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Astragalus: An Immune-boosting Herb

Aug 17, 2007
Goldenseal or Hydrastis canadenis is one of the most popular herbs sold on the American market. But why is it so popular? What are its benefits? And where is the science to back it up? But the answers to those questions do not have the same impact as the more pressing question of whether there is enough supply, especially of wild-harvested root, to meet the demand.

Goldenseal is a medicinal plant native to America. The Cherokee Indians were reported to be the first people who introduced it to the early settlers. Goldenseal was used as a Native American remedy to treat skin diseases, wounds, and sore, inflamed eyes. The roots of the Goldenseal are bright and yellow, hence its name.

For decades, goldenseal root has been used to treat all sorts of illnesses and disorders. It has acquired a considerable reputation as a natural antibiotic and as a remedy for various gastric and genitourinary disorders.

As far back as the 1800s, goldenseal was referenced plenty of times in medical writings. According to Benjamin Smith Barton's Essays Towards a Materia Medica of the United States which was published in three parts from 1798 to 1804, goldenseal was a Cherokee folk cancer remedy. Incidentally, this observation made by Barton in 1788 is one of the earliest observations of the occurrence and treatment of cancer among American Indian groups.

By the late 1700s, goldenseal was a popular strong tea for indigestion. The bitter drink helped stimulate digestion and improve the appetite. Following the Indians, it was used as a decoction to treat skin inflammations and those of the eyes. Its popularity as a herbal antibiotic has continued up to this day. Today, goldenseal is used to treat symptoms of the cold and flu. It is also used as an astringent, antibacterial remedy for the mucous membranes of the body.

The Plant

Goldenseal is an herbaceous perennial plant that is long-lived. It is commonly found in deep woods or dense forested areas. The horizontal rhizome creeps beneath the rich forest detritus, resembling a small, crooked finger. When in perfect condition, goldenseal rhizome becomes clump-like with a dense crown and multiple buds. Extending from the rhizome are fibrous rooflets. The root of the goldenseal is the main part used for herbal remedies. Its yellow color makes it distinct from all other look-alike plants and it is also attributed to the prevalence of the main antimicrobial constituent present, berberine.

Health Benefits

Many combination formulas of other herbs use goldenseal as it is reported to improve the potency of other herbs. Preparations have been marketed for the treatment of menstrual disorders, urinary infections, rheumatic and muscular pain and as an antispasmodic or as a cure to relieve the spasms commonly experienced by patients with epilepsy.

Berberine and hydrastine are alkaloids found in goldenseal. They are attributed with the potency of the herb. Similar in action, berberine and hydrastine destroy many types of bacterial and viral infections. These alkaloids can also reduce gastric inflammation and relieve congestion. The alkaloid berberine is the bitter substance that makes the plant a good aid for digestion and as a sedative on the central nervous system.

Buying Information

Goldenseal is considered generally safe when taken as directed. However, the herb is potent enough that most dieticians recommend it in small doses only. The most popular products are liquid extracts and capsules containing the whole dried herb. Since the herb is most potent when used in combination with other products, it's good if you look for Echinacea, garlic, and elderberry in the label before buying.
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