What is goldenseal?

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 10 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 overharvesting.

Some claim goldenseal’s medicinal powers range from curing toenail fungus to helping fight pancreatic cancer. But is goldenseal really an all-conquering super plant?

What does goldenseal 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 such as canker sores, and stomach issues.

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

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 a 2006 study, berberine is an antidiabetic agent, though it’s not understood why. A 2014 study done on rats 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 antibacterial qualities might be the reason behind its reputation as a treatment for various skin ailments and infections.

There are antifungal and anti-infective properties of goldenseal that help explain the healing actions of this herb.

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 these 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 available to indicate whether goldenseal is safe for children. It isn’t recommended if you’re pregnant or nursing.

There’s no recommended dosage for the forms of 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 the area 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.