Goldenseal, one of the most popular herbs in the United States today, is used as a base in many herbal preparations. Also known as yellow root, ground raspberry, or Indian turmeric, goldenseal is credited with a number of different medicinal properties. It is typically associated with supposed anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.1

The plant grows in the wilds of southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States, and is a perennial with a thick, yellow root characterized by knoblike sections and hairlike root fibers.1


Native goldenseal has actually been overharvested in the United States to the point that it is listed as an endangered species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an organization dedicated to ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.2 Today, commercial growers supply the bulk of the plant products for use in supplements, with most production originating from the area of the Blue Ridge Mountains.2

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Goldenseal is a member of the buttercup family and appears as a purple-stemmed, fuzzy plant with pointed, saw-tooth-edged leaves.3 These dark-green hairy leaves bear a single white flower that yields a late summer fruit resembling a raspberry.3

In spite of its widespread use as a medicinal herb, goldenseal is frequently used as an additive to other herbal mixtures because of its synergistic effects.3 The primary active ingredients in goldenseal are the alkaloids hydrastine and berberine, which function primarily as anticholinergics and antioxidants.1


Goldenseal is most commonly used as an antibacterial agent and an aid to digestion.3 One interesting bench trial examined the antimicrobial effect of goldenseal on cell cultures of Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium known to induce duodenal ulcers. The extract of goldenseal rhizomes showed a robust in vitro mean inhibitory concentration of 12.5 mg/mL in all of the 15 strains of the bacterium cell lines.4

One hypothesis regarding goldenseal’s efficacy against bacterial infection is that it blocks the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from the macrophages in the system, thereby reducing the symptoms and longevity of the infection. In a study of goldenseal extract with lipopolysaccharide-stimulated macrophages, the production of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin (IL)-6, IL-10, and IL-12 was inhibited in a dose-dependent curve.5

Goldenseal extract was measured against cultured cell lines of Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus sanguis, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.6 Each bacterium was subjected to direct exposure to the golden­seal extract. The measured “killing time” and mean inhibitory concentration values supported 
goldenseal’s antibacterial claims.6