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Goldenseal: Native American Healer

 

 


[Goldenseal for Colds and Flu? | Microbial Effects of Goldenseal
[The Goldenseal Myth: Masking of Drug Test Results]

Traditional applications of goldenseal have included treatment of a wide variety of digestive, liver, skin, and eye conditions as well as use as a bitter digestive tonic.  In laboratory studies, the goldenseal constituent berberine has demonstrated strong activity against a number of bacteria that cause gastrointestinal infections, and goldenseal’s berberine is used clinically in some countries in the treatment of diarrheal diseases.  Goldenseal is believed to be useful in the treatment of conditions such as traveler’s diarrhea, and goldenseal is widely used externally for wounds and skin diseases. 

Introduced to early US settlers by Native Americans in the 1700’s, goldenseal root remains a favored folk remedy in the US as well as an official pharmaceutical medicine in 11 other countries.  Goldenseal is an American native plant.  Goldenseal is more popular today than ever before, and seems to be popping up in everything from cold and flu formulas to shampoo.  Lately, attention has been focused on goldenseal not only because of its healing reputation, but because of growing concern that the goldenseal plant’s survival in the wild is endangered.

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Goldenseal for Colds and Flu?

There is no doubt that goldenseal is a powerful and valuable botanical remedy, but is goldenseal effective against colds and flu?  Thousands swear by goldenseal, but little scientific evidence exists to support goldenseal’s use as an “herbal antibiotic” for preventing the onset of a cold.  Herbalist Paul Bergner explores goldenseal in his recent Medical Herbalism article, “Goldenseal and the common cold: The antibiotic myth.”  In Bergner’s opinion, taking large amounts of goldenseal as an “antibiotic” in the early stages of a cold or flu is a waste of both money and an endangered plant, especially in light of the fact that “neither conventional nor herbal antibiotics are appropriate for . . . viral conditions” such as the common cold. 

Microbial Effect of Goldenseal

What’s more, Bergner believes that the antimicrobial effect of goldenseal is related to its ability to increase the flow of mucus, which contains antibiotic factors of its own.  This effect is unnecessary in the early stages of a cold, when mucus production is already abundant.  However, Bergner says he does use goldenseal to good effect in stubborn bronchitis and other bacterial respiratory infections. 

Other herbs that contain significant amounts of berberine include Chinese coptis (Coptis chinensis) and barberry (Berberis vulgaris).  Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica), a preferred remedy of traditional healers of the southwestern US, is favored by some modern American herbalists as a substitute for goldenseal when a mucus membrane tonic is needed. 

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The Goldenseal Myth: Masking of Drug Test Results

Old rumors die hard! In a recent six-month period, Natural Healthcare Hotline Information Specialists fielded close to 350 questions on the use of goldenseal as a drug test mask or as a “blood cleanser” to be taken before drug testing – and not a shred of scientific evidence exists to support its use for this purpose.  In fact, a number of studies show that goldenseal is ineffective at masking the outcome of drug tests. 

Apparently, the rumor started with a turn-of-the-century novel by John Uri Lloyd called Stringtown on the Pike, in which goldenseal produced a false positive result in a strychnine test used as evidence in a murder trial.  Following this line of (fictional) reasoning, if goldenseal did affect the outcome of a drug test, it would produce a false positive result, not a false negative.  In any case, modern drug testing methods are quite advanced and are not likely to be foiled one way or another. 

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This article is reprinted with exclusive permission from the Herb Research Foundation www.herbs.org

Goldenseal photo courtesy of NIEHS News: Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 107, Number 12, December 1999

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