Hydrastis (goldenseal) vs. Berberis (Oregon grape).

Date: Mon, 23 Jan 1995 15:20:38 -0500
Sender: Medicinal and Aromatic Plants discussion list <HERB.TREARN.BITNET>
From: Howie Brounstein <HOWIEB.DELPHI.COM>
Subject: Re: Why Valerian root can WAKE YOU UP!

> Hey, she told me something chillling about Goldenseal..the constituent hydrastizine in it can be really toxic to people with liver problems....like a past history of hepatitus, or malaria...I want to hear others comment on this...she said that people have died from it? I always thought it was an herb we should let slip into disuse....

Yeah, she told you the Oregon Grape Rap, slightly modified by exaggeration it seems. I never made goldenseal tincture....despite the obvious finacial benefits, and have pushed OG as a substitute since the early eighties. Back then if folks knew one herb it was goldenseal, no one heard of echinacea (very slow seller). Stores and people would buy OG...and very few OG products were available. Now lots of products have the "Northwest's Goldenseal" nickname for OG.

Alkaloidal chemistry..yum, but so reductionist. Lets remember there are other physioactive constituents in Valerian than the acids, and more alkaloids in these roots than what I'll mention...but briefly:

Goldenseal (hydrastis) contains hydrastine and berberine. OG (berberis) contains berberine (and some other alks). Both, IMHO, are bitters and liver stimulants, the primarly effects of these plants. Hystrastine is a strong, and harsh liver stimulant. Berberine is much less ragged. Simple experiment: Take a therapeutic dose of Goldenseal (3 droppers 3x day) and after a bit you can feel the herb...you feel drugged. Hydrastine. The same test with OG makes you feel very clean and straight..not drugged..exactly the opposite of drugged...liver stimulation without raggedness. I compare hydrastine to cheap speed..it gives you a kick but leaves you (your liver) feeling ragged.

AS far as toxicity...if you have hep, any liver stimulant is toxic. If you overdo any stimulant you're looking to pay the fiddler. Now if you've recovered from hep, both herbs work well for the hep flairup...reducing bilirubin levels. Liver's kinda sluggish, a little kick gets it going. Hydrastine kicks a little more forcefully...with associated metaphorical bruises....berberine is a gentle but forceful push...less ragged. So it makes a good treatment

for those with liver slugs and hangovers. But, if your liver is so screwed that stimulation is just too much for it...watch out. If it's too tired and overworked or extremely damaged...it will freak your liver out. But other than active hep, you'd have to have a REALLY bad organ. I've seen people with less than a liver and no acute infections benefit greatly from OG.

People dying? Will see what turns up on the list here, but I don't know of any personal cases, or even heresay cases. I have seen people get sicker from both....excluding the alterative effects of bringing on a healing crisis that these roots have. But then, medicine is an art, not just a science, and any wrong treatment may make things worse.

Of course, I've seen people take Goldenseal everyday like a vitamin. We can politely refer to them as the yellow people....jaundice from liver probs. Goldenseal, OG, and Ech for that matter shouldn't be in multivites or treated as such.

I always recommend OG over Goldenseal, because from a chemical standpoint, try the gentler herb first..than switch to goldenseal later if OG doesn't work. In reality, if OG doesn't work, goldenseal probably won't either, and you're better off taking a different approach completely. OG is also antibacterial for a wide range of general infections, and I consider it THE alterative of choice (like a broad spectrum antibiotic) for a general infection. I like it much better than ECH for the average cold. Personal opinion that goes against the trends based on experience.

Certainly, other alteratives are better than OG for specific problems and symptoms....like Angelica Root for a general cold that leaves your body cold feeling with and upset stomach just before the beginning of a sluggish period. Angelica would deal with all those itself.

Other comparisons on Goldenseal and OG:

  • OG is cheaper.
  • OG is local (here in the Northwest only)
  • Goldenseal has conservation issues, OG is plentiful, not sensitive, and according to my studies, stands of OG can actually increase in size through proper harvesting methods, or at least regrow well from improper harvesting methods (like those OG poachers who harvested right on the Mckenzie River Trail near the hot springs the other year..
    ATTENTION WOULD-BE WILDCRAFTERS: Get a clue, not on the trail, replant the tops with a bit a root, clean up after yourself, and Gosh, if you walk just over that little ridge 50 feet away you will not be in the Wild and Scenic River set-aside stretch)
  • Goldenseal has been cut with OG in the past. Can you tell? There both the same color.

Well, enough said. I'm off to see how strong the South American Species of Berberis is.

C & W Herbs