Hydrastis, or goldenseal, is the dried rhizome and roots of Hydrastis canadensis (Fam. Ranunculaceae), yielding, when assayed, not less than 2.5 per cent. of hydrastine. It is a small herb of the eastern United States.


Three alkaloids: hydrastine, 2.5 per cent.; berberine, 3 to 4 per cent., and a little canadine; in addition, some resinous material.


Hydrastis, 30 grains (2 gm.). Fluidextract (2 per cent hydrastine), 30 minims (2 c.c.). Glycerite (1.2 per cent. hydrastine), 30 minims (2 c.c.). Tincture (0.4 per cent. hydrastine), 1 dram (4 c.c.). Hydrastine and hydrastine hydrochloride, 1/6 grain (0.01 gm.). The hydrochloride is freely soluble in water and alcohol.

Pharmacologic Action


It has a slightly astringent action, and in some sections is employed as a stimulant of mucous membranes in chronic catarrhal conditions, as of nose, throat, urethra, and vagina.

Alimentary Tract

It has a bitter effect upon appetite. Through a central action it increases the motor and secretory activity of the stomach and promotes intestinal peristalsis. Large doses cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Nervous System

On the medulla and cord hydras tine acts mildly like strychnine, stimulating slightly the respiratory, vagus, and vasoconstrictor centers and increasing reflex irritability. Very large doses cause tonic and clonic convulsions, incoordination, and depression of the medullary centers.


Locally applied, it first contracts then dilates the pupil.


Lieb says that after a momentary and negligible rise small doses produce a slight but persistent fall in arterial pressure. The heart rate is practically unchanged.

In poisoning, the centers are depressed, and the heart becomes slow and feeble from direct action on the cardiac muscle. At the same time the muscles in the arterioles become depressed and the vessels dilate; hence blood-pressure is very low. It differs materially from strychnine, as this tendency to depress the heart is manifested before convulsions come on.


Ordinarily, the respiratory center is stimulated; but in poisoning it is depressed, and death takes place from asphyxia brought on by paralysis of the respiratory center or by the convulsions.


Muscular tissue of all kinds (except perhaps the uterus) is primarily stimulated, then depressed.


Hydrastis resembles ergot in its tendency to increase the normal contraction of the uterus, but it is much less powerful in bringing about contraction of the postpartum uterus. In menorrhagia or metrorrhagia from fibroids, subinvolution, or relaxed uterus, it may arrest hemorrhage. The uterine effect is due to both the hydrastine and the berberine.


Hydrastine is excreted in the urine as such, no hydrastinine being formed in the body. Slight amounts also appear in the saliva and feces.


Hydrastis has been much employed locally in chronic catarrh of nose, throat, urethra, and vagina. Owing to the large amounts of bitter alkaloids, it is a powerful bitter. It is also employed in postpartum hemorrhage, subinvolution, menorrhagia, and metrorrhagia, whether caused by fibroids or not.