Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), also known as yellow root, Indian tumeric, eye balm, and poor man's ginseng was used by Native Americans to fight infection, clean wounds and stop bleeding after childbirth. Goldenseal is native to forests in the eastern and central parts of the United States, but is becoming hard to find in the wild - in 1996 it was declared an endangered species.

Goldenseal has been called "the poor man's ginseng" because, like ginseng, it is said to be good for treating just about everything. Also like ginseng, it is goldenseal's root that is used to make herbal medicine. Goldenseal's yellow root contains berberine, a chemical that provides antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal protection.

Goldenseal has long been used to treat diarrhoea, and there is plenty of scientific research that supports this tradition. Studies have shown that berberine helps stimulate the white blood cells to kill bacteria that can cause diarrhoea, including E. coli, salmonella and Vibrio cholerae (cholera). Goldenseal also helps prevent the proliferation of Candida albicans and Chlamydia trachomatis in the vagina.

Goldenseal is often recommended by herbalists for treatment of eye diseases, including staph and trachoma. In some studies goldenseal was more effective than either chloramphenicol (Chloromycetin) or sulphacetamide (Sultrin), two prescription drugs that are commonly used to treat serious eye infections.

New research involving goldenseal centres on its ability to treat liver damage in alcoholics (goldenseal stimulates bile secretion in humans, which supports liver function and helps the body digest fats). Preliminary research also suggests that goldenseal may help stimulate white blood cells to kill cancerous tumour cells.

The typical dosage of goldenseal is 465 milligrams two or three times a day, or one-quarter of a teaspoon of liquid root extract once a day. Goldenseal is also available as a tincture or in powdered form. You can use either of these forms to make a tea which can be taken orally or stored for topical use as an antiseptic.

Goldenseal tea is said to be an effective treatment for canker sores and periodontal disease when used as a mouthwash, because it helps destroy harmful bacteria in the mouth. Goldenseal is also available in an ointment for topical use.

Goldenseal has been the subject of controversy because it has been reported in rare cases to cause serious side-effects, including diarrhoea, vomiting, high blood pressure and even respiratory failure and death. This may be due in part to the fact that goldenseal is an endangered species, and relatively labour-intensive to grow (it takes 3 years for roots to mature)- some manufacturers substitute other look-alike herbs in their formulae, which may be responsible in part for adverse reactions.

Goldenseal is not for long-term use and should be avoided by people who have high blood pressure since large doses have been known to raise blood pressure. Goldenseal should never be taken in anything but microdoses - less is more with this drug. Overdosing on goldenseal has reportedly caused severe toxicity in some individuals, inducing convulsions, respiratory failure and even death. Women who are pregnant should not take this medicine as some studies have shown it can stimulate uterine contractions.

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