Hydrastis. Hydrastis canadensis.

Botanical name: 

[Golden seal (Hydrastis) is endangered. Don't use it unless you know it's cultivated, not wildcrafted. --Henriette]

Synonyms—Golden seal, Yellow puccoon.


Specific Medicine Hydrastis , alcoholic, contains a bitter coloring principle, berberine, and the white alkaloids, hydrastine and canadine, and resinous and oily principles. Dose, from one to ten minims.
Colorless Hydrastis, non-alcoholic, contains the colorless alkaloids and the inorganic salts dissolved in glycerine and water.
Extractum Hydrastis Fluidum, Fluid Extract of Hydrastis. Dose, three to twenty minims.
Extractum Hydrastis, Inspissated Extract, Extract of Hydrastis. Dose, one to five grains.
Tincture of Hydrastis. Dose, from twenty minims to two drams.
Hydrastis Pulvis, Powdered Hydrastis. Dose, from three to fifteen grains.
Berberine (Hydrastin, yellow). Dose from one-half to five grains.
Hydrastine (white). Dose, from one-tenth of a grain to three grains.
Berberine, Hydrastine, Canadine.

Physiological Action—In its influence upon the nervous system, this agent has stimulating properties in part analogous to those of strychnine. Its influence is more slowly developed and more permanent. In extreme doses it blunts the sensibility of the terminal nerve filaments, and convulsions have resulted from its use.

It stimulates the respiration and circulation, imparting tone and increased power to the heart's action, increasing arterial tension and capillary blood pressure. It influences blood stasis similarly to ergot and belladonna.

The tone imparted to the muscular structure of the heart differs from that imparted by strychnine in being permanent and not spasmodic or intermittent in character. It influences muscular structure everywhere in the system in the same manner. It stimulates normal fibrillar contractility and increased tonus, encouraging the nutrition of muscular structure. It inhibits the development of superfluous muscular tissue and abnormal growth within that structure. It is thus most valuable in altered conditions of the heart muscle.

In its influence upon the gastro-intestinal tract it is tonic, restorative and soothing in its action. It promotes the appetite, increases the secretion of the gastric and intestinal juices and conduces to a restoration of the normal condition. It increases peristaltic action and general muscular tonus in the structure of walls of the stomach and intestines.

The alkaloids have been given in sufficient quantities to produce death in the lower animals in experimental investigation, but it cannot be considered toxic in medicinal doses. It produces convulsive action, followed by decreased irritability of the vagus, the blood pressure is suddenly decreased and the heart fails in diastole.

Its elimination is comparatively active and is largely accomplished through the kidneys.

Therapy—In its therapeutic influence its widest range of action is upon the stomach, in functional disorders of that organ. It is the most natural of stimulants to the normal function of digestion. Its influence upon the mucous surfaces renders it most important in catarrhal gastritis and gastric ulceration. It supersedes all known remedies as a local, and also as a constitutional tonic when this condition is present.

In administering this remedy, if there be irritation, the fluid and less bulky preparations are preferable. If there be marked atonicity with inactivity of the stomach and lack of nerve sensibility, the powdered drug in five grain doses is the most useful. This increases the tone, reduces abnormal secretion, stimulates normal excretion, promotes the appetite and increases the quantity of the digestive juices, and thus favors the digestion. It is most excellent in indigestion—in such cases, acting in a more rational manner than the digestives which have no influence beyond that immediately exercised upon the food within the stomach.

In extremely irritable conditions a solution which contains one or two drops of the specific hydrastis, or the colorless hydrastis, or in extreme cases the one-twelfth to the one-fourth of a grain of the sulphate of hydrastine or of the hydrochlorate of hydrastine is preferable to large doses of hydrastine or the powdered hydrastis. In some cases powders, or the precipitated principle, will irritate the stomach, producing weight, distress or even mild pain if the stomach is empty. In such cases it is best given after a little food has been taken, or in conjunction with the subnitrate, or the oxide of bismuth, or with a digestive if the stomach contains food.

In those cases of atonic dyspepsia, where the entire apparatus, including the liver, is stagnant and inoperative, one-fourth of a teaspoonful of the fluid hydrastis or of the colorless hydrastis dissolved in water will restore a normal condition of the glands and oil the entire mucous membranes.

The agent relieves the chronic constipation of plethora or muscular inactivity in relaxed, inactive, feeble cases. Its influence is encouraged by combination with nux vomica. It overcomes hepatic congestion in such cases and catarrh of the gall ducts. It may be combined with podophyllum, leptandra or iris.

It is a most superior remedy in the atonic conditions of these organs in chronic alcoholism., and if combined with large doses of capsicum and with forced nutrition, will in great part supply the demand for alcoholics and assist in the cure of the disease. It acts as strychnine does in the cure, and may be most beneficially given in combination with that agent.

The tonic and nerve strengthening properties of this agent have long been utilized by the writer in all cases of general debility and nerve prostration, especially if associated with the conditions of the digestive and assimilative organs named. It is an admirable restorative tonic. It is demanded in convalescence from protracted fevers and debilitating inflammation, and as a general restorative after overwork, in the condition known as a complete "breaking down."

The usual manner of prescribing it is to give a grain of hydrastine, two grains of the bisulphate of quinine, one grain of the carbonate of iron and one-fourth of a grain of capsicum in a capsule every three hours, after eating something simple, that the stomach may not be entirely empty. The improvement is remarked by the patient usually from the first. It is a simple tonic, but has no superior. In some plainly indicated cases, the quinine salt may be replaced with one-fourth of a grain of nux vomica.

