Ontario Herbalists Association

Promoting safe & natural healing with plants since 1982

The Government of Ontario is taking a stand for species at risk, and so
should herbalists and other alternative health practitioners
by Marianne Beacon
Student of International College of Herbal Medicine
Third Year Research Paper
Submitted July 20, 2008

endangered or threatened in all of the provinces and states where it was once bountiful. American
ginseng is listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and global trade
in wild-harvested root is regulated. (Cech, p.1) In Ontario, this plant is considered endangered on
the SARO list.
There are Triterpene saponins called ginsenosides or panaxosides which give American
Ginseng its special qualities. These special saponins are adaptogenic, which means they help the
body to adapt to stress by normalizing function of multiple body systems. These effects can be felt
on the immune, nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine and digestive systems. Ginseng is well known
for improving physical and mental performance while decreasing stress and disease.(Gladstar, ed.,
p. 106) This plant also has a bitter principal relayed by sesquiterpenes. Sesquiterpenes can be
local anaesthetic, antibacterial and antifungal in activity. (Pengelly, p. 62) These are constituents
which have been analyzed, but the actions and personality of the plant will help us further when
trying to determine how to replace this jewel. One of the special things about Ginseng is that it
works in a non-specific way to tonify the whole system. It is best used in very small doses
regularly over a long period of time, particularly if in combination with other herbs. (Elliot, p. 23)
The saponins in American Ginseng tend to have a depressant effect on the central nervous system,
making it more relaxing and less stimulating than the Chinese counterpart, Panax ginseng.
(Cabrera, p. 284) Often these two plants are used together, but in the atmosphere of the day, one
would want to be very precise about choosing Panax quinquefolius.
To begin with, the only ethical way to use Panax quinquefolius is from a guaranteed
cultivated source. This is exemplified with organic growing principals. Although, in the past, this
plant may have been added to many formula to make the whole formula work better, perhaps we
should save it for special cases. (Winston, p. 133) High doses are clearly not appropriate, as they
have been reported to cause depression, insomnia, nervousness and high blood pressure. Also,
combining with certain pharmaceutical drugs (especially antipsychotics, stimulants, antidepressants
and narcotic relaxants) is also not appropriate, as Ginseng may alter the effect of these medications.
Thirdly, Ginseng can have an overstimulating effect if taken with coffee, so is contraindicated.
(Gladstar, ed., p. 107) These conditions may exclude usage of this plant with some people.
Ginseng shows it’s shining self when used with the debilitated or elderly. (Elliot, p. 23) Using
this plant with people who are young and relatively healthy may be wasting it’s full potential. It is
possible for more vibrant people to gain sufficient benefit from less potent plants. With weak or
elderly people, in small doses, with ethically and legally produced products, American Ginseng
may still be appropriate to use.
Finding Alternatives to American Ginseng
“Taking a dose of Ginseng every day because you feel run-down after
lunch is counter productive to the herbalist’s goal of living in a state of
healthy balance. When used properly, Ginseng is an extremely useful
medicinal device” (Tilford, p. 38-9)
There are numerous situations which call for adaptogenic support, so what other herbs can
we use in place of this veritable panacea? Ideally, the practitioner interviews the client thoroughly,
and takes clear case notes, in which case herbal options can become specific. Clearly, a herbal
student will see that there are many tonic herbs from which to choose. Hawthorn for the
cardiovascular system, Milky Oats or St. John’s Wort for the nervous system, Echinacea for the
immune system, Dandelion and Milk Thistle for the digestive system names a few of our tonifying
plant friends. It is always admirable to be able to support a body with nutritive herbal tonics
readily available to us. It is possible (and OK) to use a combination of plants to replace the variety
of actions that our special ‘at risk’ plant covers. When looking for the more specific action of
adaptogen, again, we have many choices, even within the plants commonly used by Western
Herbal medicine. The United Plant Savers (UpS), an organization spearheaded by Rosemary
Gladstar in the USA, recommends four plants to use instead of American Ginseng: Panax ginseng
(Red or White Ginseng), Eleutherococcus senticosus (Eleuthro, formerly known as Siberian
Ginseng), Astragalus membranaceus (Astragalus) or Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha).
