Fact Checked

This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.

With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies.

Our team includes licensed nutritionists and dietitians, certified health education specialists, as well as certified strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

Goldenseal: A Natural Antibiotic & Cancer Fighter

By

Goldenseal - Dr. Axe

Goldenseal is one of the five top-selling herbal products in the United States. Native Americans historically used goldenseal for various health concerns including skin diseases, ulcer symptoms and gonorrhea. Today’s traditional uses of goldenseal have broadened to include the natural treatment and prevention of colds, respiratory tract infections, allergies, eye infections, digestive issues, canker sores, vaginitis, urinary tract infections and even cancer. (1)

Goldenseal contains berberine, which has been been proven to be antimicrobial, anti-tumoranti-inflammatory and blood glucose–lowering. (2, 3, 4, 5) It has also gained popularity after a rumor spread that taking the herb can help block a positive test for illegal drugs. However, there is no scientific evidence that has proven this rumor to be correct. Yet, fortunately there is research to support the medicinal use of it.


What Is Goldenseal?

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), also known as orange root, yellow root or yellow puccoon, is a perennial herb belonging to the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. It is a low, sprawling plant native to the rich, shady soil of the deciduous forests of North America growing from southern Quebec to northern Georgia and west to Missouri.

Due to over-harvesting, it is now mostly commercially grown on farms in the U.S. Goldenseal plants have hairy stems with five to seven jagged, lobed leaves and small white flowers that turn into raspberry-like red berries. The bitter tasting roots of the plant are bright yellow or brown, twisted and wrinkled.

The dried underground stems (rhizomes) and roots of the plant are used to make teas, liquid extracts, tablets, and capsules as well as natural skin care products. Goldenseal’s potent properties are primarily due to the alkaloids berberine, canadine and hydrastine. These phytochemical alkaloids produce a powerful astringent effect on mucous membranes, reduce disease-causing inflammation and have antiseptic effects. 


5 Health Benefits of Goldenseal

Goldenseal is an impressive herbal remedy with many health benefits:

1.  Improves Digestive Issues

Goldenseal is an excellent digestive aid since it is very bitter, which stimulates the appetite, aids digestion and encourages bile secretion. It contains berberine, which has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to treat dysentery and infectious diarrhea. This is not surprising since berberine has shown antimicrobial activity against certain pathogens that cause bacterial diarrhea, including E. coli and V. cholera as shown by a randomized controlled clinical trial back in 1987 involving 165 adults with acute diarrhea due to those two bacterial offenders. (6)

Goldenseal can also be helpful to people experiencing small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) symptoms. Current conventional treatment of SIBO is limited to oral antibiotics with inconsistent success. The objective of a study published by Global Advances in Health and Medicine was to determine the remission rate of SIBO using an antibiotic versus an herbal remedy. Researchers found that the herbal treatment, which included berberine, worked just as well as antibiotic treatment and was equally safe. (7)

Some people also use it for stomach swelling (gastritis), peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids and intestinal gas. Another impressive study found that among several herbs tested in vitro, goldenseal extract was the most active in inhibiting the growth of H. pylori, a type of bacteria which can lead to gastritis, ulcers and even stomach cancer. (8)

As you can see, goldenseal may be able to help a wide range of problems when it comes to the gastrointestinal system.

2. Natural Antibiotic & Immune System Booster

Goldenseal is often found in herbal remedies for allergies, colds, and the flu because of its natural antibiotic and immune-boosting capabilities. Scientific research suggests that medicinal plants like goldenseal and echinacea may enhance immune function by increasing antigen-specific antibody production. A product containing goldenseal and echinacea is an awesome natural bronchitis remedy. 

Additionally, research at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School has shown goldenseal’s medicinal effectiveness as an immune stimulant may be due to its ability to reduce the pro-inflammatory response, which indirectly leads to the limiting of clinical symptoms during infection. (9)

There haven’t been any clinical (human) studies to date, but goldenseal is also sometimes recommended to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are caused by bacterial overgrowth in the bladder’s interior walls. The berberine may actually prevent infection-causing bacteria from binding to urinary tract walls. (10)

 

Guide to goldenseal - Dr. Axe

3. Fights Cancer

According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the berberine in goldenseal has been found to induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells in multiple studies. (11) For example, one in vitro study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that berberine inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells to a greater extent than doxorubicin (a chemotherapy drug). (12

Berberine alkaloids have also been shown during in vivo studies to have potent cancer cell killing activity against tumor cells. In vivo research has also been performed on a series of human malignant brain tumor cells and rat brain tumor cells in which berberine was used alone at a dose of 150 mcg/ml and had an average cancer cell kill rate of 91 percent.  In contrast, the chemotherapy drug carmustine had a cell kill rate of  only 43 percent. The rats treated with berberine at 10 mg/kg had an 81 percent kill rate. (13)

Research will continue, but so far goldenseal showing some noteworthy anticancer abilities.

