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Herbs & Botanicals

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Goldenseal (bai mao liang)

What is goldenseal? What is it used for?

Goldenseal is a small herb with a single, hairy stem, two five-lobed, jagged-edged leaves, small flowers, raspberry-like fruit and a bright, yellow-brown root. It is native to the northern United States, and is cultivated mostly on farms in Oregon and Washington state.

It was originally introduced to American settlers by Native American tribes, who used it to dye clothing and as a wash for skin diseases, sore eyes and colds. In recent years, it has been overharvested to the point that it is now a threatened species. Although commercial cultivation has relieved some of the problem, it is still quite expensive.

Goldenseal contains a compound called berberine, which has been shown to kill many of the bacteria that cause diarrhea. Berberine has also been shown to kill germs that cause yeast infections and parasites such as tapeworms.

Goldenseal has a variety of applications, especially for digestive conditions. It may be useful in fighting gastric and enteric inflammations; urinary infections; respiratory infections; and constipation. Externally, it can be used to reduce inflammation of the mucous membranes; skin fissures and ulcers; and as a lotion to stop excess sweating.

How much goldenseal should I take?

The amount of goldenseal taken depends on the condition it is being used for. For general inflammation, goldenseal can be taken in doses from 500 to 2,000 milligrams up to three times a day. To disinfect cuts and scrapes, goldenseal extract can be used with a clean, wet cloth. For other cases of irritation, goldenseal powder can be used in conjunction with salt and warm water.

What forms of goldenseal are available?

Goldenseal is available (in various concentrations) in both capsule and tablet form. It is also available in alcoholic tinctures and low-alcohol extracts.

What can happen if I take too much goldenseal? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Large doses of goldenseal may interfere with the body's ability to absorb B vitamins. If used for an extended period of time, goldenseal can irritate the skin and can reduce the amount of some types of digestive bacteria, which can lead to nausea and diarrhea. In addition, the American Herbal Products Association has given goldenseal a class 2B rating, meaning that it should not be used during pregnancy. Pregnant women and patients with a history of high blood pressure should not take goldenseal.

As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions associated with goldenseal. As always, consult with your health practitioner before taking goldenseal or any other herbal product or dietary supplement.

References

  • Karch SB. The Consumer's Guide to Herbal Medicine. Hauppauge, NY: Advanced Research Press, 1999, pp. 102-103.
  • Lau CW, Yao XQ, Chen ZY, et al. Cardiovascular actions of berberine. Cardiovasc Drug Rev 2001;19(3):234-244.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds.) American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 62.
  • Periera da Silva A, Rocha R, Silva CM, et al. Antioxidants in medicinal plant extracts. A research study of the antioxidant capacity of crataegus, hamamelis and hydrastis. Phytother Res 2000;14(8):612-616.
  • Rotblatt M, Ziment I. Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Hanley & Belfus, Inc., 2002, pp. 221-225.

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