningitis, and poor blood circulation in mucous membranes. Goldenseal has also been used as an anticancer agent (7.7-19). The folk medicine use against sores and inflammations may be explained by the antibiotic effect of the berberine constituent against bacteria and protozoa and by berberine's antimalarial and antipyretic properties (11.1-96, 14.1-35). Hydrastine and hydrastine hydrochloride are reported to act as uterine hemostatics and antiseptics, while canadine acts as a sedative and muscle relaxant (14.1-35). Extracts of goldenseal are used in eye washes and have shown hypoglycemic activity (7.1-21). Goldenseal, if ingested, can produce convulsions and should be considered poisonous as it irritates the mouth and throat and can lead to paresthesia, paralysis, respiratory failure, and death (11.1-136).

For further information:

Goldenseal - Fact Sheet

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997