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Goldenseal - Botany And History

Goldenseal is a perennial herb of the Ranunculaceae family, and is closely related to the buttercup. Long thought to be an extremely potent medicinal plant, its usage remains to this day, largely in the form of food supplements and herbal tonifying pills (chiefly marketed as under the umbrella of Traditional Chinese Medicine in spite of the fact that goldenseal is rarely used in that specific branch of herbalism). The goldenseal plant is a native of Canada, although it can also be found flourishing in select areas of the United States, as well as some parts of Asia, including China and Japan.

Generally characterised by its unique appearance, goldenseal is a bushy type of perennial which possesses two dark-green hairy, primary palmate leaves which are divided into a spread of some five to seven dentate leaves. The plant is also characterised by its singular berry which resembles a raspberry, and for its small, inconspicuous ivory-white to jade-green hued flowers. It is most notable for its hairy stem, which begins belowground as a yellow-hued growth connected to the yellow, turmeric-like rootstock, and extending to a purplish growth aboveground. [1]

Goldenseal has long been employed as a medicinal and practical herbal remedy by the aboriginal First Peoples of Canada and the United States prior to the arrival of European settlers. The herb was predominantly wildcrafted for both food and medicine (the berries are delicious and edible, although the leaves are not, and can only be employed medicinally). After the arrival of the European settlers, the use of goldenseal soon spread, theoretically through the introduction of the First Peoples, and it has become a sort of medicinal staple in early herbalism. Today, the use of goldenseal is still strong, with a large industry backing up the supply and demand for the herb, so much so that it has been cultivated solely to meet such demands.

Goldenseal - Herbal Uses

The earliest usage of goldenseal was as a wildcrafted medicine and fruit, initially first employed by the aboriginal First Peoples of Canada and the Americas (specifically North America, where the plant was highly priced by the Cherokee). The berries were generally harvested as soon as possible, since its flavourful nature made it a prime choice of food for animals. These berries were typically eaten raw, although they could be prepared or otherwise integrated into other foodstuffs. Nowadays, goldenseal berries have lost their status as a foodstuff, although bushmen and wilderness survivalists nevertheless still turn to them in times of need. The most common modern use of goldenseal is as a food supplement, generally prepared in capsule, tablet, or tincture form, although whole roots and loose leaves (in both fresh or dried form) are also available. Unlike most medicinal plants, goldenseal is chiefly valued for its rhizome more so than its leaves, although the leaves themselves possess some degree of medicinal efficacy, in spite of its being less potent than that of the roots.

When employing the leaves, it is typically decocted (when fresh) or infused (when dry) to create a tea which is given to individuals who suffer from mild stomach upsets, indigestion, lumbago, colic, or diarrhea. Stronger decoctions of the leaves can be applied as a topical rinse or wash to help hasten the healing of wounds as well as to prevent infection, while, if take orally, it can help to provide relive for individuals who are suffering from respiratory ailments (cough, colds, flu), and generally hasten the recovery-time of persons whose immune systems have been compromised by disease. Because of its antimicrobial and disinfectant qualities, it has also been used by Native American healers to treat infectious diseases such as conjunctivitis (pink-eye), generally as a rinse (hence the name 'eye balm'), or as a curative wash for diseases that generally affect the mucous membranes and the epidermis. [2]

The roots of the goldenseal plant all but make up for the somewhat limited medicinal range of the leaves. Generally considered by herbalists both ancient and modern as the more potent of the plant's constituent parts, the roots possess similar curative properties as the leaves, but with added benefits. The roots, when employed in whole form, can typically be decocted and drunk as a tea to help boost the immune system against a number of diseases. [3] It is generally believed by ancient and modern herbal literature that goldenseal root possesses natural antibiotic and immuno-boosting properties that not only allow for the hastening of recovery from illness, but in bolstering the immune system against the further ravages of diseases and stress. [4] A decoction of the root is often given prior to, and after heavy meals as digestive aid, as it is believed that it also enhances the overall capacity of the body to absorb nutrients from the nourishment partaken of. Known as a bitter tonic (and generally classified as such if employed within the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine), goldenseal is said to increase and improve the production of bile, in effect also eliciting an increase of appetite and a general tonification of the body. [5] Because it is traditionally ascribed appetite stimulant properties, it is often given in minute dosages to individuals who suffer from anorexia nervosa, or to individuals who experience a lack of appetite due to prolonged illness.

