By Janice Boling
What is the difference between yellowroot and goldenseal? Authors sometimes confuse the two plants, especially in old herbals and other home remedy books. If Latin names or pictures are not used, it’s just a guess which plant the author is actually referring to. Thank goodness, it really doesn’t matter too much because one can substitute for the other.
North Georgia “yeller” root with the long Latin name of Xanthorhiza Simplicissima is kin to the clematis vine. Our local yellowroot has delicate tops, skinny underground stems, fine roots, and grows on shady creek banks. Both the stems and underground roots are used for healing.
Goldenseal is usually found up north in dryer locations. Its Latin name is Hydrastis Canadensis. Goldenseal is a larger plant with much broader leaves and thicker, knobby roots that resemble a tuber. I don’t think I have ever seen any goldenseal growing in North Georgia but yellowroot is common.
Yellowroot and goldenseal do not look anything alike but both plants contain a strong, astringent alkaloid known as berberine (and other similar, active ingredients). Research shows that berberine has anti- bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic activity.
Both plants have been used as medicines for hundreds of years. Although both once grew abundantly all over the eastern United States, much of the wild goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) crop was over harvested and is now close to becoming endangered. So far, Xanthorhiza Simplicissima is still plentiful.
One of the most effective ways to get either plant into the body is with tea. A weak tea can be made with a tablespoon of plant material simmered in two cups of water for ten minutes. Make stronger tea with less water or by adding more plant material.
Yellowroot and goldenseal are used to treat inflammations and infections, improve digestion (as a bitter tonic), to sooth mucus membranes, and to treat ulcers. Yellowroot and goldenseal can lower blood pressure, reduce fat levels in the blood, induce the secretion of bile, and help stop bleeding.
Yellowroot and goldenseal stimulate involuntary muscles in the intestinal tract and uterus. A decoction (tea) is used to stop diarrhea, to relieve constipation, to help liver problems, flatulence, pneumonia, cancer, and rattlesnake bites. Other uses include treating hemorrhoids, mouth sores, gum disease, bladder problems, urinary infections, kidney stones, water retention, acne, sore throats, minor cuts, scrapes, bruises, acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
Yellowroot and goldenseal are used to ease the symptoms of colds, flu, feverish conditions, and hay fever – especially to clear the sinuses and lungs of sticky phlegm, but should not be used when chills are present. When combined with echinacea, astragalus, licorice, or ginseng, yellowroot and goldenseal make a strong tonic that boosts the immune system.
Roots, stems, and bark are used to make tea, tinctures, ointments, and powders. The leaves are usually discarded. Yellowroot grows beside cool, running water in shady wilderness areas and is not easily cultivated in the home garden.
* Do not use yellowroot and/or goldenseal for extended periods (greater than 2 weeks at a time). Do not give yellowroot or goldenseal to children or babies. Over use of yellowroot and goldenseal can slow heart beat (and higher doses can be paralyzing to the central nervous system.) Do not use during pregnancy since berberine stimulates the uterus and may induce abortion. Large doses can also cause nausea, vomiting, depression, nervousness, respiratory problems, hallucinations, and seizures. Consult with your health care provider before using yellowroot or goldenseal especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking other medications. If rashes, hives or shortness of breath develop while using yellowroot or goldenseal, contact your health care provider as soon as possible.
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