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?
What are the benefits of goldenseal?
Goldenseal is a perennial plant often used as an herbal remedy thanks to its antibacterial to anti-inflammatory properties.
While research on goldenseal is pretty limited, potential benefits include that taking the herb might:
- help prevent respiratory infections
- detox your body of drugs
- treat or prevent UTI’s and yeast infections
- treat skin issues
- improve oral health
- relieve digestion problems
- help lower cholesterol levels
- help manage diabetes symptoms
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.
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
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.
What about combining echinacea and goldenseal?
Echinacea is another plant native to North America that’s used to treat infections like the common cold.
Goldenseal and echinacea are often combined into herbal remedies for cold and flu. But while studies show echinacea may lower your risk of respiratory infections, there isn’t any evidence the combo offers miraculous benefits versus taking them individually.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
PSA: Check your supplement
Your body probably only absorbs teeny amounts of berberine when taken orally, so berberine-specific effects might not even be significant in goldenseal supplements. Goldenseal is also pretty pricey, so some products claiming to contain the plant might not actually contain much of the herb.
If you still want to try goldenseal supplements, always read the label carefully to ensure that it actually contains goldenseal. And make sure you run it by your doc.
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.
Can you accidentally overdose on goldenseal?
There isn’t much info on how much goldenseal is too much. When used in the short-term the average doses appear to be safe, and we just don’t know how it affects people in large doses or for long periods of time.
Consult your doctor or a poison control helpline if you have any adverse reactions to a goldenseal supplement.
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.