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Herbs in eco-crisis. Goldenseal at high risk of extinction.

Wednesday October 3, 2018

The increasing popularity of herbal remedies is putting extreme stress on some well-loved but vulnerable herbs. A perennial herb native to the North American region, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is a popular component of traditional herbal medicine. With the rhizomes and roots of the plant used to target an array of ailments, including inflammation, digestive issues, cardiovascular disorders and eye conditions, goldenseal’s promising benefits caused a rapid increase in demand in the 1900s. 

However, with goldenseal’s population dramatically declining due to over-cultivation and urban exploitation, it faces a high risk of extinction in the wild and is now labelled as a globally vulnerable herb. An assessment conducted by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) showed that the population of goldenseal has dropped by a substantial 30% over the past three generations of the plant. In Canada, less than 5% of goldenseal’s forest habitat remains (1).

According to research, the active alkaloid called berberine, found in goldenseal, may be the source of its benefits. Berberine exhibits antifungal and antibacterial properties, which explains why goldenseal is used to remedy a broad spectrum of conditions (2)

Although goldenseal is one of the top-selling herbal remedies, the number of products will likely decline as restrictions have been implemented to reduce the harvesting of this herb. As a vulnerable plant, it is critical to protect wild goldenseal to conserve its place in our wildlife.



Instead of exploiting goldenseal, other herbs also contain naturally occurring berberine that can contribute the same health benefits. Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), native to the Pacific coast of North America, is an abundant herb that has gained interest for its therapeutic potential   (3).


Tougher and more resilient than goldenseal, Oregon grape can withstand harsh weather conditions. Also containing therapeutic amounts of berberine, Oregon grape has been used historically for applications similar to that of goldenseal. Due to exerting anti-infective effects, Oregon grape may additionally be used to support the treatment of chronic skin conditions, fever, and bacterial infections (3-5)

As demand for goldenseal continues to exceed supply, it is important to switch to alternative herbs that are similar in chemical composition, in order to protect what is left of this over-stretched plant. Oregon grape can be used as a natural alternative to goldenseal, and contains the same active compound (berberine) that individuals seek for the treatment of health conditions.


 Author: Salma Dawood is a Technical Advisor at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Human Nutrition.

1)      IUCN Red list, Available at:
2)    Scazzocchio F, Corneta MF, Tomassini L, Palmery M. Antibacterial activity of Hydrastis canadensis extract and its major isolated alkaloids. Planta Med 2001;67:561-4. View abstract.
3)    Cernakova, M. and Kostalova, D. Antimicrobial activity of berberine--a constituent of Mahonia aquifolium. Folia Microbiol.(Praha) 2002;47(4):375-378.
4)    Donsky, H. and Clarke, D. Relieva, a Mahonia aquifolium extract for the treatment of adult patients with atopic dermatitis. Am.J.Ther. 2007;14(5):442-446.
5)    Klovekorn, W., Tepe, A., and Danesch, U. A randomized, double-blind, vehicle-controlled, half-side comparison with a herbal ointment containing Mahonia aquifolium, Viola tricolor and Centella asiatica for the treatment of mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis. Int.J.Clin.Pharmacol.Ther. 2007;45(11 :583-591.

The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.


TAGS: Nutrition News and ViewsGoldenseal, Oregon Grape Root


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