Family: Ranunculaceae, or Buttercup
Synonyms and Common names:
Actaea macrotys, Actaea racemosa, Actée à Grappes, Actée à Grappes Noires, Actée Noire, Aristolochiaceae Noire, Baie d’actée, Black Cohosh, Baneberry, Black Aristolochiaceae, Black Snakeroot, Bugbane, Bugwort, Cimicaire à Grappes, Cimicifuga, Cimicifuga Racemosa, Cimicifuge, Cohosh Negro, Cohosh Noir, Cytise, Herbe aux Punaises, Macrotys, Phytoestrogen, Phytoestrogène, Racine de Serpent, Racine de Squaw, Racine Noire de Serpents, Rattle Root, Rattle Top, Rattlesnake Root, Rattleweed, Rhizoma Cimicifugae, Sheng Ma, Snakeroot, Squaw Root.
Black cohosh was first used for medicinal purposes by Native American Indians, who introduced it to European colonists. Black cohosh became a popular treatment for women's health issues in Europe in the mid-1950s.
The herb is synonymous with, and formerly known as. Cimicifuga racemosa. All plants in the genus Cimicifuga have recently been transferred to the genus Actaea.
Description and Habitat:
Black cohosh is a native medicinal plant found in rich woodlands from as far north as Maine and Ontario, south to Georgia, and west to Missouri and Indiana. In North Carolina, it can be found at elevations up to 4,000 feet and is most common in the western part of the state.
It is an herbaceous perennial reaching a mature height of over 4 ft tall and can grow 18” to 22” per month during the growing season.
The leaves are large with three pinnately compound divisions and irregularly toothed leaflets. It has tall plumes of cream to white flowers, on wand-like flower stalks, which bloom from May to July, often towering to over six ft. tall.
From August to October seeds develop in capsules that make a rattling sound when shaken. At this stage, the seeds are mature and ready to be harvested
Dried rhizome and root.
Constituents: Resin, bitter glycosides, ranunculin, salicylic acid, tannin, and estrogenic principle.
Actions: estrogen-like, antirheumatic, emmenagogue.
Indications: Black cohosh has the most powerful action as a relaxant and a normalizer of the female reproductive system. It may be used beneficially in cases of painful or delayed menstruation, ovarian cramps, or cramping pain in the womb. It has a normalizing action on the balance of female sex hormones and may be safely used to regain normal hormonal activity.
It is very active in the treatment of rheumatic pains, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and in muscular and neurological pain. It finds use in sciatica and neuralgia.
As a relaxing nervine it may be used in many situations where such an agent is needed. It will be useful in labor to aid uterine activity, whilst allaying nervousness. Black Cohosh will reduce spasms, and so aid in the treatment of pulmonary complaints, such as whooping cough. It has been found to be beneficial in cases of tinnitus.
Black cohosh appears to have an estrogen-like mode of action. It is of value in the treatment of menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, sweating, anxiety, depressed mood, and sleep disturbance.
Contraindications: Do not confuse black cohosh with blue cohosh or white cohosh. These are unrelated plants. The blue and white cohosh plants do not have the same effects as black cohosh, and may not be safe. Contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation. Current advice is that black cohosh should be avoided by those with estrogen-dependent tumors, although the majority of studies suggest a non-proliferative effect. In view of recent controversy implicating black cohosh products in liver damage, those with liver disease should avoid this herb, although it appears likely that the adverse reactions reported are linked to one of the other species, such as blue or white cohosh.
Preparation and dosage:
Decoction – Pour a cup of water onto 1 teaspoonful of the dried root and bring to the boil, let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink this three times a day.
Tincture – Take 2 to 4 ml. of the tincture three times a day.
Additional comments and Folklore:
Cohosh is a Native American word for “rough”, referring to the knobby rhizome, which is the useful part. Black Cohosh has been in Native American medicine for centuries and was used as also used by European settlers.
Like other medicinal plants such as Echinacea, and saw palmetto, black cohosh was introduced from America into Germany in the late 19th century, following acclaim of its therapeutic value. The first person in Europe to recommend the use of Black Cohosh was Colden, who suggested use to stimulate uterine contractions as early as 1743, apparently inspiring Linnaeus to add the plant to his Materia Medica in 1749. In the early 20th century it became primarily a homeopathic remedy, then as phytotherapy evolved as a separate aspect of medical practice in the 1930s, black cohosh became a legitimate therapeutic agent, supported by pharmacological and clinical research.
Folklore suggests this herb has magical properties of protection, love, courage, potency, sexual energy, and banishing negativity.
The common name "bugbane" also honors folk use as an insect repellent. The plant is known today as black cohosh was known throughout much of its American history as "black snakeroot.