Monday, 6 February 2017

Goldenseal - a misunderstood miracle worker

When I found tiny bags of goldenseal powder (Hydrastis canadensis) at the little health food store in the village of Killaloe, I was delighted.

You don't see goldenseal available that way very often anymore, it's all in capsule or tincture form, adulterated and/or mixed into inappropriate formulae. That's a shame. When I expressed my joy on finding the 'real deal' to the lady who runs the store, saying "I don't use goldenseal more than every few years, but when you need it, you need it!", she nodded deeply. There is nothing quite like it.

What's it for? Well, it's a healer, that's for sure. As the name implies, goldenseal seals. It's also antibacterial, so for infected sores, especially in the mouth or mucous membranes (it can be used as a vaginal wash or an eyewash), it's often exactly what you need. Tonsillitis responds well to a gargle with tea made from the powder, as do lesser 'gunky' throat and sinus issues. Above all, goldenseal is fantastic for relieving abdominal bloat with constipation. The rarely mentioned - but troubling - symptom of a sore, swollen, coated tongue with scalloped edges, which often accompanies certain types of digestive disorders, is relieved by goldenseal too.

Goldenseal is good stuff.



The first rule of goldenseal usage - as far as I'm concerned - should be "try something else first". If it's bloat, try a cup of chamomile tea. If it's a mouth issue, try rinsing with sage or saltwater. If it's gunky sinuses, try mullein. If it's a vaginal issue, try yoghurt (yoghurt, inserted in the vagina, cures just about anything that can go wrong 'down there') and put apple cider vinegar in your daily bath.

Most of the time, there is something you can use, should use, before you bring out the big guns of goldenseal. In fact, there are many herbalists who flat out won't recommend its use because it is so often mis- or over-used, but I disagree with that. Better to teach its proper use than dismiss such a valuable remedy entirely.

The second rule of goldenseal - as far as every experienced herbalist I know of is concerned - is LESS = MORE. A little goes a long way. More is NOT better. This isn't something you sprinkle in a smoothie or down multiple capsules of because some gut goddess says you should.

Goldenseal, in too strong a formulation or used for too long, can wipe out your friendly gut bacteria as effectively as any pharmaceutical. Goldenseal is extremely drying, and that can wreak havoc on the mucous membranes - you do NOT want to do that to your eyes, sinuses or lady bits. That same drying can cause painfully dry stools. Goldenseal - like comfrey - should never be used on deep wounds or serious burns, as it will seal the wound before it has a chance to drain, leading to abscess and possible blood poisoning.

Commercial preparations of goldenseal - ie teabags, capsules and tinctures - are most often made with the whole plant. It's the root that is effective, leaf has little to no medicinal value. Maybe, for once, that's a good thing, making it more difficult to overdo it with this potent medicine. But it also makes it impossible to get the dosage exactly right, and when you need goldenseal, you need goldenseal, the real thing, in the appropriate dosage. If you want to work with this plant you must buy the root powder, only, or if you can find tincture, make sure it says "root" in the fine print. If it says "herb" or "plant", you're getting the above ground parts and you're being ripped off.

Goldenseal is hellishly expensive - and that's how it should be. If you find it for cheap, it's not real goldenseal. The plant is endangered almost to the point of extinction in the wild. So avoid buying any goldenseal marketed as "wild crafted". You want organically-grown domestic roots. If you can find the whole roots, go for it, but the powder is actually easier to work with. Goldenseal powder lasts for an unusually long time before it loses its 'oomph'. I rarely use it, so my supply is often over a decade old and it's fine.

Goldenseal is very, very bitter, with a slightly sweet note to the aftertaste. The taste is extremely important, another reason not to use capsules. The taste of goldenseal is the message, it gets the saliva going instantly. Saliva is the first of our digestive juices, and I cannot stress enough how important it is for them to be 'online' for the whole digestive system to work. It's often said about goldenseal (and I agree) that when we need it, that bitter taste is oddly delicious. When we don't, it is foul. So in working with goldenseal, this is how we know when it's appropriate, or we've had enough - how we react to the taste.

I've never used goldenseal tincture, so I cannot speak to dosage in that form (the links below will help there). I use the powder, following Jethro Kloss' (Back to Eden, 1939) recommendation of "a small teaspoon steeped (not boiled) in a pint of boiling water". When cooled, you pour off the liquid, and dilute further for use, as needed. A teaspoon by mouth of the undiluted tea, an hour before meals, can be all that is needed for internal use.

Further reading:

jim mcdonald as part of an excellent piece where he also discusses echinacea and others.

Matthew Wood - an except from google books, you may have to scroll up to find the beginning of the article.

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