Where I come from, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, many people have traditionally made a big part of their living digging roots and harvesting herbs. The economy wasn’t much more than trying to grow a few extra vegetables to sell, working in timber or construction, harvesting herbs, fur trapping, and sometimes making a little money playing music or moonshining. It was an incredible privilege to grow up around such people and learn about herbs from the old Appalachian Mountain folks, for whom herbalism was a living tradition and essential for survival. If you have watched certain reality TV shows, you know that people still make a lot of money “wildcrafting” (wild harvesting herbs) and will shoot each other over a patch of Ginseng. Ginseng isn’t the only herb people harvest, but it is the most valuable in monetary terms. Folks also harvest Angelica, Bloodroot, etc. Second only to the fervor with which GInseng is hunted, is Goldenseal.
Goldenseal does not have the legendary powers of Ginseng, but it was one of the most commonly used herbs, and most exported, in early America. The Thomsonians were the leading American herbalists in the 1800s - here is a sample of how highly they valued this herb, from The Thomsonian System of Medicine, published in 1905, by R. Swinburne Clymer PhD., MD:
GOLDEN SEAL. Hydrastis Canadensis.
This root is the king of tonics to the mucous membrane. It is a mild, positive and permanent stimulating tonic. Its influence, though primarily given to the mucous membrane, extends to all parts of the body, wherever it may be required by the necessities of the vital force or influenced thither by its combination with other agents. It improves the appetite and assists digestion. In the weak and debilitated stomach, especially if there be nervous disturbances or if the gastric membrane be clogged with congested or catarrhal mucus, and in cases of gastric ulceration, hydrastis given in small and frequent doses will not infrequently give relief both to the gastric membrane and to the nervous system. In combination with biborate of soda it makes an excellent wash for children's sore mouth and other forms of sore mouth and sore gums. Its especial function with the liver is its tonic relief to the portal system. In fact this same class of in- fluence is felt throughout the entire venous system. It is one of the best agents for the sustaining of the venous circulation. Hence its action upon the right or venous side of the heart. Its influence is also felt by the arterial circulation, but this influence is secondary. Hydrastis may be made to specially influence the stomach, bronchi, bowels, urinary aparata or genitalia, as it may be influenced by its combination with agents that especially influence any one of these several departments. With Aralia, Prunus, or Comfrey, it gives tone and vigor to the respiratory organs ; with Juglans it forms a powerful intestinal tonic ; with Eupatorium Purpureum or Capsella its tonic influence is felt upon the kidneys ; and with such agents as Mitchella it promptly influences the organs of generation. With gentle astringents it is admirable in the gastric and alvine weakness present in Cholera Infantum, and in Diarrhoea generally. It tones the membrane and enables it to cast off its accumulated mucus. Locally in female troubles it is unexcelled. Calendula or Hamamelis may be added as required. In intestinal weakness it may be combined with some preparation whose nature is of iron, such as Prunus Virginiana, and when alteratives are required to be used the influence of hydrastis is frequently a valuable addition. It is of great service combined with Hepatics for the relief of the portal circulation and for its tonic influence in both the secreting and excreting functions of the liver. Locally the influence of hydrastis is a very superior one. In erysipelas, ophthalmia, sore mouth, sore throat, leucorrhoea, vaginal and uterine ulceration, eczema, small-pox, eruptive and syphilitic sores it is excellent. With Hamamelis and Glycerine it forms a good10 THE THOMSONIAN wash in gonorrhoea, and in infusion of Hydrastis may be used daily for uterine ulceration. The dose of the Tincture of Hydrastis is from 30 to 60 minims.
