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Coptis General Facts

Biological Description

Coptis is known as Goldthread, Yellowroot, or Coptidis in many countries. Its Latin name is Coptis chinensis, a plant from the Berberidaceae family. It is a relative of the peony.

This is a low-growing (to 20 inches high) creeping perennial herb with tiny white or green flowers and basal petiolate leaves. The flowers are gathered in the inflorescences of cymes with about 4 flowers in each. The blossoms are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by insects. The plant is characterised with many slender and thin yellow rhizomes (roots) which are used in herbalism.

Coptis is in leaf all year round. It blooms from February to March and bears fruits from April to May.


Coptis chinensis is native to the cooler parts of Asia, namely to China, where it is now extensively cultivated due to its healing powers. It grows best in damp boggy spots in woods, preferring light, slightly acidic soils and much moisture. Coptis does well in the sunny places, but it can also grow in the partial shade.

Several relatives of Coptis chinensis are found in the Himalayans in India and North America.

Parts Used

The underground rhizomes, dried and sliced, are used for centuries in the Chinese traditional medicine, occupying the leading positions among the most often used herbs. For a number of diseases Coptis is the first option to consider; thus, it is frequently prescribed by herbal healers to many patients.


Due to the popularity in its home country, Coptis now conquers other parts of the world awaking a keen interest in the Western countries among scientists, as well as among the potential users of the remedies made from this plant. Therefore, these days it can be found on the market in several forms – capsules, ointments, powders, and tinctures – in order to meet the needs of the consumers.


The root of the herb is considered a bitter cooling and drying remedy. It is capable of killing various germs and eliminating infections, having antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Its remedies are used to reduce fever, being good anti-pyretic and anti-inflammatory means. They are also the option in the fight against high blood cholesterol levels.

Coptis is used to treat gastrointestinal disorders due to its abilities to work as anti-diarrheal and stomachic agent. Moreover, it has analgesic and pain-relieving properties, thus helping sooth abdominal cramps and muscle aches.

An important action of Coptis is sedating, relaxing of tension, and reducing anxiety; therefore, it is used to treat insomnia, overdrive, and irritability.

It is also said that Goldthread is an effective immune system stimulant and anti-oxidant. It can induce the production of interferon and activate the defensive powers of the body.

The main, the most valuable and beneficial component of Coptis is said to be berberine with its abilities to lower blood sugar levels, stop the replication of cancerous cells, increase the production of saliva, bile, gastric and pancreas juices, as well as kill various parasites.

Isoquiniline alkaloids and proto-berberine alkaloids (palmatine, coptisine, jatrorrhizine, epiberberine, worenine and berberastine) are also of great interest to the scientists, because working in combination in Coptis preparations they add to the effectiveness and beneficial influence of the herb on the human body.

Besides, tannins and ferulic acid may be of help in the fight against certain health conditions. Ferulic acid may serve as an antioxidant to eliminate free radicals from the body. Tannins help stop the bleeding, treat wounds, and maintain healthy digestive system.

Health Benefits

Coptis chinensis is traditionally used to alleviate diarrhea, vomiting, dysentery, painful bowel movements, blood in the stool and gallbladder disorders. Lately, it is also being prescribed by herbalists as a means to improve digestion. Since Coptis soothes nervous system, it is used to treat insomnia and irritability.

Atherosclerosis is said to be prevented due to the Goldthread power to reduce blood cholesterol level. Antioxidant and anti-cancer activities make it possible to treat different types of cancer. Some studies show that tuberculosis can be eliminated with Coptis preparations as well, although, how exactly it works to cure this condition is not yet understood.

Compresses and poultices from Coptis are used to fight skin conditions (acne, burns, boils, abscesses), while mouth washes and gargles may help in the treatment of sore throats, canker sores, swollen gums, and toothache.

Eyes conditions, as redness, inflammation, or conjunctivitis, are also relieved with Goldthread. Vaginal infections are treated with the douches made of Coptis chinensis.


The dose of this plant preparation matters a lot for those who are going to treat certain health disorders, as the influence of different doses is opposite. For example, low dose of Coptis increases blood pressure and stimulates the brain, while high one decreases blood pressure and sedates, resulting in drowsiness. Besides, large amounts may cause upset stomach.

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