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Goldenseal and Oregon Grape.

Date: Tue, 28 May 1996 23:40:30 -0700
Sender: HERB.TREARNPC.EGE.EDU.TR
From: Howie Brounstein <howieb.TELEPORT.COM>
Subject: Goldenseal vs Oregon Grape Root

Nina wrote:
> Please explain why you suggest switching from Goldenseal, and could you provide more info. on the herbs that you suggest using as a replacement.

I have suggested replacing Goldenseal with Oregon Grape Root (OG) for over a decade now. There are quite a few reasons why I have done this. One reason is that Goldenseal is over harvested in the wild. As the years go by, this reason becomes the most valid reason to change. Currently, the demand for Goldenseal appears to be outstripping the supply, and the garden grown alternative crop is lagging way behind the demand.

Goldenseal is not yet endangered. Endangered is a legal word, meaning the plant may become extinct in the foreseeable future. If Goldenseal were legally protected as federally threatened or endangered, it would be illegal to sell. Plants can receive state protection, but I don't know that Goldenseal has. State protection wouldn't stop the herb trade though, as it only affects plants in that one state. We need to be careful of the word endangered. Perhaps if we did all the surveying and paperwork wild Goldenseal could become listed as protected, but the process is clogged with politics, and it would be unlikely to see and protection in a timely manner. So let's say it's "in danger."

Jack wrote:
> I am very lucky by having a pretty good supply of wild golden seal in the timber near by.

Jack is making salve for his family from a nearby stand of Goldenseal, what a lucky guy. Certainly he would never harvest to much. Jack wants to be able to harvest year after year, so that his family and their families will have some as waves of seasons ripple by. He will protect that stand, and adjust his harvesting according to the population size year after year. Folks like him aren't depleting the wild stands .... It's the national and international use.

Oregon Grape Root is Berberis aquifolium (Low land species) or Berberis nervosa (mountain species) in Oregon. Berberis repens grows a bit in Eastern Oregon, but is in small amounts and grows in more fragile ecosystems, so I don't pick it in Oregon ... although in the Rockies it grows in the forest floor in non-fragile ecosystems. In those places it could be harvested ecologically. Mister Moore has said that each Berberis has its own particular specific indications, still there is greatly overlap in their general uses (indications). I use Berberis nervosa because I love where it grows, the forest floor at low to middle elevations in the Cascade Mountain Ranges of Oregon and Washington.

Many folks use the name Mahonia instead of Berberis. You'd think by now everyone would agree on one latin name. That's why we have latin names. But this is not the case. I heard that botanical texts use the term Berberis, and horticultural texts use the term Mahonia. Well, if that's the case, than the botanist's Berberis is the real name, because botanists are real scientists and horticulturalists just garden. Or should I say that the true name is Mahonia, because horticulturalists do the real work with plants while botanical folks are removed from reality like most science, working in the herbarium with theories and clean fingernails. This debate is endless, and an Oregon Grape by any name still tastes just as bad as Goldenseal.


Berberis nervosa grows from thick horizontal roots (actually underground stems, rhizomes). When I harvest it, I break the top portion with some rhizome, and replant. I do this in the rainy seasons, and the forest duff is like a perfect growing medium for the plants. Doing this for many years I have found that the plants regrow readily, tagged plants showing an amazing ability to take hold and regrow, sometimes feet in one year. The rhizome left in the ground, where the roots snap during the harvest, remain the ground and resprout. Berberis is not in any danger of extinction, and is one of the most common ground covers in its ecosystem. In many places it is the dominant shrub of the forest floor.

Berberis nervosa survives clearcuts and partial cuts, and will disappear if you change the amount of moisture in the system, being replaced by Salal (Gaultheria shallon) if the system dries some, Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum) if the area becomes too wet. Drying sometime occurs from logging, but succession eventually shows that the Berberis returns as the forest canopy returns (less light, more retained moisture). I believe Oregon Grape to be completely ethical to harvest. Certainly, we I would hate to see the world's supply of anything come from one geographic area; this often causes extinction or complete removal of a natural resource. However, if any plant was to replace trees in the Economy of the Pacific Northwest, Proper Oregon Grape Root harvesting would be a prime candidate. Would this massive harvesting be done in an ecological way, or will greed show its ugly face, who can say? There is no place for greed when harvesting plants.


Another reason to buy Oregon Grape Root is simple ... it's cheaper. Assuming it is reasonably similar in uses, this is reason enough to purchase it.


OG and Goldenseal have similar constituents. Berberis contains Berberine with some hydrastine; Goldenseal contains hydrastine and berberine. It is not always easy to reduce a whole plant to one or a few constituents, but for this topic of conversation, I will. Berberine is a golden alkaloid responsible for Goldenseal's and Oregon Grape's color. Although I have no references, I am under the assumption that at one time in the past, Goldenseal was cut with OG by unethical folks looking to supplement their stocks. You'd have to test the herb for hydrastine to see if it was truly Goldenseal, and even so, it wouldn't show up as adulterated, just low grade Goldenseal.

We could attribute much of Goldenseal's effects to berberine, though certainly hydrastine plays a major role. I find subjectively that OG has a more gentle action on the body. Goldenseal feels harsh to me, with much more of a chance of liver over stimulation for those with greatly damaged livers. A large therapeutic dosage of Goldenseal makes one feel drugged. A large therapeutic dosage of Oregon Grape makes one feel exactly the opposite ... complete undrugged. Of course this is all totally subjective, but it's subjective observations of many students and herb ingesters.

I feel that Oregon Grape and Goldenseal have essentially the same medicinal uses. Berberine is a clinically proven antibacterial, useful against a wide variety of bacteria. OG is a good first choice for any local or system wide (systemic) bacterial infection. (Earaches, staph, colds and creeping crud). Both herbs have liver stimulating qualities Both can be used internally and externally. Both herbs are bitters. The majority of the uses are exactly the same. Check Michael Moore's specific indications through the teaching manual section of his home page and compare Hydrastis (Goldenseal) and Mahonia. The overlap is remarkable. I'm not going to get into the uses of Oregon Grape and Goldenseal in depth because we could fill pages with it, and it is not the point of this post.

I suggest starting with Oregon Grape, and if it doesn't work, then switch to Goldenseal. I find, however, that in most cases if Oregon Grape doesn't work, than Goldenseal won't work either. In this case you would need to switch to a completely different herb. The only action Goldenseal possibly has that Oregon Grape doesn't is a healing effect on external injuries like cuts. Both herbs will prevent infection as well as Neosporin, but Goldenseal may directly promote healing more.

Realistically, most people take Goldenseal not because it's the best herb for their problem. They take it because it is popular, their friends take it, or it's one of the few herbs that they know. If you just have a cold and someone recommends Goldenseal, Oregon Grape is one of the best replacements.

>However, I have not found it to have the same immune system effects as Golden Seal.

I would like to respond to this, but I'm not exactly sure what immune system effects specifically you are referring to.



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