Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa L.)
Ranunculaceae Buttercup family
Description of Plant and Culture
A tall growing, unpleasantly scented, woodland perennial plant, 3-8 feet high. The large creeping, knotty rootstock, scarred with the remains of old growth, produces a stem of up to 9 feet in height. Large compound leaves thrice-divided; sharply toothed; terminal leaflet 3-lobed, middle lobe is the largest. Small, fetid, flowers are white and strong smelling, in very long, slender, fluffy, spikes, terminating tall leafy stalks, each flower has numerous white stamens and no petals; May to September. Tufts of stamens conspicuous. Flowers ultimately give way to small, round seed pods with several seeds. When the stalk is shaken, the seeds rattle within their pods, producing a sound similar to a rattlesnake, thus the nickname "rattleroot". Grown in shade or full sun, but is grown more vigorously in the sun. Zones 3-10. Not heat-tolerant. Wiry stems with divided dark green leaves and wandlike racemes of white flowers is very showy.Parts used and where grown: Black cohosh is a shrub-like plant native to the eastern deciduous forests of North America, ranging from southern Ontario to Georgia, north to Wisconsin and west to Arkansas. The dried root and rhizome are the constituents utilized medicinally.1 When wild harvested, the root is black in color. Cohosh, an Algonquin Indian word meaning "rough," refers to its gnarly root structure.2
Medicinal Properties: Alterative, astringent, diuretic, alterative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue (starts menstrual flow), expectorant, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, cardiac stimulant (safer than digitalis), anti-inflammatory, sedative, antitussive, uterine stimulant
In what conditions might black cohosh be supportive?
menopause menstruation, painful (dysmenorrhea) uterine spasms vaginitis
Historical or traditional use: Native American Indians valued the herb and used it for many conditions, ranging from gynecological problems to rattlesnake bites. Some nineteenth-century American physicians used black cohosh for problems such as fever, menstrual cramps, arthritis, and insomnia.3
Biochemical Information: Actaeine, cimicifungin (macrotin), estrogenic substances, isoferulic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, phosphorus, recemosin, tannins, starch, gum, triterpenes, and vitamins A and B5.
Active constituents: Black cohosh contains several important ingredients, including triterpene glycosides (e.g., acetin and cimicifugoside) and isoflavones (e.g., formononetin). Other constituents include aromatic acids, tannins, resins, fatty acids, starches, and sugars. Formononetin is the active element in the herb that binds to estrogen receptor sites, inducing an estrogen-like activity in the body. As a woman approaches menopause, the signals between the ovaries and pituitary gland diminish, slowing down estrogen production and increasing luteinizing hormone (LH) secretions. Hot flashes can result from these hormonal changes. Clinical studies from Germany have demonstrated that an alcohol extract of black cohosh decreases LH secretions in menopausal women.4
Uses: Insoluble in water. Tincture used for bronchitis, chorea, menstrual irregularities, stimulates kidney, restores digestive system to normal, fever, nervous disorders, chorea (St. Vitus' Dance), lumbago, rheumatism, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox. Traditionally important for "female ailments", painful menses and helps in labor and delivery during childbirth. Research has confirmed estrogenic, hypoglycemic, sedative, and anti-inflammatory activity. Applied as poultice to wounds. Helps relieve sinusitis, persistent coughs, bronchitis, whooping cough, headache, and asthma. Lowers cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Relives pain, palpitations, panic attacks, relieves muscle spasms, neuralgia, morning sickness, and menstrual cramps. Helpful for poisonous bites. Can be used as an antidote for the venom of snakebites. Reduces mucus levels. The liquid obtained from boiling the roots can be used to treat diarrhea in children.
Combined with skullcap, wood betony, passionflower, and valerian, black cohosh works as a mild tranquilizer.
Black cohosh has the same effects on the female system as synthetic estrogen, without the side effects. Best of all, Black cohosh has no cancer causing agents like synthetic estrogen.
How much should I take? Black cohosh can be taken in several forms, including crude, dried root, or rhizome (300-2,000 mg per day) or as a solid, dry powdered extract (250 mg three times per day). Tinctures can be taken at 2-4 ml per day.5 Standardized extracts of the herb are available and contain 1 mg of deoxyacteine per tablet. The usual amount is 40 mg twice per day.6 Black cohosh can be taken for up to six months, and then it should be discontinued.
Are there any side effects or interactions? Black cohosh has an estrogen-like effect, and women who are pregnant or lactating should not use the herb. Large doses of this herb may cause abdominal pain, nausea, headaches, and dizziness. Women taking estrogen therapy should consult a physician before using black cohosh.
Warning: This plant must only be used in small quantities since strong or large doses cause nausea and vomiting, symptoms of poisoning.
Avoid during pregnancy until labor and only under supervision of a doctor. Do not take if any type of chronic disease is present.
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The Herb Book, by John Lust, pgs., 124-125, 456, 508.
The Herbalist Almanac, by Clarence Meyer, pg., 85.
Earl Mindell's Herb Bible, by Earl Mindell, pgs., 52-53.
Indian Herbalogy of North America, by Alma R. Hutchens, pgs., 45-47, 58, 98, 177, 223, 302.
Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, pg., 56.
Herb Gardening, compiled by The Robison York State Herb Garden, pgs., 60, 63, 132, 146.
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American Folk Medicine, by Clarence Meyer, pg., 284.
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Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, pg., 535.
Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, pg., 272.
An Instant Guide to Medicinal Plants, by Pamela Forey and Ruth Lindsay, pg., 112.
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The Rodale Herb Book, edited by William H. Hylton, pgs., 90, 407-408.
1.Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 88&endash;9. 2.Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1991, 75&endash;8. 3.Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 12&endash;13. 4.Düker EM, Kopanski L, Jarry H, Wuttke W. Effects of extracts from Cimicifuga racemosa on gonadotropin release in menopausal women and ovariectomized rats. Planta Medica 1991;57:420&endash;4. 5.Bradley PR, ed. British Herbal Compendium, Vol 1. Bournemouth, Dorset, United Kingdom: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992, 34&endash;6. 6.Murray MT. The Healing Power of Herbs. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1995, 376.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Disclaimer: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.