King’s American Medical Dispensatory, published in 1898, tells us what conventional doctors and pharmacists thought of this indigenous American herb, and the history of how it came into (at that time) modern medical use:
This plant is found growing in shady woods, in rich soil, and damp meadows, in different parts of the United States and Canada, but is more abundant west of the Alleghanies. From about 1847, and especially since the first appearance of the Eclectic Dispensatory of the United States (now American Dispensatory), in 1852, hydrastis has figured conspicuously among the leading Eclectic drugs, and few have been in greater esteem. This plant is well known to botanists as Yellow puccoon and Orange root. The present pharmacopoeial name, Golden seal, was introduced by the Thomsonians, who employed the root to a limited extent. It has reference both to the color of the root and to its seal-like scars produced by the death of the stalk of the plant of the preceding year. It has several other common names, some of them applicable and some being shared by other plants, one in particular, Yellow root, being the commercial drug name for Xanthorrhiza apiifolia. Some of these common names are derived from some physical characteristics of the plant; others from its therapeutic uses; while still others have reference to its resemblance to other substances. The following are some of its popular appellatives: Golden seal, Yellow puccoon, Yellow root, Orange root, Eye balm, Eye root, Ground raspberry, Indian paint, Yellow paint, Indian dye, Yellow eye, Jaundice root, Wild curcuma, Ohio curcuma, Curcuma, Golden root, Mild turmeric, and Indian turmeric. In commerce, both golden seal and yellow root are the terms employed. The other names should be dropped, and only the name of golden seal, as recognized by the Pharmacopoeia, should be retained. The scientific name Hydrastis, given it by Linnaeus, on authority of Ellis, is a misnomer, derived from old English authorities, who supposed that the plant grew in boggy places, an error which also appears in Wood's Class Book of Botany (C. G. Lloyd), whereas the plant is never found in wet or boggy situations, on prairies, or in sterile soil, but rather in rich open woodlands, preferring a hillside richly strewn with leaf mold. An attempt, which unfortunately failed, was made by Miller, in 1759, to change the name to Warneria, in honor of Richard Warner, of Woodford, Essex, England.
In our article on podophyllum, we call attention to the fact that that plant can not easily be exterminated by the advance of agriculture. With hydrastis, however, the opposite is true; the plant disappears as soon as the ground is disturbed by the settler. Once plentiful along the Ohio riverbanks, it is now found only in isolated spots, having suffered extermination as fast as the woodland yielded to the pioneer's axe. At present the geographical center of the plant is around Cincinnati. But four states now grow sufficient hydrastis to make it profitable for gathering for commercial use. These are Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia. There is one redeeming feature, however, in the fact that in the mountainous parts of the states in which it grows, it is not very likely to disappear soon. These districts are inhabited by a class of individuals commonly known as "white trash," and also by negroes. They are perfectly contented to exist with the least possible exertion on their part, consequently they do not take kindly to cultivation of the soil. These virgin forests of the mountain contain an abundance of medicinal roots, among them hydrastis. While the plow exterminates it forever, simply digging the roots, as is done by these contented, happy root diggers, will never absolutely exhaust the resources of those regions. Hence, we may hope to have a moderate supply of this drug as long as these people are left to enjoy their seclusion; but it must grow scarcer each year, and, if the demand continues in medicine, increasingly more expensive
Unfortunately, the author was very much mistaken on Goldenseal not being in danger of over-harvesting… more on that in a bit. As for its official use in the medical pharmacopeia circa 1900, King’s tells us:
Medical History, Action, Uses, and Dosage.—For many years the salts of berberine and powdered hydrastis were the chief forms in which this drug was administered. At the present time these salts and the crude drug are but little used, and in this paper we shall confine ourselves principally to the liquid preparations of hydrastis—chief among which are the specific hydrastis and Lloyd's hydrastis As there have been many preparations of this drug thrown on the market (since Lloyd's was introduced), under the name "colorless hydrastis," and accompanied by the statement that they are preparations of the white alkaloid hydrastine, it is but fair, in speaking of Lloyd's hydrastis, that we should state that it is not merely a solution of hydrastine, which is probably the least valuable constituent of hydrastis, but a preparation containing the combined colorless constituents of the drug. It is a well-known fact, though often overlooked by those who wish to make it appear that the alkaloidal constituents of a plant are alone the valuable and active therapeutic factors, that the combination or association of principles formed naturally in the plant, or held together naturally even when derived from the plant, more completely represents the crude drug than do the isolated and forcibly separated alkaloids, and that medicinal virtues are possessed by the former that can not be even approximated by the latter. Thus it is, that Lloyd's hydrastis is much superior as a remedy, than if it were merely a fluid preparation of the white alkaloid From some experiments made by Prof. J. A. Jeançon (Ec. Med. Jour., 1886, p. 576), with a concentrated solution of the associated colorless principles divested of the alkaloid, hydrastine, it was shown that marked therapeutic effects could be obtained from them alone. It acted principally as an astringent, gradually decreasing and finally arresting hypersecretion. As an intrauterine astringent he preferred it above all others. In determining its physiological effects, he administered it to animals in health, but could not observe any appreciable effect upon temperature, pulse, or respiratory apparatus. These physiological doses, however, produced constipation and anorexia. Thus, we observe, as is very frequently the case, a marked contrast between the almost negative physiological effects and the very positive therapeutic results. In this connection we can state that Prof. Lloyd has been led, from his great experience in observing the results of the uses of hydrastis, to seriously consider the advisability of excluding, to the great extent, the white alkaloid from Lloyd's Hydrastis. Reports, unquestionably reliable, indicate that it is often irritating and objectionable.
