Wednesday, November 9, 2011

our golden girl, goldenseal

Goldenseal is an herb I've been familiar with for years, if only because it happens to appear in many herbal remedies and concoctions. My mom has snuck it into many a tea and salve, and I carry a little tin of Golden Salve containing goldenseal root with me in my travel first-aid kit. I'll be heading to the store to find it in a dried root form for some tea I'll be making later today.

Goldenseal is prized for its yellow, knotty root. From this root grows a hairy purple stem from which two leaves with 5-7 lobes grow. One plant will bear a single white flower which later matures into a fruit which is reminiscent of a raspberry, which carries 10-30 seeds inside. It is a humble, slow-growing plant which is definitely not showy but which is very valuable nonetheless.

Why is it so prolific and valuable in Western herbal medicine?

goldenseal in bloom

First off, goldenseal is known traditionally to act as an antimicrobial agent. It contains berberine, which has been found to kill many kinds of bacteria, including those that cause diarrhea, yeast and urinary tract infections, and and various parasites such as tapeworms.  This substance also activates white blood cells, strengthening the immune system. Berberine can also be found in Oregon grape, yellow root, phellodendron, and barberry, and those herbs can sometimes serve as a substitute if you are looking for a dose of berberine.

Goldenseal is also an alterative which affects our mucous membranes. This is a new word to my vocabulary too! Alterative means that it either lessens excess mucous flow or increases deficient flow. According to a scientific study by Rabbini, this helps to increase healthy fresh mucous flow which contains its own antibodies. Goldenseal itself does not actually affect bad bacteria on its own but helps the body to fight bad bacteria with its own defense system.

Goldenseal can be used to boost the benefits of other herbs even in small amounts. It has a bitter taste and aids in digestion and stimulates the appetite.

!!!!CAUTION!!!!:  According to Paul Bergner, goldenseal should be used with caution. It should be used in circumstances where there is yellow or green phlegm. It should not be used in early stages of an upper respiratory infection or when there are more chills than fever. It should not be used for longer than two weeks. Goldenseal can reduce the absorption of vitamin B, an important vitamin for daily health. Also avoid goldenseal during pregnancy and breast-feeding.

As always, make sure that you know what an herb does and never over-do any kind of herbal treatment. Herbs are good, but moderation is a must!

goldenseal berry-looks like a raspberry!

Now, goldenseal root is the part of the goldenseal plant that is used for herbal treatments, and I'll have to admit, it is rather expensive as I discovered when I tried to purchase some dried root at the nearest natural food store. Instead of getting a bag of loose root, I ended up purchasing a box of $12 tea which I'll dole out according to when I need it.

Goldenseal is so expensive for a couple of reasons, according to research done by the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. First, it takes years for the root to mature, making prices unstable depending on the year. Also, wild-growing goldenseal has become an endangered species due to over-harvesting and habitat destruction. It's important to learn about the source of any goldenseal you purchase. Always purchase certified organic cultivated goldenseal because it is so scarce.
 this is not a neti pot... but nice try Dwight!

As for goldenseal recipes, it is always best when mixed into other remedies. This week, I used goldenseal in a remedial tea for a yeast infection along with mullien, raspberry leaf, and sage. These three herbs were mixed 2 parts each to 1/2 part goldenseal root. However, instead of searching for the dried root I recommend purchasing a good goldenseal tincture for times when a spalsh of goldenseal may serve you.

Try goldenseal tincture in your Neti pot when suffering from a sinus infection. Herbalist Jim McDonald  5-15 drops 2-3 times a day in your Neti pot for a stuffy nose. I'm going to try this one this winter for sure!

If you need some additional resources, try these:

University of Maryland's Complementary Medicine Program- Goldenseal
Jim McDonald-Surviving Sinitus

And remember, goldenseal is best in small doses and in moderation! Enjoy!

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