Golden Seal

Immune System Stimulator

Description: Golden seal is a perennial root native to the moist woods and meadows of eastern North America. From a rough, yellow root grows a single hairy stem about eight to ten inches in height. Between May and June, each golden seal plant sprouts a single white or rose-colored flower which is followed by a crimson head or a group of small raspberry-like berries.

History: Native North Americans used the bright yellow juice of golden seal’s root as a clothing die, but it was the Cherokee Indians who first noticed that clothing dyers who used golden seal seldom got ill. Those who wore the garments dyed with golden seal juice were also spared many common illnesses. This effect was soon linked to the root itself, and the Cherokee began using golden seal root to treat a variety of illness and ailments including: sore eyes, ulcers and arrow wounds. Early European settlers and explorers of these regions learned of the herb’s many qualities from the Cherokee, Iroquois, and Micmac and used it widely as a stomach and liver remedy, a laxative, and a cure for painful digestion.

Modern Uses: The most important components of golden seal are a group of isoquinoline alkaloids consisting mainly of hydrastine, berberastine and berberine. These are all bitter astringents and tonics and are considered alterative to mucous membranes. Golden seal is used for congestion and chronic inflammation of the respiratory and urogenital tracts, catarrhal affliction of the nose, vaginitis, chronic gastritis and enteritis. The resinous compounds in golden seal have been shown to have an antiseptic and cleansing effect on the mucous membranes which works to lift debris, infection, and excess mucous away from the skin and mucous-lined organs. Two of golden seal’s alkaloids, hydrastine and berberine, have been found to combat a wide variety of infections such as staph, strep, E. coli bacteria and giardia.

Externally, golden seal can be used as a treatment for a variety of skin ailments including: rashes, acne, sores, and profuse perspiration. It has also been used as an eyewash to clear and relieve tired and irritated eyes and to help in curing sties. One can rub golden seal extract on the teeth and gums to treat pyorrhea or gingivitis. Golden seal contains cobalt, iron, magnesium, manganese, silicon, and zinc and is an excellent source of Vitamin C.

Recommendations: Golden seal can be used individually or in combination with a variety of herbs as it exhibits both catalyst and soothing properties. Continual use in large doses is discouraged as it may lead to lower vitamin B absorption and utilization. Like many medicinals, use of this herb may cause difficulties during pregnancy. For general treatment, the herb can be taken at mealtimes or in smaller hourly doses and should not be used for more than ten days at a time. Externally, golden seal can be directly applied (in a compress or swab) to affected areas of the mouth, skin, or eyes.

Because this herb is rapidly disappearing from overharvest and may soon become an endangered species, other plants should be used as substitutes wherever possible. Oregon grape and barberry both contain the same alkaloids as goldenseal and can be used for many of the same problems. When goldenseal is needed, the amount is generally one or two capsules two or three times daily.


A Handbook of Native American Herbs by Alma R. Hutchens (Boston: Shambhala, 1992).

Creating Your Herbal Profile by Dorothy Hall (New Canaan, Connecticut: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1988).

“Golden Root of the Cherokee: Golden Seal” by Terry Tucker Francis, in The Herbalist (March 1979).

Herbal Extracts by Dr. A. B. Howard (Berkley, Michigan: The Blue Goose Press, 1983).

Herbs that Heal by Michael A. Weiner, Ph.D. and Janet Weiner (Mill Valley, California: Quantum Books, 1994).

“Infection Fighters” in Sunshine Sharing (Vol. 1 No. 4).

The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes (Boulder, Colorado: Artemis Press, 1989).

The Wild Rose Scientific Herbal by Terry Willard, Ph. D. (Calgary, Alberta: Wild Rose College of Natural Healing, 1991).

Weiner’s Herbal by Michael A, Weiner, M.S., M.A., Ph.D., and Janet Weiner (Mill Valley, California: Quantum Books, 1990).