BLUE COHOSH –Caulophyllum Thalictroides, Caulophyllum Giganteum, Caulophyllum Robustum, etc.
Also known as: squaw root, papoose root, blue ginseng, yellow ginseng, blueberry root, women’s best friend, beech drops, etc.
Parts used: root
Systems/organs affected: liver, glandular, digestive, female reproductive
Properties: uterine tonic, abortifacient, emmenogogue, diuretic, anthelmintic, relaxant, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, stimulant, parturient, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, vermifuge, laxative, antiseptic, estrogenic, nervine, demulcent, anti-rheumatic
BLUE COHOSH is a member of the Berberidaceae (barberry) family. It is a perennial that is purple in color when young but a lovely blue green once it reaches maturity. It has a smooth stem with pyramid shaped clusters of yellow green to purple brown flowers. It can get up to three feet tall and produces deep blue fruit at maturity. Interestingly enough the plant is named for the color of its fruit and has nothing to do with the root. The leaves are deeply lobed and irregular and alternate on the stem. They have two to five pointed lobes on each leaf. The root is knotty with short branches and can get up to 10 inches long. There are five species of Caulophyllum, two in North America and three in NE Asia. It can be found growing in forests, north facing slopes and moist areas around bodies of water. (It seems to like higher elevations). The berries are pea sized and contain a seed (which is deemed poisonous) and not edible. The root is best dug in September or October when they are most medicinal.
Blue cohosh has a rather controversial background and is best used with caution. It is a truly valuable plant but just be aware of its potential on both sides of the line before choosing to utilize it. Blue cohosh is NOT related to black cohosh. They are from vastly different families. The word cohosh is actually Algonquin and means ‘gnarly root’ roughly translated. It appropriately describes the root which was used by many Native tribes for a number of things, most of which involved female issues. They would gather the roots in the fall and dry them. The roots were then chopped and used for rheumatic conditions, bronchitis, colic, arthritis, gout, intestinal worms, menstrual cramping, delayed menses and more. It was actually used most as an oxytocic (facilitates childbirth). Indian women would start taking it about two weeks from their delivery time. It was said to help labor to be quick and unproblematic. Native women also preferred this herb when it came to false labor pains, Braxton-Hicks constrictions and pain after delivery. It was used with black haw and cramp bark to prevent miscarriage when there may have been concern. However, it should NEVER be given to pregnant women UNTIL a few weeks before their delivery date as it could potentially also cause a miscarriage if given too early. (It was used as an abortifacient in that capacity in early times as well).
Peter Smith, author of ‘The Indian Doctor’s Dispensory’, was one of the first to use this plant in modern medicine back in 1813. It was actually listed in the US Pharmacopiea until 1905. Dr. Christopher stated it is an excellent nervine and antispasmodic and used it for many nerve related issues including epilepsy, hysteria and neuralgia. Dr. Edward Shook (Elementary Treatise in Herbology, Advanced Treatise in Herbology, etc.) wrote that blue cohosh is an ancient Indian remedy. He writes,
“They believed it to be the best parturient in nature, and it was the habit of their women to drink the tea several weeks before labor….called ‘woman’s best friend’ for the reason that it is much more reliable and far less dangerous in expediting delivery in those cases where labor is slow, very painful, and does not bring about natural delivery.”
This herb has been used by native Americans for chlamydia, endometriosis and cervical dysplasia as well. Interestingly enough it was also used as a form of birth control when not pregnant as well.
Blue cohosh contains a glycoside called caulosaponin that promotes the blood flow to the pelvic area and stimulates contractions. It also contains methylcystisine which can mimic the effects of nicotine (but is 1/40 the toxicity of nicotine). This component is believed to raise blood pressure, promote respiration and intestinal motility. It also contains a number of other beneficial nutrients such as beta-carotene, manganese, ascorbic acid, chromium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, niacin, iron, cobalt, inositol, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamine, zinc, silicon and tin. It has often been compared to golden seal in its effects.
Blue cohosh is best mixed with other mucilaginous herbs if using it for long periods of time as it can irritate the digestive tract when taken alone. It is best to use the cut and sifted form rather than the powder for the same reason. Midwives still use this herb for assistance with delivery, other than that it is mostly used by women for help with menstrual issues. It has been used for candida, constipation, fiberous cystic disease, endometriosis, cervical dysplasia, hiccups, warts, acne, joint and muscle pain, colds and flu and as a vermifuge.
Too much of this herb can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, chest pain and an increase in blood sugar and blood pressure. It has been said by the NYU Langone Medical Center that it can interfere with the implantation of fertilized eggs in the uterus and cause damage to the uterus as well as the thyroid. (Personally I think if that’s the case then there would be a boat load of native American women with thyroid problems…) WebMD says it shouldn’t be used by children, pregnant and/or nursing women, those with skin conditions, heart conditions, diabetics or those on blood pressure medications. They also caution those with hormone sensitive conditions such as endometriosis, breast and/or uterine cancer and uterine fibroids. As always, consult a qualified physician before ever starting an herbal product or regimen.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links for your perusal. Enjoy and stay strong and healthy!