Decoctions of goldenseal root have also been prescribed for the treatment of respiratory ailments (in the same light as the leaves). Known for its potent antimicrobial, antibacterial, and tonifying abilities, it is a potent curative drink for the management of a variety of bacterial infections and is a well-known disease-combating herb. Goldenseal, when drunk or partaken of in moderation is also said to markedly improve the body's circulation, thus facilitating in a total tonifying effect that is said to help improve one's overall health. When employed topically, strong decoctions of the root can be used to treat skin diseases. It's antimicrobial property also makes it excellent for curing mouth sores, cold sores, ringworm, herpes, eczema, dandruff, and rashes (when applied topically). [6] Mild decoctions of the plant may also be consumed as a quick remedy for chronic fatigue syndrome, or as a immuno-booster for individuals who suffer from pneumonia and malaria, as moderate intake of goldenseal preparation is believed to hasten recovery.

One of the active constituent compounds found in goldenseal, berberine is reputed to be able to boost white-blood-cell count in individuals who undergo chemotherapy and for individuals whose immune systems have been compromised due to disease. Goldenseal has also traditionally been ascribed heart tonifying properties, and has even been shown to help lower blood cholesterol levels, moderate blood sugar levels, and may even help to treat minor coronary and respiratory ailments. [7] While goldenseal has been traditionally employed to treat such diseases modern scientific studies have pointed out that the active constituents found in goldenseal are only very minute, and thus, are virtually incapable of eliciting any true therapeutic benefit within the context of pharmaceutical medicine. Regardless of these recent findings, goldenseal still remains among the most popular of herbal remedies, generally available in tincture, capsule, tablet, and extract form.

Goldenseal - Esoteric Uses

When employed magickally, goldenseal is chiefly used as a bolster to increase the power of any spell, potion, or rite. Outside of spell-crafting, goldenseal has been employed as a charm to help attract wealth, prosperity, and success. It is commonly employed in modern magickal practices for candle magick, although it may be used in a more traditional context as a protective and supportive charm, especially when encased in a medicine pouch or juju bag. When burnt as an incense, it can help to increase the efficiency of wards as well as drive away malignant forces and dispel illness, while a general brew of goldenseal works (within the magickal context) in just about the same way as it does on a medicinal basis. [8]

Goldenseal - Contraindications And Safety

One of the active chemical compounds found in goldenseal, berberine, is considered hepatotoxic in spite of its many medicinal benefits. Because it is absorbed slowly and is excreted on a slow basis by the human body, the risk of accidentally overdosing is great. However, because goldenseal (in whole, nonextracted form) contains very little berberine, no grave danger is truly posed by its medicinal application, provided that it is used sparingly, moderately, and never for prolonged periods of time. As a general rule of safety, products made from or that contain goldenseal should never be given to pregnant or nursing women, as well as to children below sixteen years of age.

Overdosing on goldenseal may be typified by symptoms such as stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea, seizures, and even death especially if taken in extremely large or concentrated dosages, so it is advised that one seek out the help of a professional herbalist when partaking of goldenseal for medicinal or supplementary purposes.

Goldenseal - Other Names, Past and Present

Japanese: hidorasuchisu
French: fard inolien / framboise de terre / hydraste du Canada / racine a la Jaunisse / racine orange / sceau d'or
Spanish / Italian: sceau de oro
German: goldsiegel / warnera
English: Chinese goldenseal (a misnomer, as goldenseal is not Asiatic in origin, nor was it used at length in China) / eye balm / goldenroot / ground raspberry / Indian dye / Indian plant / Indian turmeric / jaundice root / orange root / turmeric root (misnomer, as it only superficially resembles true turmeric) / yellow paint / yellow puccoon
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Hydrastis canadensis










Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.

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