(Gladstar, ed., p. 109)
Panax ginseng (Red or White Ginseng)
: triterpenoid saponins, ginsenosides or panaxosides, panaxanes
Panax Ginseng is one of the great tonic remedies, feeding chi and restoring vitality. It is
quite stimulating, but supportive, and is often used with adrenal depletion – those weak from
exhaustion. Panax has a focus on the cardiovascular system and can be quite heating in nature.
Red Ginseng (cured by steaming) is the most warming, whereas White Ginseng is less stimulating.
Even so, this plant should be avoided in people who are quite anxious, insomniac, have high blood
pressure or a tendency to use coffee. Ginseng is contraindicated to be used with Warfarin, and
may effect medications which lower blood sugar levels and antidepressants such as monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Panax generally comes from cultivated sources. (Winston, p. 142-6)
Eleuthrococcus senticosis (Eleuthro)
: Eleuthrosides A to G
Eleuthrococcus is a tonic for chi in general and specifically for the spleen and kidneys. It is
appropriate for any person despite age or gender. It will not cause over stimulation. It can work
on the cardiovascular system, strengthens the immune system, and increases endurance and
stamina. It is often used by athletes as it also speeds recovery and prevents immune depletion from
excessive training. Overall, it is a nervine and can improve the quality of sleep. It can be used for
ADHD, chronic fatigue, jet lag or adrenal fatigue. It is important, with this herb, to trust your
sources. At times, this plant had been adulterated with other species or mis-identified leading to
some toxic effects (rare). (Winston, p. 158-60)
Astragalus membranaceus (Astragalus)
: immune stimulating polysaccharides (astragalans I, II, and III and glucuronic acid), astragalosides
I to VII and isoflavones
Astragalus is mildly adaptogenic. It is considered a tonic for the spleen and enhances
immune system function. It has been shown to inhibit tumor growth and can reduce the side
effects (while enhancing the desired effects) of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Astragalus
improves cardiac blood flow, and can be used in cases of angina or mild congestive heart failure. It
is protective to the liver and kidneys. Astragalus should not be used concurrently with a cold or
other virus, as this plant can make the virus stronger as it makes the host stronger. (Winston, p.
Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha)
: contains steroidal lactones (including withanolides A to Y), sitoindosides, and alkaloids (including
somniferiene, withanine and anaferine)
This plant is unique, as it is a calming adaptogen, with a mild sedating effect. For this reason
it could be a good replacement for nervous personalities who not able to use the more stimulating
Red or White Ginseng. Withania enhances endocrine function (particularly the thyroid, testes and
adrenals) and is good where the quality of blood needs to be built up, as in iron deficiency. It is
commonly used with children, especially where there is poor growth. It is appropriate for both
hyper and hypo immune function as it will normalize the system. It is best to avoid using this plant
if there is excess iron in the system, with persons who are hyperthyroid, or those trying to lose
weight. (Winston, p. 139-41)
Bonus Herb – Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice)
: triterpenoid saponins (glycrrhizin), isoflavones (genistein), demulcent polysaccharides, anti-
inflammatory flavonoids
Although the Ginsengs were considered ‘panacea’ medicines, Licorice was actually used as a
‘panacea’ making it’s way into most Chinese formulas, partially as a synergistic presence. Licorice
can have an overall beneficial effect on the body, and the added bonus of flavour enhancement.
Licorice strengthens the stomach and spleen, it is muco-protective to all mucous membranes, and
can aide in clearing bacterial infections. It can reduce poison symptoms from pesticides,
herbicides, arsenic, lead and pharmaceutical medications. It can be part of addressing adrenal
fatigue and stimulating the immune system, as well as decreasing an excessive immune response.
