What is Goldthread and Berberine?

Goldthread (Coptis genus) is a medicinal herb native to North America and Asia.  Goldthread was one of the herbs that Rene Caisse used in her Cancer Clinic in Bracebridge, Ontario.  Unfortunately, we do not know exactly how she was using this herb.  [THE SECRETS OF RENE CAISSE'S HERBAL PHARMACY]  According to the research of Sheila Snow and Mali Klein it is possible that this was one of the eight herbs of the original "medicine man's" formula.

Goldthread is not easy to find in the woods and North American herb companies do not normally sell this herb.  The yellow root is very thin so one must pick a lot of Goldthread plants to obtain an ounce of the herb, which contains a very beneficial yellow  substance called "berberine".   Herbalists can substitute Goldthread with other berberine-containing herbs such as Goldenseal, Barberry or Oregon Grape root.  "Berberine, a main component of goldenseal [and Goldthread], has potent antitumor activity, particularly against malignant brain tumors.  Goldenseal is also used to treat breast and stomach cancers."  [HERBAL MEDICINE, HEALING & CANCER by Donald R. Yance, Jr., p. 138]  However, Goldenseal can have negative side effects (see below).

Wild Goldenseal has been picked out of existence in the eastern US.  In like manner wild Ginseng was picked out of existence in the eastern US because at one time it was actually more valuable than gold.  Today Ginseng and Goldenseal are grown organically.  Theoretically, the fate of wild Goldthread could go the way of Goldenseal and Ginseng if people pick it too much in the wild.   Therefore, one should pick it sparingly.  One can also grow Goldthread organically or simply transplant some live plants and establish it in new areas to insure that it can continue to thrive in the wild.  Another solution is to substitute Oregon Grape root for Goldthread.  Wild Oregon Grape root is inexpensive and is plentiful in the Northwest; it is not in any danger of being wildcrafted out of existence.  People often use the holly-like Oregon Grape as an ornamental in their yards and therefore it is available at many nurseries. 

Oregon Grape root is a much better substitute for Goldthread even though Goldthread has a slightly higher berberine content by weight than both Oregon Grape root and Goldenseal root.  Oregon Grape has much bigger roots while Goldthread roots are very fine threads.  One can pick a pound of Oregon Grape roots in a few minutes while it could take days to pick a pound of Goldthread roots. 

Also, Oregon Grape root is a better choice because it does not cause heart palpitations or over-stimulate the nervous system like Goldenseal can do in larger-than-recommended dosages.  "Most herbs can be safely used in small quantities over a long period of time, but there are some that provide cumulative effects, which will be harmful if the herb is taken regularly without a break.  These include goldenseal, which will affect blood pressure and digestion if taken continuously...."  [THE WAY OF HERBS by Michael Tierra, p. 344]

When one substitutes Oregon Grape root for Goldthread (or Goldenseal), one should add about 1/8 more Oregon Grape root (by weight) because Oregon Grape root has a slightly lower concentration of berberine than Goldthread and Goldenseal.  When harvesting Goldthread or Oregon Grape root, simply pull the roots up without digging.  Digging can do great harm to the colony from which you harvest the root.  [HEALING PLANTS OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS by Darcy Williamson, p. 99]

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