If you’re down with plant medicine, you’ve probably heard of goldenseal as a cure-all for everything from colds to skin issues.

But does this popular herb actually have any legitimate benefits?

goldenseal benefitsShare on Pinterest
Tatjana Zlatkovic / Stocksy United

Goldenseal (aka Hydrastis canadensis) is native to eastern North America and was first used by Native Americans as a medicinal remedy. The perennial plant’s leaves and roots are made into teas, capsules, and tinctures and often used to treat colds, digestive problems, sore gums, and skin irritations.

Goldenseal is also used in traditional medicine. If you swing by your local CVS, you’ll likely find the herb as an ingredient in ear drops, allergy relief products, laxatives, and period products.

The plant has a ton of alkaloid compounds — specifically berberine — linked to antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Goldenseal might be a popular herbal remedy, but there’s actually not a ton of science backing its health benefits.

Most research actually looks at those antibacterial and anti-inflammatory berberine that are found in goldenseal. Here’s what science has to say about the potential benefits of goldenseal.

1. It might help prevent respiratory infections

Sometimes saltines and ginger ale just don’t cut it when you’re sick. Some folks sear by goldenseal as a natural treatment for colds and upper respiratory tract infections.

A 2018 cellular study on mice found berberine, one of the main active compounds in goldenseal, had antiviral properties and helped reduce infections in lung cells exposed to H1N1.

Another animal study showed berberine had antibacterial effects on bacterial infections.

But while goldenseal is still added to several cold remedies, we need more research to know if it actually has the same effect in humans. Plus, the amount of berberine used in animal studies is often way larger than the amount used in goldenseal supplements.

2. It might (but probably doesn’t) help detox your body from drugs

Some folks think goldenseal can help your body detox from nasty toxins and substances. There’s little evidence to back this up, but it’s definitely not your average detox tea scam.

Your body is actually designed to naturally detox itself and makes harmful substances exit your body through your pee and sweat. (This is a good reminder to stay hydrated!)

But there is research that suggests the berberine in goldenseal may reduce the activity of specific liver enzymes responsible for the breakdown of drugs. This *might* help with passing a drug test, but supplements may also slow down the detox process. Some drug tests can also detect goldenseal in urine.

So don’t bank of goldenseal helping you get any cannabis out of your system.

3. It might help treat or prevent UTI’s and yeast infections

Goldenseal is a popular remedy to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs) and yeast infections. But again, studies only look at how berberine, not goldenseal itself, may protect your body against bacteria and fungi.

A 2018 study found folks with recurrent UTIs were less likely to have another UTI when given herbal extracts containing berberine.

A 2016 review also found berberine has an antifungal effect against Candida albicans — a naturally occurring fungus on the body that is responsible for yeast infections and UTIs when it grows out of control.

While promising, we still need more studies to prove goldenseal has the same effects.

4. It might help treat skin issues

We all love a new skin care product, but the berberine in goldenseal may help your skin too. Older lab studies suggest berberine may help fight P. acnes, the bacteria that causes acne.

Animal research from 2017 also found berberine’s anti-inflammatory effects may help treat inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis.

Still, we need more research on how goldenseal can help acnes and psoriasis.

5. It might help sore gums

It’s unlikely goldenseal will help prevent a gnarly tooth infection (best stick to a stellar brushing and flossing routine). But there’s a slim chance it may help gum pain.

A 2011 review notes using goldenseal as a toothpaste or mouthwash may help gum pain, but the claim was purely anecdotal and no legit studies support this theory.

So don’t think goldenseal is your dental fix. We still need studies to prove its good for your smile.

6. It might relieve digestion woes

Goldenseal probably won’t help with Flaming Hot Cheetos indigestion, but it might help digestion system infections.

Older test-tube studies suggest that goldenseal extracts may fight against H. pylori, a bacteria that can infect your stomach lining and cause stomach ulcers.

Research from 2010 also shows goldenseal extracts may kill C. jejuni, a bacteria responsible for inflammation of the stomach and intestines (aka gastroenteritis) that causes diarrhea and vomiting.

But TBH, this research is pretty old and limited. We need more studies of actual humans to know for sure.

7. It might lower cholesterol levels

Both human and animal studies have found the berberine in goldenseal may help lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” one) and triglyceride levels.

A 2018 review of animal studies and a 2017 review including human studies found that berberine may help reduce LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

But there isn’t any information on goldenseal itself, so these results are iffy when it comes to real life.

8. It might help lower blood sugar

If you have type 2 diabetes, studies suggest berberine may help your blood sugar balance and insulin resistance.

A 2015 review also notes that research suggests berberine has blood-sugar-lowering effects similar to the diabetes medication metformin.

But since there aren’t a ton of studies on goldenseal and diabetes, make sure to chat with your doc first before supplementing. Taking goldenseal and diabetes medications together could be dangerous.

Research is also limited when it comes to the safety of goldenseal, especially when it comes to long-term use.

Right now the consensus seems to be that the herb *might* be safe when used for a short period of time. But you should always chat with a healthcare professional before taking a goldenseal supplement.

Potential side effects can include nausea, reduced liver function, and vomiting.

You’ll also want to be aware of the following risks:

  • Interactions with medicines. Goldenseal can cause interactions with over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines by slowing down the activity of liver enzymes. This can also cause medications to stay in your body for too long and reach toxic levels.
  • Type 2 diabetes. If you’re taking metformin for diabetes, a 2021 study found goldenseal can decrease levels of the drug enough to affect glucose control.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding. There’s not enough info to prove goldenseal is safe if your preggers or breastfeeding, so it’s best to avoid it. Animal studies link berberine to lower birth weights, and it might cause uterus contractions. Berberine can also cause or make jaundice worse in newborns and lead to complications.

There aren’t any studies that suggest what dosages of goldenseal are the most beneficial. Goldenseal supplements come in many forms so dosages can vary.

At a glance, here’s the suggested dosage you might find on your supplement:

  • Dried goldenseal root supplements. Dosages often range from 0.5–10 grams, taken three times a day.
  • Goldenseal tincture and liquid extract. Dosage ranges from about 0.3–10mL, three times a day.
  • Drinking goldenseal tea. Typically involves steeping 2 teaspoons of the dried herb in 1 cup of hot water for at least 15 minutes.

There’s no “right” way to take goldenseal supplements since we don’t have enough research to prove what amounts or type of supplement actually works.

There’s also not a ton of research on the herb that proves any of its potential benefits are the real deal. Still, some research on berberine (a compound found in goldenseal) shows goldenseal may help prevent respiratory infections, UTIs, and help fight acne.

If you still want to take goldenseal make sure to chat with your doc about drug interactions, and avoid it if you’re preggo or breastfeeding.

It’s generally considered safe to use goldenseal for short periods of time and without any OTC or prescription medications.