It is one of our plants which can initiate an antiinflammatory action and is hepatoprotective and
hormonal balancing. The list goes on and on. If overused, however, Licorice can cause
hyperaldosteremia in some people (body retains sodium, loses potassium and blood pressure
elevates). It is to be avoided in hypertension. In the case of using steroids (ie prednisone), licorice
can increase effectiveness and decrease toxicity. (Winston, p. 175-77)
The writer recognizes that the above mentioned herbs all originate in Asia. There is ethical
question in replacing an Eastern Herb for a Western herb, when considering environmental
sustainability and other implications. Most of the herbs named ‘adaptogens’ are Asian continent
herbs. This may simply be due to the fact that the term “adaptogen” was coined by Russian
scientists as recently as 1964. Asian herbs may have been first to be tested for this quality. The
writer suspects that with more research, some of the Western tradition herbs in the Alteratives
category could be one day deemed to be adaptogenic in quality. Devil’s Club (Oplopanax
horridum) is in the Panax family and certainly has an impressive reputation. The writer has
curiosities about the Sarsaparilla family, particularly Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis). It could
be possible that some of the Asian adaptogens could be cultivated in our Northern climates, such as
Eleuthrococcus or Shisandra, however, this raises the age old question of introducing species into
non-native territories.
Just to cover the arguments, it has been said that using cultivated American Ginseng is not
as good as using the root collected from the wild. At this stage, the writer believes this is a mute
point; there are no other reasonable choices.
“The argument over whether wild Ginseng is better than its cultivated
counterpart is overshadowed by the serious, urgent reality that if we
don’t stop supporting the use of Wild American Ginseng, it will soon be
gone” (Tilford, p38-39)
Overview of Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal)
Goldenseal has long traditional use with North American Native cultures, but it did not
receive as early attention from European settlers as did American Ginseng. It gained mention as a
dye plant in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, but didn’t get recognition for medicinal attributes until
1828. Eventually, in 1884-85, John Uri Lloyd (Eclectic pharmacist) and his brother Curtiss Gates
Lloyd (mycologist) wrote an extensive monograph on Goldenseal. (Gladstar, ed., p. 113) Even
with a luke-warm start in the 1800’s, by 1910, Goldenseal was the most commonly used herb in
American herbal trade – and was being over-picked in the wild. (Wood, p. 293) Since this time, it
has been used (and over-used) despite lack of clinical trials. (Buhner, p. 38) To this day it is a top
seller – ranking fourth in total herb sales in 1997 in the North American medicinal plant trade.
(Gladstar, ed., p. 111) Hydrastis canadensis is listed in the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species as a threatened plant. (Gladstar, ed., p. 117) In Ontario, it is also considered
threatened on the SARO list. (The Act)
The main active constituents of Hydrastis canadensis are isoquinoline alkaloids – berberine,
hydrastine, canadine and candaline. (Gladstar, ed., p 114) Hydrastine is attributed as being
hemostatic (checks bleeding) and antiseptic (kills microbes). It is also noted as being emetic,
expectorant and antiamoebic in action. (Hoffmann, p126-7) Some consider berberine to be the
more active of the available known constituents of Goldenseal. Berberine is toted for being
amoebicidal, antibacterial, antifungal, antimalarial, antitumor, cytotoxic and hepatoprotective. There
are some conflicting reports on negative effects of Goldenseal. It certainly should not be used
during pregnancy for it’s affect on the uterus. Some report abdominal cramping, nervous tremors
and excessive drying of the mucous membranes with large doses, but these reports are not
consistent. (Buhner, p. 39-42) All these actions aside, Goldenseal is brilliant in specific cases.
There is a common misunderstanding that this plant acts as an antibiotic, even for systemic
infection. This is inaccurate, as neither Hydrastine or Berberine get absorbed into the blood. The
antibiotic-like effects can be experienced through direct contact, and are most effective when used
topically, or when the mucousal lining is involved. (Tilford, p. 112, Gladstar, ed., p. 115)
To sound like a broken record, the only ethical way to use Hydrastis canadensis is from a
guaranteed cultivated source. Again, organic is best. According to Stephen Harrod Buhner, there
are a few optimum uses for Goldenseal: for active infections, inflammations, or ulcerations in the
gastrointestinal tract used internally; or active infections in the sinuses, the vagina, on the skin or
eyes used topically; and as a stimulant/tonic (limited dose and limited duration) in general for
mucous membranes issues. (Buhner, p. 40) It has been shown that Hydrastis is effective against
certain microbes, but not all, so if we know what we are fighting, then we can choose our herbs
carefully. When used for active infections topically (or internally for issues involving the
gastrointestinal tract), in small doses, with ethically and legally produced products, Goldenseal may
still be appropriate to use.
