The root of the goldenseal plant has been used for centuries in indigenous American herbalism. Historically, healers have valued goldenseal for its purported ability to stimulate immunity, fight infection and reduce inflammation. Although goldenseal may be safe for the majority of healthy adults, extreme caution is advised regarding its use in children. Goldenseal can cause serious side effects in very young children, and no studies have evaluated its general safety for older children.
In theory, goldenseal may offer some benefits to children, particularly those coping with viral or bacterial infection. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, goldenseal appears to effectively boost immune response to pathogens. Goldenseal can also ease upper respiratory problems related to infection or chronic disease, and may help to prevent wound infections. However, there is no conclusive evidence that it works reliably. More well-designed studies are needed to confirm whether goldenseal is truly more effective than a placebo.
Risks to Newborns
Very young babies have a particularly high risk of serious side effects from goldenseal. The National Institutes of Health reports that goldenseal is "likely unsafe" for young children, noting that at least one baby has developed brain damage after using the herb. Goldenseal may trigger a large increase in bilirubin, the same substance responsible for causing jaundice when it enters the bloodstream in large quantities. This can lead to kernicterus, a serious form of brain damage. Do not use goldenseal in young babies.
Risks to Older Children
Children who are no longer infants are not at risk of developing kernicterus, but there are still several serious safety concerns for kids of all ages. Noting that goldenseal is only acceptable when used under a physician's guidance, the UMMC warns against possible side effects that may occur in children. Goldenseal is an irritant and may cause irritation of the skin, mouth and throat. It can also make children more prone to sunburn and other sun-related damage.
Some children are at risk of additional side effects from goldenseal. Goldenseal may interact with tetracycline antibiotics, reducing their effectiveness. Children taking blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) and aspirin may experience an increased risk of bleeding. This is also a concern for children with disorders that make them more prone to bleeding episodes. As a member of the ragweed family, goldenseal is also a potential allergen and may cause allergic reactions in susceptible children. Always consult a licensed physician before giving your child any medicinal herb.