The influence of the agent is certainly direct upon the central nervous system, promoting a normal circulation and increasing its nutrition. It will yet be found applicable in the treatment of cerebral engorgements of a chronic character, and in the treatment of hyperaemia of those organs, in the cases in which ergot is used.

It is valuable in from one-fourth to one-half teaspoonful doses of the fluid Hydrastis, or colorless Hydrastis, in water, in prostrating night sweats.

In its power over the nutrition of muscular structure, it is a most important remedy in many disorders of the womb. It produces contraction of the unstriped muscular fibers, slowly but permanently stimulating the removal of excess of growth. In parturition it is not so immediate or forceful as ergot, but acts mildly in the same manner. In uterine subinvolution, in menorrhagia or metrorrhagia from this cause, it is the best remedy we have.

It is useful also in post-partum hemorrhage, but is rather slow in its action when immediate results are demanded. In the incipient stage of the development of tumors within the uterine structure, or fibroid growths, it is not excelled by ergotine. It may be used hypodermically in these cases, and its results are comparatively permanent.

In the treatment of cancer or scirrhus of the breast Dr. Hale has had excellent results from the use of this remedy. He uses the mother tincture in conjunction with conium, giving five drops at a dose three or four times a day, the hydrastis before, the conium after meals. He says: "Sometimes, I mix them and give ten drops of the mixture three times a day."

Hydrastis is directly indicated where the tumors are hard and painful; conium where they are small, hard and painless. Where the swelling is soft or undulated and painful on pressure, and pain extending into the axilla, we find phytolacca in the same doses better than either. Sometimes, all three remedies are good together, and none of them is valuable in the open cancer. The remedies must be continued a long time to make a decided impression, and their effect is even increased by the same remedies being applied externally in the form of a plaster.

In all catarrhal conditions, especially if there be muscular relaxation and general enfeeblement, it is a useful remedy. It may be given internally and used locally. It is used locally in solution and is of much value as an application wash, irrigating fluid or gargle in all such catarrhal, ulcerating, aphthous, indolent and otherwise unhealthy conditions of mucous surfaces. Its application to nasal catarrh has been mentioned. It is a most useful gargle in aphthous or ulcerated sore mouth, in conditions where the gums are spongy or loosened from the teeth or bleed easily. In diphtheria and in tonsillitis as a gargle it is extremely useful.

Ten minims of a fluid preparation, to the ounce, may be used, or a solution of the hydrochlorate of hydrastine in nasal catarrh, in inflammation of the eyes and in gonorrhea One grain of the hydrochlorate in an ounce of rose water, with or without five grains of the sulphate of zinc, is of superior value in purulent conjunctivitis. The same preparation, diluted, is useful in gonorrhea Five drops of the solution in a dram of warm water is the proper strength. The colorless hydrastis in a solution with a small quantity of the potassium chlorate is sometimes superior in nasal catarrh. It is most serviceable in this condition if dilute.

It is the best of washes in leucorrhea, whatever the cause, and it can be used freely without danger and in various strengths—from one dram to three, to the pint of hot water. It is of much service when the discharge is thick, yellow, and the membranes relaxed and feeble. In simple cases half a dram to the pint is beneficial.

It forms an excellent wash in eczema of the anus, with ulcers or fissures within the rectum. Its use may be followed with the application of a zinc ointment, with twenty-five per cent its weight of bismuth subnitrate. In mild solutions of the hydrochlorate of the alkaloid one-fourth grain to the ounce, it is serviceable in catarrh of the bladder, as an irrigating fluid.

We find in addition to the tonic influence of this remedy, that it has been used in a number of cases of gall stone, with curative results. Professor Farnum claims to have cured a number of cases with the powdered hydrastis. The cases which he regards amenable to this treatment are, first, ordinary cases of cholelithiasis, where the symptoms are transient and not severe; second, acute inflammatory cases, usually attended with fever, and catarrhal conditions of the gall ducts; third, cases ordinarily called biliary colic. Those, of course, where organic change has not taken place, or where the stones are not impacted, in the gall bladder or in the ducts. He uses it as an efficient remedy in catarrhal jaundice where there is no pain to indicate the presence of gall stones in the ducts. This is in harmony with its influence on general catarrhal conditions of the gastro-intestinal tract.

Goss claimed that it had direct catalytic power, and aided the digestion, while it corrected the biliary function. It restores the mucous lining of the gall duct, in the same manner that it influences other mucous surfaces.

Cuthberton gave hydrastis canadensis as a tonic to a pregnant woman who had a goitre of recent appearance. The goitre was promptly cured. As a result of this observation, he treated twenty-five other cases of goitre at the time of puberty, or during the pregnant state. At times when interference with the function of the reproductive organs seemed to produce reflex irritation. He claims that every case was cured by this remedy. He gave the agent from six weeks to three months, three times a day after eating. One of the patients had become steadily worse under the use of iodine, the iodides, and thyroid extract. This patient began to improve as soon as hydrastis was given, and was promptly cured with this remedy alone.

Webster calls attention to the influence of hydrastis upon the mammary gland. It has been reported as a remedy for mammary cancer, but its more satisfactory influence is upon painful fulness of the mammary gland, during the menstrual period, or for the treatment of local enlargements occurring more or less suddenly, of a benign character, either in maiden ladies or at the menopause.

There is an abundance of authority for the use of hydrastis in conjunction with conium maculatum, in the treatment of non-malignant mammary tumors. The two agents combined seem to have an influence that neither possesses alone. Two minims each of these two remedies, in the specific form, was given by Webster before meals and at bed time, in these cases, with satisfactory results. The doctor reports in detail quite a number of cases which were relieved or cured by this treatment.

The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 1919, was written by Finley Ellingwood, M.D.
It was scanned by Michael Moore for the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.