Finding Alternatives to Goldenseal
“Not even 10% of the goldenseal use in the U.S. is clinically
appropriate. When someone pops large amounts of goldenseal ‘for a
cold’ especially in its early stages, they are wasting both their money
and an endangered [sic; it is officially threatened] plant.”
(Gladstar, ed., p. 114)
The above statement refers to Goldenseal’s quality of enhancing natural mucosal secretions,
activating the body’s innate abilities to get pathogens out of the system. (Gladstar, ed., p. 115)
When we are looking for a natural antibiotic-type herbal medicine, it is helpful to know what kind
of microbe with which the body is in battle. It is important to mention, that there are circumstances
which can be quickly alleviated by the use of pharmaceutical antibiotics, and to avoid using this
resources could put the client at undue risk. It is important to make informed decisions and use the
skills of many systems of approach when necessary, and when appropriate, using both allopathic
and herbal treatments concurrently. When we have the luxury to stay in the herbal realm, matching
the herb for microbe can be helpful. For some ideas, refer to Appendix A for a comprehensive list
of herbal antibiotics for drug-resistent strains of bacteria, taken from “Herbal Antibiotics,” by
Stephen Harrod Buhner. Note that, although Goldenseal is effective against quite a few of these
bacteria strains, it is not effective against all – in fact the only plant effective against all of those
particular strains is Garlic. (Buhner, p 63-64) If looking for the antibiotic-like effect of Hydrastis,
we have so many herbs to choose from, some of which are not mentioned in the appendix. For
the purpose of this article, the following herbs will be covered: Echinacea, Garlic, and Usnea. The
United Plant Savers recommends using Barberry, Oregon Grape Root, Yerba Manza and other
berberine containing plants. Although Oregon Grape root and Yerba Manza do not occur naturally
in Ontario, they also have been over-harvested in their areas, so even the UpS must say to use only
cultivated sources. Various species of Coptis have been used, in place of Hydrastis, however, the
North American species of Goldthread are also fragile in numbers. With this in mind, Barberry
will be covered here.
Echinacea angustifolia/purpurea (Echinacea)
: Phenylpropenoids – Echinacoside glycosides, Caffaric acid, Chororic acid, Aynarine; Alkylamide
– Tartaric acid; Alkaloids – Tussilagine; Polysaccharides – Inulin, Heteroxylin; Essential oils and
Flavonoids. (Skidmore-Roth, p. 310)
Active against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus spp, mycobacterium (tuberculosis), and
abnormal cells (direct application required). This plant is quite effective when treating a case of
strep throat, but direct contact should be assured. It is quite effective at the early onset of a cold or
flu. Is is also used externally on wounds (or vaginally for dysplasia), for venomous stings or bites
and in the case of serious blood infections. It will stimulate white blood cell production. This is
not a plant to be used over long periods of time, other immune modulators should be considered
instead. Also, Echinacea is contraindicated in some autoimmune conditions. Only cultivated
sources should be used, as this plant is at risk in it’s natural habitat. (Buhner, p. 27-30)
Usnea barbata (Old Man’s Beard)
: Usnic acid, protolichesterinic acid, orcinol derivatives (Buhner, p 58)
Active against Tuberculosis, Pneumonococcus spp, Staphlycoccus aureus, enterococcus,
Streptococcus spp, Trichomonas, Candida spp, and various fungal strains. Generally active against
gram-positive bacteria. Usnea is actually a Lichen, and grows on live and dead trees in many
regions around the world. In the case of some bacteria strains, this plant has been shown to be
more effective than penicillin. It is used traditionally for skin, respiratory, vaginal, fungal
