Golden Seal

Hydrastis canadensis


Names: Orange Root, Yellow Root.

Habitat: Native to North America, it was used extensively by Native Americans as an herbal medication and clothing dye. Its medicinal use centered around its ability to soothe the mucous membranes of the respiratory, digestive, and genitourinary tracts in inflammatory conditions induced by allergy or infection. It is mostly cultivated.

Collection: Unearth root and rhizome from three-year-old plants in the autumn, after the ripening of the seeds. Clean carefully and dry slowly in theair.

Part Used: Root and rhizome.


  • Isoquinoline alkaloids, mainly hydrastine, berberine, berberastine, canadine, candaline, and hydrastinine.

  • Miscellaneous; fatty acids, resin, polyphenolic acids, meconin, chlorogenic acid, phytosterins and a small amount of volatile oil.

Actions: Bitter, hepatic, alterative, anti-catarrhal, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, astringent, laxative, expectorant, emmenagogue, oxytocic.

Indications: One of our most useful remedies owing much of its value to the tonic effects it has on the mucous membranes of the body. This is why itis of such help in all digestive problems, from peptic ulcers to colitis. Its bitter stimulation helps in loss of appetite, and the alkaloids it contains stimulate bile production and secretion. All catarrhal conditions improve with Golden Seal, especially sinus ones. The anti-microbial properties appear to due to alkaloids present. As an example of research that has been done on plant constituents we shall consider berberine. Berberine, found in a number of other herbs as well, has antibiotic, immuno-stimulatory, antispasmodic, sedative, hypotensive, uterotonic, cholerectic, & carminative activity. Its demonstrable pharmacological activities strongly contribute to the therapeutic use of Hydrastis. Berberine has marked antimicrobial activity, and whilst not in the same league as antibiotics, ithas a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity. In vitro antimicrobial effects have been demonstrated against bacteria, protozoa, and fungi, including:

Staphyloccus spp.

Streptoccus spp.

Chlamydia spp.

Corynebacterium diphtheria

Escherichia coli

Salmonella typhi

Vibrio cholerae

Diplococcus pneumonia

Pseudomonas spp.

Shigella dysenteriae

Entamoeba histolytica

Trichomonas vaginalis

Neisseria gonorrhoeae

Neisseria meningitidis

Treponema pallidum

Giardia lamblia

Leishmania donovani

Candida albicans.

Berberine’s action against some of these pathogens is actually stronger than that of antibiotics commonly used, however, please remember that we are dealing with whole plants and not extracted constituents. Berberine’saction in inhibiting Candida, as well as other pathogenic bacteria, prevents the overgrowth of yeast that is a common side effect of antibiotic use. This fascinating alkaloid increases blood supply to the spleen. This improved blood supply may promote optimal activity of the spleen by increasing the release of compounds that potentiate immune response. It has also been shown to activate macrophages in a number of ways. Coupled with its ability to inhibit tumor formation in the laboratory, suggests that berberine possesses some antineoplastic activity.

Berberine has been shown in several clinical studies to stimulate the secretion of bile (i.e. it is a cholerectic) and bilirubin. One clinical trial that examined the effect of berberine on 225 patients with chronic cholecystitis. Oral doses of 5 to 20 mg three times a day before meals caused, over a period of 24-48 hours, disappearance of clinical symptoms, decrease inbilirubin level, and an increase in the bile volume of the gallbladder. Berberine corrects the elevated levels of tyramine found in patients with liver cirrhosis. It prevents the elevation of serum tyramine following oral tyrosineload, by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosine decarboxylase found in bacteria in the large intestine.

Traditionally Hydrastis canadensis has been used during labour to help contractions, but it is for just this reason that it should be avoided during pregnancy. Applied externally it can be helpful in eczema, ringworm, itching, earache and conjunctivitis.

Priest & Priest tell us that it is a “mild, positive, permanently stimulating vaso-tonic with especial influence upon the portal system, entirevenous system and right heart. Tropho-restorative to mucous membranes when irritated, inflamed or ulcerated” They give the following specific indications: catarrhal conditions of mucous membranes, especially gastric. Orifice soreness or discharge, conjunctivitis, keratitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, vaginitis, cervicitis. Ellingwood recommends it for the following patholgies: functional disorders of the stomach, catarrhal gastritis, atonic dydpepsia, chronic constipation, hepatic congestion, chronic alcoholism, hepatic congestion, general debility, protracted fevers,
cerebral engorgements, prostrating nightsweats, menorrhagia or metrorrhagia due to uterine subinvolution, post-partum haemorrhage, tumors, catarrhal conditions, aphtous ulcers, indolent ulcers, nasalcatarrh, diphtheria, tonsilitis, inflammation of the eyes, leucorrhoea, anal fissure, eczema,
gallstones, cholecyctitis, congestive jaundice, goitre, non-malignant mammary tumors.

Combinations: In stomach conditions it combines well with Meadowsweet and Chamomile. In uterine haemorrhage it is best combined with Beth Root.Externally as a wash for irritation and itching it combines well with distilled Witch Hazel. As ear drops it may be combined with Mullein.

Preparations & Dosage
: Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto l/2-l teaspoonful of the powdered herb and leave to infuse for l0-l5 minutes, This should be drunk three times a day. Tincture: take 1 ml of the tincturethree times a day.

Contra-Indications: Like all berberine containing plants and strong bitters, Hydrastis is not recommended for use during pregnancy.

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Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

Explore Wellness in 2021