The whole drug, including the alkaloid hydrastine, appears to stimulate the respiratory and circulatory apparatus, imparting increased tone and power. Arterial tension is augmented, and blood pressure in the capillaries increased, rendering it valuable, like belladonna and ergot, in overcoming blood stasis. Its action upon the nervous system has been compared to that of strychnine (Ellingwood), though less energetic, but more permanent. Thus the tone imparted to the heart muscle is permanent, rather than intermittent or spasmodic (ibid.). The sensibility of the nerve endings is blunted by hydrastis in excessive doses, and in the lower animals large doses of the alkaloid have produced death. No such toxic action, however, has been observed upon man. Muscular nutrition is increased under the judicious administration of hydrastis, making it a valuable agent in muscular debility, and in altered states of the muscles, particularly of the unstriped variety.
It is a little singular that hydrastis was not mentioned by our earliest writers on indigenous materia medica, for it was in extensive use among certain of the aboriginal tribes of North America, being used both as a medicine and as a coloring material. Prof. Benjamin Smith Barton in his first edition of "Collections for an Essay Toward a Materia Medica of the United States" (1798), refers to the Cherokee use of it as a cure for cancer. Later, he calls attention to its properties as a bitter tonic, and as a local wash for ophthalmia. From that time on it was endorsed by Rafinesque, Hand, Smith, and the various writers of the botanic and of the medical reform schools. The extensive range of uses given by the foregoing writers was not included in the first edition of the American Dispensatory (1852), Prof. King evidently believing the virtues of the drug to have been greatly overdrawn. He gave, however, a careful review of its properties and uses, and thus, for the first time, it became firmly established as an Eclectic medicine. At the present time it is a great favorite with Homoeopathic practitioners and with a large proportion of Allopathic physicians. It was introduced into Homoeopathic medicine by the late Prof. E. M. Hale, M. D., who was familiar with the Eclectic uses of the plant.
Hydrastis is bitter to the taste, and induces increased activity of the salivary glands. It sharpens the appetite and aids digestion when indicated. Schatz has shown that it increases contraction of the muscular fibers of arteries without affecting other muscular tissues of the tubular organs. He has also shown that it decreases congestion of the genito-urinary tract. Rutherford, who investigated it, concluded that it was a hepatic stimulant, and in less degree stimulant to the intestinal tract. Its power as a hepatic stimulant is, however, probably overrated, while as a stimulant of the gastric and intestinal mucous surfaces its action is marked. Hydrastis exerts its chief action upon the mucous and glandular structures, and to some extent, through its white alkaloid, upon the nervous system.