infections and abscesses. Usnea tincture should be mixed with a little water, as it can be irritating
to the mouth and throat. (Buhner, p. 57-59)
Allium sativa (Garlic)
: Volitile oils – Alliin, Allicin; Alliinase; Ajoene; Terpenes – Citral, Geraniol, Linalool; Diallyl
sulfide; Vitamins – A, B, C, E; Minerals – Selenium, Germanium, Zinc, Magnesium; Amino acids,
Glycosides. (Skidmore-Roth, p. 365)
Active against Tuberculosis, Shigella dysenteriae, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas
aeruginosa, Candida albicans, Escherichia coli, Streptococcus spp, Salmonella spp, Campylobacter
spp, Proteus mirabilis, herpes simples, influenza B, HIV and many others. Includes both gram-
positive and gram-negative bacteria. Note that garlic is also active against viruses. Garlic has an
impressive resume, because in addition to its effects on virus and bacteria, it is reputed for its uses
in heart disease, cancer and overall stress and fatigue. Garlic, when used fresh, is most potent for
its antibacterial effects, but in some people may cause nausea or vomiting. It can also interfere with
nursing, because of the flavour change garlic initiates in mother’s milk. (Buhner, p. 33-36)
Therapeutic doses should be used avoided in people who are using Warfarin or aspirin. Caution
should be taken before and after surgical proceedures. (Hoffmann, p. 526) Some people have the
unfortunate contraindication of finding the odor of garlic to be offensive.
Berberis vulgaris (Barberry)
: Alkaloid, isoquinoline – Berberine, Oxyacanthine, Isochinoline, Aporphine; Anthocyan;
Cholorgenic acid; Phenol – Syringaresinol (Skidmore-Roth, p. 53)
Although Barberry does not contain Hydrastine, it has a bitter principal and would help tone
the mucous membrane and regulate digestion. It benefits the liver and promotes the flow of bile.
This plant can also be useful where there is inflammation of the gallbladder or spleen, in cases of
jaundice or gout. It strengthens the systems of weak or debilitated people, and can be a viable
option in a formula. This plant should be avoided during pregnancy. (Hoffmann, p. 533)
Bonus herb – Inula helenium (Elecampane)
: Volatile oils – Alantolactone, Isoalantolactone ; Polyyne; Lactone – Alantol, Alantic acid;
Polysaccharides – Inulin (Skidmore-Roth, p. 316-17)
Elecampane is generally an under-appreciated herb. It has the beautiful ability to positively
affect both the respiratory and digestive systems. It is considered a tonic for these systems, yet can
provide potent actions. For respiratory conditions, it is both soothing to mucous membranes (via
mucilage) while stimulating expectoration (via volitile oils). Inula is also anti-microbial. On the
digestive tract, the bitterness stimulates digestion and appetite. Inulin itself is pre-biotic in nature,
supporting healthy beneficial bacterial cultures in the GI tract. It can hold a special place in a
balanced formula. There are little known contraindications for this plant, except in rare cases of
sensitivity to the Asteraceae family. (Hoffmann, p. 560)
Perhaps, not having Goldenseal as a mainstay means a little more research or effort into
building a specific formula for a person, but that would only improve client-care and our abilities as
therapists. It doesn’t take a lot of searching to see that we have a huge repertoire from which to
choose. Indeed the general public would do well not to see this plant as the cure-all for any
situation. Considering the optimum time for taking this herb during a cold (which is during the
later stages of illness), it probably is not even appropriate for blending in general over-the-counter
“cold and flu” formulas mixed with Echinacea. (Buhner, p. 40) If we recognize the potency of this
plant, we will, with confidence, be able to use it in the small doses required for effect. In order to
have access to this plant in the future, it is time to slow down, and save this plant for special cases.