4. Aids Eye & Mouth Problems

Goldenseal is also commonly used as a mouthwash for sore throats, gum complaints, and canker sores (small ulcers in the mouth). For any of these concerns, a goldenseal mouth rinse can help by reducing inflammation and getting rid of any nasty bacteria. 

You can purchase a mouthwash that already contains goldenseal or you can easily make some mouthwash at home. Simply make a cup of goldenseal tea and let it cool down before using it to rinse your mouth. Or you can add five drops of liquid goldenseal extract to eight ounces of warm water with a teaspoon of salt and mix well.

Goldenseal has been utilized as an eyewash for eye inflammation and eye infections like conjunctivitis or “pink eye.” Since the use of it in the eyes is somewhat controversial, consult a health care practitioner before using it in this way.

5. Boosts Heart Health

The cardiovascular effects of the berberine found in goldenseal suggest its possible clinical usefulness in the treatment of arrhythmias and/or heart failure. For this reason, goldenseal is believed to possibly be helpful for chronic congestive heart failure (CHF) and heart function in general. (14)

An animal model study published in the Journal of Lipid Research also demonstrates that the root extract is highly effective in regulation of the liver’s LDL (“bad” cholesterol) receptors and in reducing plasma cholesterol. Overall, the findings identified goldenseal as a natural LDL-lowering agent. (15)

In combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle, goldenseal may help to lower cholesterol naturally and boost heart health.


Goldenseal History & Interesting Facts

Goldenseal gets its name from the golden-yellow scars that form on the base of the stem when it is broken. The scars resemble a gold wax letter seal, hence the name.

It has been said that the powers of goldenseal were first introduced to European settlers by Native Americans, who harvested its rhizomes and roots to treat a variety of health complaints including eye, skin and digestive issues. Native Americans also mixed the plant with bear grease for use as an insect repellent and they used the color-rich roots to dye clothing.

Goldenseal has become one of the top selling herbs of North America. It can be found as an active ingredient in many commercial or over-the-counter drugs in the form of elixirs, tablets, capsules, or suppositories. (16) Health products combining it with echinacea are very common and are created with immune system enhancement in mind. 

Despite rumors, goldenseal will not cause a false-negative result for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, or any other illegal drugs. The idea of using it to alter drug test results came from the novel “Stringtown on the Pike,” by the pharmacist John Uri Lloyd. However, in this book, goldenseal caused a false-positive for strychnine (a poison), not illegal drugs, in a murder case.


Possible Side Effects of Goldenseal

Goldenseal is considered safe for short-term use in adults at recommended dosages. Rare side effects may include nausea and/or vomiting. Discontinue use if any negative reactions like these occur. It is not meant for long-term use.

If you are currently taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications or have any health issues, check with your doctor before taking goldenseal. People with high blood pressure, liver disease, or heart disease should consult their health care provider before taking it.

Goldenseal is not suggested for use in children or infants. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid using it.


Recommended Use of Goldenseal

Goldenseal can easily be found in tea or supplement form at your local health store or online. Depending on which product you purchase, make sure to read the label for each brand’s recommended dosage.

For the powdered root and rhizome, four to six grams per day in tablet or capsule form is sometimes recommended. For liquid herbal extracts, a typical recommended dosage is two milliliters (40 drops) in two ounces of water or juice three to five times per day.

Continuous use of this herbal remedy should not exceed three weeks, with a break of at least two weeks between each use. You can also talk to your health care practitioner about what amount would be best for you and your particular health concern(s). It is best taken internally between meals.

For external use, there is no standard recommended dosage, but read the label of the topical product for instructions. Most likely, it will recommend that you use the product on the area of concern at least once a day.


Goldenseal Key Points

  • Goldenseal is one of the five top-selling herbal products in the United States.
  • The dried underground stems (rhizomes) and roots of the plant are used to make teas, liquid extracts, tablets, and capsules as well as natural skin care products
  • This herbal remedy inherently contains an active component called berberine, which research has shown can have numerous health benefits including: calming inflammation; boosting heart, digestive and immune health; and even fighting cancer.
  • Continuous use should not exceed 21 days or three weeks, with a break of at least two weeks between each use.

Read Next:  Use Antiviral Herbs to Boost Immune System & Fight Infection


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

Josh Axe

Get FREE Access!

Dr. Josh Axe is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the world...Sign up to get VIP access to his eBooks and valuable weekly health tips for FREE!

Free eBook to boost
metabolism & healing

30 Gluten-Free Recipes
& detox juicing guide

Shopping Guide &
premium newsletter

More Nutrition

Ad