Hydrastis is a valuable drug in disordered states of the digestive apparatus, especially when functional in character. It is not adapted to all classes of cases, but is rather to be considered as indicated in disorders of a sub-acute character and in atonic states with increased flow of mucus. In sub-acute and chronic inflammation with free secretion it will be found to render good service. As a general bitter tonic it resembles, though does not equal calumba and gentian, but is more applicable to debilitated conditions of mucous tissues. Beginning at the mouth, its beneficial action may be traced throughout the alimentary canal. For aphthous stomatitis it is equaled only by coptis and phytolacca. It is not the remedy in this disorder when the mucous secretions are checked, but is best adapted to subacute forms, bordering on a chronic state. As a remedy for various gastric disorders it will take a leading place, especially if it be borne in mind that it is never beneficial, but on the contrary, does harm, in acute inflammatory conditions. When, however, the trouble is subacute and semi-chronic, and especially with mucorrhoea, or even secretion of pus, the drug will give good results. It is indicated in gastric irritability, relieving the irritation, and afterward restoring the tone of the parts. For years the powdered root was made into aqueous infusion, which, when cold, was employed with marked benefit, but now we have pleasanter preparations which give equally as good results without entailing the unpleasantness of swallowing a large quantity of bitter and crude medicine. Lloyd's hydrastis has proved an excellent form of administration in cases of "ice water dyspepsia," a diseased condition said to be peculiarly American, on account of the almost universal practice in this country of drinking ice water and iced tea. The hydrastis should be given in 10-drop doses, before each meal and at bedtime. Chronic gastritis, with increased secretion (chronic gastric catarrh), is often promptly met with this drug. It is very valuable in gastric ulcer. Several physicians have observed that it is a very useful remedy to exhibit in cases of gastric catarrh following the inordinate use of alcoholic stimulants. Prof. Bartholow, who among the "regulars," has made extensive use of hydrastis, goes so far as to state that in sufficient doses (tincture or fluid extract), it is probably the best substitute for alcoholic beverages when it is desired to abandon the use of spirituous stimulants. This statement is ridiculed by the therapeutic editor of the National Dispensatory. However, it is certain that it is valuable in any form of gastric disorder, no matter what its origin may be, if there be irritation, or subacute inflammatory symptoms with increased secretion-a condition of atony. In chronic alcoholism it may be associated with capsicum or strychnine, or both, together with a liberal quantity of beef tea and other easily digested food, regularly administered. Small doses of hydrastis will be found indicated in that form of dyspepsia exhibiting a belching of putrescent gases, and followed by a weakness, or sensation of "goneness" in the pit of the stomach. If great irritability of the stomach is present, minute doses of the fluid preparations or of hydrastine hydrochlorate are to be preferred. When there is less irritation and great inactivity, powdered hydrastis may be used. When the larger doses are employed it should be immediately after meals.
This drug is equally as beneficial in catarrhal states of the intestines and gall ducts. In duodenal catarrh, with jaundice, and in those forms of catarrh of the biliary passages due to accretions of inspissated bile mixed with crystallized cholesterin, the remedy will be found serviceable if continued for a considerable length of time. Hydrastis should be remembered in obstinate constipation. It is especially useful in those disordered states due to hepatic obstruction or to hepatic congestion, accompanied or not with intestinal or biliary catarrh. The constipation best met with hydrastis is that hinging on atonic conditions of the intestinal glands, which may be gently stimulated to normal activity by small doses of either the specific preparation or Lloyd's hydrastis. Prof. King considered it a valuable tonic for enfeebled states of the alimentary tract in infants and children, and recommended it for the same purpose in convalescence from "severe attacks of diarrhoea, dysentery, and other debilitating maladies." Local application, with the internal use of hydrastis, has been resorted to in hemorrhoids, fissured anus, ulcers and eczema of the anus, and prolapsed and ulcerated rectum, with apparent benefit.
For the use of hydrastis in respiratory affections we insert the following from a previous article: "Golden seal is a valuable local agent in affections of the nose and throat. It acts as a subastringent tonic to the parts to which it is applied. Simple catarrhal, follicular, or granular pharyngitis is often cured by it. Syphilitic ulcerations of the vaso-pharyngeal passages are relieved and often cured by it. The colorless hydrastis (Lloyd's) has a beneficial effect in the various forms of sore throat, rhinitis, and also ulcerated or aphthous varieties of tonsillar, pharyngeal, and retro-pharyngeal catarrh. Subacute and naso-pharyngeal catarrh where the mucous membranes are dry and parched, the secretions being altered in quantity and character, is cured by it. In catarrhal hypertrophy, with profuse discharge and thickening of the Schneiderian membrane, this preparation is without an equal. It should be somewhat diluted, and is never the remedy for active, inflammatory lesions" (Felter). For that disagreeable state accompanying nasal and pharyngeal catarrh, in which the mucus forms in gelatinous masses and drops into the throat, hydrastis is probably without an equal. It should be applied locally and also administered internally. Locally, it is especially serviceable in subacute forms of tonsilitis, and occasionally in diphtheria. The drug is more especially indicated in catarrhal affections of any of the mucous membranes if there be also muscular debility.
