top of page

When should you use echinacea or goldenseal instead of the other?

During the cold and flu season, echinacea (Echinacea spp.) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) are well-liked herbal friends. These herbs can aid in the body's recovery process and help with cold and flu symptoms. Goldenseal and echinacea both have antibacterial characteristics, but focusing on just one or two of these uses will prevent you from completely comprehending how effective these two herbs are!

The United Plant Savers At-Risk list includes both echinacea and goldenseal due to habitat destruction and overharvesting (United Plant Savers, 2018). Both plants are listed as threatened or endangered by the federal government or a state, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (USDA, n.d.). The use and sourcing of these plant materials and extracts raise significant ethical questions given the state of these plants today.

In this article, we'll provide advice on when to take echinacea and goldenseal as well as suggestions for more eco-friendly substitutes.


Root, blossom, and leaf of echinacea (Echinacea spp.

Many Native American cultures have knowledge on how to use echinacea. For instance, the Lakota people have a long-standing practice of producing a poultice from the root of E. angustifolia and using it to treat burns, poisonous bites, and wounds. They also use a decoction or tincture of the roots to boost immunity and treat cold and flu symptoms like sore throats (Black Elk & Flying By, 1998). E. pallida has been used by the Cheyenne for centuries. They chew on the root for toothaches and colds, drink a tea made of the roots and leaves for sore throats, and apply a decoction of the root externally to treat burns and fevers (Bernier, 2004).

The most common application of echinacea is to lessen the severity and length of a cold or the flu by easing symptoms (Chevallier, 2016). Double-blind studies have indicated that echinacea extract may minimize the symptoms of a cold, and that taking an echinacea extract at the very first inkling of a cold may shorten its length (Bastyr University Department of Botanical Medicine, 2003). (Bastyr University Department of Botanical Medicine, 2003). Although echinacea has antibacterial components, its main effect is to stimulate the immune system. For this reason, it is advised that you use echinacea as soon as symptoms appear (Bone, 1997).

Cichoric acid, a component of echinacea, has been demonstrated to promote phagocytosis in living things (Bone, 1997). The process by which particular cells in the body devour and destroy microorganisms is known as phagocytosis. The best time to take echinacea is at the first sign of symptoms or if you've recently shared germs with someone who is ill due to its improved ability to eliminate hazardous invaders.

Tincture of echinacea

A tincture or extract of echinacea is preferable to the root's powdered form. Once the plant material has decomposed, certain root components that are susceptible to oxidation will quickly degenerate (Bone, 1997). A decent option is an echinacea tincture produced with 50% alcohol and at least a 1:5 plant to solution ratio (Green, 2002). E. purpurea and E. angustifolia preparations should cause a tingling numbness in the mouth. For the majority of purposes, adults can typically take 2 mL dosages (1:5, 55%) of tincture 3 times per day, as needed, for up to 10 days (ESCOP, 2019; Mount Sinai,n.d.).

If you have access to fresh echinacea, you can also try juicing the plant's aerial parts. Many studies demonstrate how the non-specific cellular immune system is affected by fresh juice made from the aerial sections of E. purpurea. A fresh juice of the aerial parts of echinacea preserved in 22% alcohol by volume was given to participants in one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study who were experiencing the first symptoms of a cold. Participants who received this treatment were less likely to experience full symptoms and recovered in half the time as patients who did not receive the echinacea preparation (American Botanical Council, 2000). Since the life of a plant is not reduced when the tops are harvested, using the plant's aboveground portion is more sustainable than using its roots.

Products containing echinacea may cause adverse reactions in certain persons who have sensitivities to Asteraceae plants. The use of echinacea by those who have autoimmune diseases, persistent infections, or organ transplants raises some theoretical questions (Mount Sinai, n.d.). (Safe Antiviral Herbs for Autoimmune Disease has more information.) This plant is not advised for use by women who are expecting or nursing (Mount Sinai, n.d.). Before using herbs with children, consult a herbalist who has received training in pediatric herbalism (Sinai, n.d.).

The echinacea plant outdoors

Sustainability Issues with Echinacea and Alternatives

Populations of wild echinacea are under pressure due to habitat loss, excessive harvesting because of the plant's appeal, and other factors. Choose companies that get echinacea from sustainable organic farms rather than wild plant stands if you're buying herbal supplements. Thankfully, there are numerous cultivated sources of echinacea due to the high demand for this rare herb (Brinker, 2013).

Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea), another member of the Asteraceae family, is an effective alternative to echinacea. This tropical plant can be cultivated as an annual in a variety of environments. Similar to echinacea, Spilanthes also contains alkamides, which are what give the herb its tingly numbing effect after consumption. In actuality, spilanthes will give you that feeling much more so than echinacea will. Spilanthes has antibacterial components and may also assist in regulating the body's immunological response (Dubey et al., 2013). The aerial parts of this plant are used in traditional preparations, making it considerably more sustainable to harvest and use.

Choose a natural spilanthes dietary supplement. Adults may take up to five 1mL (1:5, 40%) tinctures per day (Bastyr University Department of Botanical Medicine, 2003). There are no known contraindications, but it might aggravate people who are allergic to Asteraceae plants.