It is clear that there are many options for herbalists and other natural health practitioners,
when trying to replace the medicinal actions of American Ginseng and Goldenseal. One of the
beauties of herbalism, is that we have hundreds of plants to choose from, many of which have
similar effects in the body. Herbal fads can be quite dangerous and damaging to fragile species,
and often don’t get the desired effect for the client. This discussion only covered two species at
risk in Ontario, however, this is not a regional issue. This is a world wide issue. People all over
the planet are using these tender perennials, plants which are at risk on the continent. There are
other medicinal species at risk in Ontario and other species at risk in North America. Almost 50
medicinal species are endangered, threatened or to watch out for in North America. (UpS website)
In fact, if we are to adopt a policy of preserving biodiversity, we need to maintain awareness of
species at risk on all of the continents. We have so much to choose from now, it seems reasonable
to preserve those options for generations to come.
“Too much of something is also a lack of something.”
Arab proverb
(Beliveau, p. 144)
Appendix A
Herbal Treatments for 12 common Antibiotic-Resistant Microbes
Microbe/Diseases Caused
Effective Herbal Treatments
For surgical wounds
: external applications of usnea, echnacea,
Surgical infections
garlic, grapefruit seed extract, eucalyptus, honey, witch hazel
Blood poisoning
For blood poisoning
: echinacea (massive doses), garlic
(massive doses), usnea (massive doses)
Haemophilus influenzae
Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara is specific for this bacterium),
Meningitis, ear infections
garlic, goldenseal, sage, oak bark, boneset, grapefruit seed
Pneumonia, sinusitis
extract, (and for pneumonia, essential oils of thyme & oregano
Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Garlic, usnea, grapefruit seed extract, boneset, goldenseal, red
clover, shizandra, elecampane
Neisseria gonorrhoeae
Garlic, acacia, large spotted spurge, Cassia abbreviata
Plasmodium falciparum
Cryptolepsis, artemisia, Uvaria spp, Brucea javanica, garlic
vine (Mansoa standleyi)
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
For Pneumonia
: aloe, eucalyptus, juniper, garlic, cassia spp.
Pneumonia, Urinary tract
grapefruit seed extract, essential oils of thyme & oregano,
infections, Bacteremia
Large spotted spurge, spotted spurge, Euphorbia lathyris
For Urinary tract infections
: juniper, uva ursi, eucalyptus,
goldenseal, cranberry, Cassia spp
For bacteremia:
echinacea (massive doses), garlic (massive
doses), boneset (massive doses)
Shigella dysenteriae
Goldenseal, garlic, grapefruit seed extract, Terminalia spp,
Severe diarrhea
cryptolepsis, sage, oak
Staphylococcus aureus
For pneumonia:
usnea, garlic, goldenseal, cryptolepsis,
Pneumonia, Surgical
eucalyptus, boneset, wormwood, Terminalia spp, juniper,
infections, Bacteremia
withania spp, Populus spp, grapefruit seed extract, essential oil
of thyme or oregano
For surgical/skin infections
: usnea, garlic, cryptolepsis,
eucalyptus, wormwood, sage, honey, St. John’s wort, Withania
spp, juniper, Cassia spp, Terminalia spp, grapefruit seed
For Bacteremia
: Echinacea (massive doses), garlic (massive
doses), usnea (massive doses), boneset (massive doses)
Streptococcus pneumoniae
Garlic, usnea, echinacea (for strep throat), eucalyptus, ginger,
Meningitis, Pneumonia
sage, rosemary, boneset, grapefruit seed extract, lavender
Klebsiella pneumoniae
For urinary tract infections
: eucalyptus, juniper, uva ursi,
Pneumonia, Urinary tract
and surgical wound
For pneumonia:
ginger, goldenseal, grapefruit seed extract,
infections, Bacteremia
sage, wormwood, boneset, essential oils of thyme or oregano,
pleurisy root
For surgical wound infections
: eucalyptus, ginger, goldenseal,
sage, wormwood
For bacteremia
: echinacea, massive doses), garlic (massive
Escherichia coli
Goldenseal, garlic, eucalyptus, cryptolepsis, juniper, acacia,
Virulent strains of food
sage, ginger, grapefruit seed extract
poisoning, severe bloody
Salmonella spp
Garlic, eucalyptus, wormwood, juniper, goldenseal, sage,
Food poisoning, severe
ginger, acacia, grapefruit seed extract, Terminalia spp, Punica
(Buhner, p. 63-64)
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