In aural and ophthalmological practice this drug is a favorite local application. In the earlier history of its use as a medicine, infusion of the root, as employed by the Indians met by Captain Lewis, in 1804 (during the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition), and solutions of berberine salts, as used by the "Eclectic Fathers," were employed in various ophthalmias. These forms gave excellent results, the one objection to their employment being their staining qualities. At the present day these colored preparations are seldom used, but in their stead Lloyd's hydrastis gives fully as great satisfaction therapeutically, as well as being pleasant in taste and much more cleanly as a local application. It may be employed in the proportion of about 1 part in 10 or 20 of pure water in conjunctival diseases. It is only useful in superficial disorders of the eye, having no value in intraocular affections. It is valuable in all conjunctival inflammations, particularly so in the catarrhal forms. Foltz regards it as an excellent remedy in follicular conjunctivitis. Superficial corneal ulcerations are benefited by it, and in ciliary blepharitis it may be employed with confidence. It is well, however, in the latter disorder to wash the edges of the lids thoroughly with a weak solution of potassium bicarbonate, rinse well with pure water, and lastly apply the hydrastis lotion. It has been recommended and used with a degree of success in trachomic lids; but it is not nearly so effective in this complaint as the ointment of non-alcoholic thuja. The principal use of this drug in ear diseases has been for the cure of purulent inflammation of the middle ear, provided granulations do not exist. It may be employed here in both acute and chronic inflammations, and is especially indicated where the discharge is abundant. It may be dropped in the ear, or the ear may be cleansed with water to which a quantity of the medicine has been added. About 10 drops of solution (1 to 6 or 8) is about the proper amount to be employed when instilled into the aural aperture. Excellent results have been obtained by using it in this manner, mixed with specific hamamelis, to which water is added if too much smarting be produced. This combination has served us well in eczema of the aural canal and in irritation due to inspissated cerumen, the latter being readily softened by it.
Prof. Webster (Dynam. Therap.) calls attention to the use of specific hydrastis in cases of myalgic tenderness and soreness. He regards it as indicated where the unpleasant symptoms are masked during rest but aggravated by pressure and by motion. These myalgic symptoms may be due to various causes, often resulting as reflexes from uterine, rectal, and prostatic disorders. He also includes in the category of myalgic complaints, headaches resulting from reflexes in which the scalp-muscles are involved; pectoral tenderness due to lacerated cervix uteri; and the muscular pains caused by anemia, resulting from uterine, hemorrhoidal, and other hemorrhages. The dose recommended is from the fraction of a drop to 1 drop.
Taking advantage of the results of Prof. Schatz's investigation of the action of this drug on the circulation, several physicians have employed it in hemorrhagic conditions and in pathological states upon which hemorrhages are likely to depend. Schatz found it useful in hemorrhage from uterine fibroids (myomata); congestive dysmenorrhoea; hemorrhage in virgins, persisting even after the use of the curette; hemorrhages from subinvolution, endometritis, metritis, parametritis, cicatrices, stenotic conditions, and climacteric hemorrhage. Operations and other means had failed in the cases above mentioned, but hydrastis cured. The dose administered was 20 drops of the tincture 3 times daily. Too small a dose is without this controlling power over the walls of the vessels, according to Schatz, while large doses have an effect further than is desired. It is too slow a remedy for active post-partum hemorrhage, but may be employed for the control of passive hemorrhage. It is useful in metrorrhagia. Like ergot, it may be employed for the relief of chronic cerebral hyperaemia, and other forms of cerebral engorgement. Other observers have seen its beneficial action in the cure of fungoid endometritis, lacerated cervix, and pelvic cellulitis. Locally and internally, excellent results are obtained from hydrastis in leucorrhoea, both vaginal and uterine. For gonorrhoea, Lloyd's hydrastis probably enjoys a more extensive use as a local application than any other drug, and this use of it is not confined to Eclectic practitioners alone. For gleet it is equally as beneficial. For this purpose it may frequently be combined with aqueous thuja. Salts of zinc and lead, in very small amounts, may be added to the solution of hydrastis. If carefully employed, stricture as a result need never be feared. Other preparations of hydrastis will give good results, but their staining qualities condemn them. To Prof. John King must be accorded the first mention of this use of the drug. He also used it successfully in "incipient stricture, spermatorrhoea, and inflammation and ulceration of the internal coat of the bladder." As a remedy for cystitis, it maybe given internally, and used largely diluted to wash out the bladder. Prof. Jeançon, in discussing the concentrated solution of the associated principles of hydrastis (devoid of hydrastine), says: "Formerly, I used to apply locally a tampon or wad of absorbent cotton, well saturated with a solution of the double sulphate of alumina and copper, in cases of cervical erosions and light papillary vegetations. Now I apply the cotton saturated with the concentrated solution of these hydrastis substances, and find that the effect is all that can be desired. The eroded surface becomes smooth, the vegetations disappear, and a fine glistening layer of mucous structure soon makes its appearance.