Root of goldenseal

Root of the goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Midway through the 1800s, American doctors began employing the root of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), but Native Indians had been doing so for much longer. John D. Hunter, who was raised by Kickapoo people, claimed that this herb was used to treat edema and sore eyes (Hunter, 1823). Goldenseal has long been used by the Cherokee to wash away cuts and sores. It is also applied to oral sores and used as an eye wash (Garrett, 2003).

Similar to echinacea, goldenseal has had its use misunderstood throughout the years. According to Paul Bergner, director of the North American Center for Medical Herbalism, the vast majority of goldenseal offered and purchased is mishandled by customers in both retail and clinical settings (Bergner, 1997). The vitality of its natural populations is already threatened due to the overuse of this herb.

This misunderstanding is largely due to the emphasis placed on the antibacterial effects of the component berberine found in goldenseal roots.

The amount of berberine that can enter our bloodstream through our intestines is not really equivalent to the amount that has been shown to be effective against infections in in vitro experiments. This shows that berberine, at least not in the same way as pharmaceutical antibiotics, does not function as a systemic antibiotic in and of itself. When goldenseal or other commonly used herbs are applied topically or utilized for respiratory or gastrointestinal (GI) purposes, it's possible that extra components and actions are beneficial. Bergner (2007)

In the wild, goldenseal

It is a common misconception that antibiotics are necessary if we have the flu or a cold. Many use goldenseal at far too high doses and at the inappropriate stage of infection because they believe that its main benefit is its antibacterial effect (Bergner, 1997). The main benefit of goldenseal when suffering from upper respiratory infections is its ability to help move stuck-up mucus. Goldenseal promotes the body's mucosal linings to produce more mucus, which helps with tissue cleansing and the release of congestion (Bergner, 1997; Hobbs, 1998).

The traditional usage of berberine-rich plants as mucosal membrane tonics, aiding the protective activities of the secretions of the mouth, throat, stomach, GI tract, and even respiratory system, exists whether or not we benefit from berberine's antibacterial properties. In certain cases, after tasting a berberine-containing plant, you may even feel this impact right away in your sinuses or throat if you have congestion, a raw or irritated throat, whether from coughing, allergies, or continuous nasal drainage.

Goldenseal, in contrast to echinacea, could not be as effective in the early stages of infection while the body is mounting an immune response. As part of the first inflammatory reaction and in an effort to fend off sickness, the body will already be creating an excessive amount of mucus at this point. Goldenseal works best when sinus inflammation and mucus stagnation are severe and remain for more than a few days. Goldenseal aids in transferring heat and reducing excess inflammation in certain situations (Hobbs, 1998).

This herb has the potential to dry up the mucosal membranes when used in higher doses and over longer periods of time. Because this plant encourages the body to use its moisture for mucosal formation, which ultimately causes the body to lose moisture, the drying effect happens (Bergner, 1997).

A tincture of goldenseal root

Purchase and Use of Goldenseal

When buying goldenseal, go for items created from organically grown plants rather than those that were harvested from the wild (keep reading for a sustainable replacement option for goldenseal). Although supplements made from powdered roots have gained some appeal, tinctures are a superior option due to their longer shelf life. Take 1 ml (1:5, 60%) three times each day for no more than a week in adults (Hoffman, 2003).

Before using goldenseal, women who are expecting or nursing should speak with a healthcare provider. Before using goldenseal, anyone with high blood pressure, liver, or heart illness should speak with a doctor. Hydrastis may interfere with certain drugs and their effects (Pengelly et al., 2012). (Pengelly et al., 2012). A healthcare professional who is knowledgeable about drug and herb interactions should be consulted before using by anyone taking prescription medications.

Oregon Grape Root: A More Sustainable Alternative for Goldenseal

Berberine is present in Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium) root, which, like goldenseal, affects the mucosa. Oregon grape root can be used in place of goldenseal root because of its similar composition, energetics, and effects, especially when treating upper respiratory diseases. It would function similarly and, like goldenseal, is most effective when administered in cases of inflammation and stagnant mucus ("Materia Medica Monthly - Vol 7," 2016).

Contraindications and suggestions for when to seek the counsel of a medical expert are similar to those indicated above for goldenseal (Materia Medica Monthly – Vol 7,” 2016). Goldenseal populations are less stressed when Oregon grape root is used instead of goldenseal, and it is also more economical. (Oregon grape root tinctures are about half the investment of goldenseal tinctures.)

Oregon grape root is not on United Plant Savers’ “At-Risk” list like echinacea and goldenseal are. They have it on their "to-watch" list, so we still need to source it carefully and use it appropriately. Look for a company that uses organically grown or, even better, ethically wildcrafted roots to make its tinctures. The easiest method to find out about the credentials and requirements a company has for ethical wildcrafting is to phone and inquire.

The adult dosage for Oregon grape root tincture is 1-4 ml (1:5, 40%) three times a day (Hoffmann, 2003). (Hoffmann, 2003). Like goldenseal, Oregon grape root can have a drying effect on the tissues with long term use (Materia Medica Monthly – Vol 7,” 2016).

Echinacea and goldenseal are both wonderful plant companions that are best appreciated by an understanding of when and how to use them. We may all help to preserve these herbal treasures and use them for our wellness by using them properly, making moral decisions about where to get their plant components or extracts from, and making the proper substitutes. Our allies require our support.

218 views0 comments


bottom of page