Goldenseal Root & Herb


Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), also called yellow root, is an herb native to the forests of the northern United States and southern Canada. Native American Indians have used the root medicinally for many centuries and it remains a popular home remedy for colds and other ailments, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Today goldenseal has become endangered in its native habitats because of overharvesting.

Range and Description

Goldenseal occurs in forested region as far south as South Carolina and extends north to New York state and as far west as Arkansas and Wisconsin. It also grows in "Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky and part of Illinois," according to The plant is a member of the Ranunculus plant family and is related to buttercups and the crowfoot. It's a small, low-growing perennial plant with delicate, fluted leaves that resemble strawberry leaves. It has a bulb-like root that is yellow when cut open.

History of Goldenseal's Uses

The early American colonists began using goldenseal, which grew wild in the areas they lived, after the local Indian tribes taught them about the herb in the 17th century. According to, the colonists were reluctant to adopt native remedies for the diseases they suffered but soon learned that goldenseal was helpful. The introduction of goldenseal into "regular medical practice was slow," the site says. Goldenseal's yellow root provided a natural plant dye that early American settlers also learned to use.

Traditional Uses of Goldenseal

According to, the Cherokee Indians dried goldenseal root, ground it to a powder and mixed it with bear grease for use as an insect repellent. They also used it as a diuretic, stimulant and to cleanse infected eyes. The Catawba Indians used the boiled root for jaundice, stomach ulcers, sores in the mouth and the common cold. In the early 1800s, a professor named Benjamin Smith Barton at the University of Pennsylvania documented goldenseal's usefulness as a cure for cancer among the Cherokee. He also claimed that goldenseal was effective in combating rattlesnake bites.

Modern Uses of Goldenseal

Goldenseal is available as an herbal supplement in capsule form and as a tea and tincture. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says goldenseal is used for "colds and other respiratory tract infections, infectious diarrhea, eye infections, and vaginitis." The center also says, "It is occasionally used to treat cancer." Like the American Indians' traditional use of goldenseal for treating mouth and gum sores and other external wounds, these applications of this herb continue today among alternative health care practitioners and advocates.


The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine lists the following side effects and cautions regarding goldenseal: It is "considered safe for short term use in adults at recommended dosages. Rare side effects may include nausea and vomiting." It states information is lacking regarding long-term usage or taking goldenseal in large quantities. Drug interactions might occur; although no adverse reactions have been documented, goldenseal might affect how the human body processes drugs. Pregnant and nursing women should not take goldenseal because the plant's concentration of berberine, the substance that causes the root to be yellow, can cause the uterus to contract. Be sure to consult with a qualified medical professional regarding all herbs or alternative therapies you might use.

Keywords: goldenseal herb, American natives, colds ulcers

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hiā€˜iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Barbara wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, and She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.