Hydrastis has been used to some extent in cutaneous diseases. Prof. Jeançon cured a stubborn case of eczema of the scrotum with it. Other cases of eczema, depending upon gastro-intestinal disturbances, have been cured by its internal exhibition alone. Acne, seborrhoea sicca or oleosa, scrofula, acne rosacea, lupus, sycosis, boils, carbuncles, and ulcers, when dependent upon gastric difficulties, have been greatly benefited and some cases cured by the internal use of the drug alone. The local use at the same time hastens the cure. Eczematous manifestations around the outlets of the body also yield to the kindly action of golden seal locally applied. It has been said to cure cancer, though this use of the drug is overrated. Still, many believe it to have a beneficial effect in prolonging life and in mitigating the severity of the disease. On this point Prof. Scudder remarks, "In some cases of cancer with sloughing of tissues, and in malignant ulceration, no application will do more to retard the progress of the disease than an infusion of the crude article or a solution of the alkaloid (berberine). It has been claimed that the internal administration of the remedy alone will prove curative. I am satisfied that in some cases this use of hydrastis will do much to relieve pain and lengthen life, even if it does not prove curative." Hale and others consider the long-continued use of hydrastis internally excellent in retarding scirrhus of the breast, when the tumor is hard and painful, but has not yet advanced to ulceration.
Hydrastis should be remembered in convalescence from diseases having excessive mucoid discharges, or where hemorrhage has played an important part. For malarial disorders it probably has but little to recommend it. It has been used as an anti-malarial drug, but as it has usually been employed with some of the cinchona alkaloids, the beneficial, or at least the antiperiodic effects were probably due to the latter. Hydrastis should not be overlooked, nevertheless in convalescence from general debility, protracted fevers, inflammatory affections, and nervous prostration. Hence it is useful to combine with it capsicum, strychnine, nux vomica, iron salts, and quinine, when there are clear indications for their selection. Prostrating night-sweats are very often controlled by it. In hepatic and stomachic disorders it may be greatly aided by iris, phytolacca, bryonia, arnica, leptandra, chionanthus, and podophyllin, provided any of these are indicated. Powdered hydrastis and the extract are now seldom employed. The usual dose of specific hydrastis ranges from the fraction of a drop to 30 drops; of Lloyd's hydrastis, from 5 drops to 1 drachm; of infusion of hydrastis (℥i to aqua Oj) from ½ to 2 fluid ounces; locally, Lloyd's hydrastis, from full strength (ulcerated cervix uteri), to a dilution of 1 in 20 in water. Dose of the powder, from 10 to 30 grains; of the tincture, from 1 to 2 fluid drachms; of the hydro-alcoholic extract, from 2 to 5 grains; of the fluid extract, 10 to 60 minims; hydrastine (Eclectic), 1 to 6 grains; of hydrastinine hydrochlorate, ¼ to 1 ½ grains; berberine (see below), 2 to 20 grains; berberine hydrochlorate, 1 to 5 grains; berberine sulphate, 1 to 5 grains.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Hydrastis is specifically indicated in catarrhal states of the mucous membranes, when unaccompanied with acute inflammation. An apparent exception to this is in acute 'purulent otitis media, in which it is said to act better than in chronic conditions; gastric irritability; irritation of parts with feeble circulation; muscular tenderness and soreness, worse under pressure or on motion; passive hemorrhages from uterus and other pelvic tissues; skin diseases depending on a gastric abnormality, indicating hydrastis.
