What Is Goldenseal?

Simply put, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. The medicinal claims about goldenseal range from its powers as a cure for toenail fungus to its effectiveness against pancreatic cancer. But is goldenseal really an all-conquering super plant?

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Goldenseal is a low, sprawling plant with palm-shaped leaves. A single white flower appears in the center of each set of leaves, turning into one red berry with about ten seeds. It’s native to the hardwood forests east of the Mississippi River, but its prevalence in the wild has decreased because of mining and over-harvesting.

Did You Know?
The root of goldenseal is the source of its medicinal powers. Eating the leaves is not recommended.

What Is Goldenseal Said to Treat?

In short, it might be easier to make a list of conditions goldenseal hasn’t been associated with helping. Early American medical texts refer to the Cherokees and Iroquois using goldenseal to treat cancer, mouth ailments like canker sores, and stomach issues.

Today, it’s marketed for a vast array of symptoms. Some claim that it can treat colds and upper respiratory infections. Other conditions it’s said to help include:

  • gonorrhea
  • malaria
  • pneumonia
  • just about any stomach or digestive condition
  • skin problems such as dandruff, ringworm, and eczema
  • eye infections

Goldenseal is also said to increase the effectiveness of other herbs and medicines. It’s regularly combined with echinacea, an herb associated with strengthening the immune system.

What’s Goldenseal’s Secret?

Modern research has isolated a chemical in goldenseal called berberine that might be the source of its acclaimed benefits. According to one study, berberine is an anti-diabetic agent, though it’s not understood why. A 2014 study concluded that berberine might also help lower cholesterol. Berberine also seems promising as a treatment for gastrointestinal problems and digestive issues. 

Goldenseal also seems to be effective against the bacterium E. coli, which can cause urinary tract infections and digestive problems leading to diarrhea. Goldenseal’s anti-bacterial qualities might be the reason behind its reputation as a treatment for various skin ailments and infections. 

Goldenseal root is dried and powdered. It’s sold in capsules for internal use, and also comes in creams and topical preparations to treat skin conditions. Tinctures are also available, and can be used to treat mouth conditions.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Taken in moderate doses, goldenseal is probably harmless. Always talk to your doctor about any supplements you’re considering taking, especially if you’re on prescription medicines. They might interact with herbal supplements.

There isn’t enough research around whether goldenseal is safe for children. It isn’t recommended if you’re pregnant or nursing. 

There is no recommended dosage for the goldenseal you apply to your skin. If you’re treating a wound, use enough to cover the wound at least once a day, and wash it daily to make sure nothing is trapped in the healing skin.

How much goldenseal is safe to take orally is unclear. Read labels for each brand’s recommended dose and talk to your doctor about what’s safe for you. 

There are no miracle cures. In moderate doses, goldenseal is probably harmless, but there’s very little scientific evidence that it will cure what ails you.