WOW! I am sure the medical professionals of today would be astounded by the abundant and effective use for of this herb employed by doctors of only 100 years ago.. doctors often, better educated and more learned than themselves! The modern specialist is just that, a specialist. The doctors of even the 1980s were often generalists, “General Practitioners”. I was fortunate enough to get to know one who was not only a medical doctor, a “G.P.”, but due to his love of learning and proximity to the University of Georgia, had degrees in education, art, archeology, history, several languages, architecture and pharmacology! He was in his late 80’s when I met him in the late 90’s From what I have read and from anecdotes from other old doctors and pharmacists, such learned doctors with diverse interests were much more common even a generation ago.
As we have delved so deeply into the aforementioned two books, I will just briefly give the current use of Goldenseal, as detailed in Plants for A Future:
Goldenseal is a traditional medicine of the North American Indians and is still widely used in Western herbal medicine. In the Nineteenth century it acquired a reputation as a heal-all and was grossly over-collected from the wild and has become rare in the east of its range. It is now being cultivated on a small scale. It is especially valued in treating disorders of the digestive system and mucous membranes and is also extremely useful in the treatment of habitual constipation. See also the notes above on cultivation needs. The root is the active part of the plant, it is harvested in the autumn after the plant has died down and is dried for later use. It is said to be antiperiodic, antiseptic, astringent, cholagogue, diuretic, laxative, stomachic, tonic. It is used mainly in the treatment of disorders affecting the ears, eyes, throat, nose, stomach, intestines and vagina. The root contains the alkaloids hydrastine, berberine and canadine. Berberine is antibacterial (effective against broad-spectrum bacteria and protozoa), it increases bile secretions, acts as an anticonvulsant, a mild sedative and lowers blood pressure. Use of this plant destroys beneficial intestinal organisms as well as pathogens, so it should only be prescribed for limited periods (a maximum of three months). The plant should be used with caution, and not at all during pregnancy or by people with high blood pressure. An infusion of the root is used externally as a wash for skin diseases, vaginal infections, gum diseases etc.
This brings us to the topic of over-harvesting. Generally speaking, Goldenseal should not be harvested from the wild. I say, “generally speaking”, because any wild plants that will definitely be destroyed by real estate development, a new road being built, etc., should certainly be dug up. As many as possible should be transplanted to a safe place, but many will be damaged and I conser using them quite ethical - it would be a shame to waste them! However, if one must use Goldenseal, growing it in the garden is best.
As berberine is the primary medicinal component of Goldenseal, I do not find it necessary to use Goldenseal at all. Berberine is the same, yellow pigmented, intensely bitter alkaloid found in Oregon Grape and Barberry. I find all I need there. One Oregon Grape bush provides all the berberine yellow root that I need for multiple years. In fact, berberine is found in varying levels in the entire plant. Others may find Gold Thread or Coptis a useful source of berberine. Some herbalists, particularly some Native American herbalists, say that there is no true substitute for the powerful efficacy of Goldenseal. I have not found this to be the case, at all… but then, I do not claim to know anything about the spiritual nature of plants. I am glad to use Oregon Grape and let such folks have the Goldenseal.
I don’t fault anyone who harvests herbs responsibly and ethically as part of their tradition or to earn an honest living. However, I should state that I don’t think any particular ethnic group is more good, or noble or has more of a right to what God provides for all than any other. I have known many wonderful Native American folks in the three tribes or so that I grew up with in the Carolinas. Some have been the most ethical, kind, loyal, deeply spiritual people I have ever known. They may follow a traditional belief system or be Southern Baptists; they may wear feathers or baseball caps, be farmers or lawyers - good people are good people. I have also known Native American folks who were just as bad as people of any other race, making their living manufacturing and selling crystal meth, and hunting deer with dogs, cutting off the heads for trophies and leaving the meat to rot. You must let your own ethics be your guide, but when I find Goldenseal in the woods, I almost always leave it be.
The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.