Thursday, May 21, 2015


Black Cohosh:  Cimicifuga Racemosa

Also known as:  Bugwort, Black Snakeroot, Rattleroot, Squawroot, Bugbane, Richweed, Rattlesnake Root, Schwarze, Schlangenwurzel

Parts Used:  roots

Meridians/Organs affected:  liver, stomach, nervous system, spleen, large intestine, female reproductive, heart, respiratory, circulatory

Properties:  nervine, emmenogogue, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, alterative, astringent, expectorant, diuretic, cardiac stimulant, stomach tonic, arterial sedative, antiseptic, antivenomous, bitter, estrogenic

Black Cohosh is a member of the Buttercup family.  It is a triangular leafed plant (that divides into leaflets) that can get up to 9 feet tall and has tall slender cylindrical spikes of white flowers that look better than they smell.  It has a clump forming root that is rather woody and odiferous.  It is a perennial plant native to the Eastern region of North America.  It can be found growing in rich open woodlands although many a gardener grows it as an ornamental.  It blooms from May to August and forms seed pods that when shaken sound similar to a rattlesnake.  The roots are bests gathered from 10 am - 3 pm from July to September when they are at their peak medicinally.  The roots is also far more useful when fresh rather than dried or dried and then used SOON thereafter.

The Latin botanical term for this herb 'cimex' and 'fugere' means 'to drive away bedbugs' which it has been known to do for quite some time-hence its other names of bugbane or bugwort.  Many a gardener uses this plant to repel insects from other plants.  The Native Americans referred to it as 'black snakeroot' as they used the bruised root to treat snake bites among other things.  The Dakotas, Winnebagos and Penobscot Indians used it internally in decoction form for diarrhea, coughs, irregular menses and lung complaints.  The Native Americans were also responsible for teaching the early pioneers how to use this plant.  One late 18th century indian guide was quoted as saying, "It is one of our very best remedies in a great many womb troubles."  In the 1870 US Dispensatory it states that 'No doubt black cohosh also contains, when fresh, a volatile principle, with which its virtues may be in some degree associated, as we are confident that it is more efficacious in the recent state than when long kept."  In fact, the early settlers would pour whiskey over the roots and drink the extract to treat rheumatism, and in the 19th century this was used as a treatment for rheumatism in hospitals in NY but they eventually eliminated this altogether.  It was listed in the US Pharmacopia from 1820-1936 and in the National Formulary from 1935-1950.  It has been used for smallpox, scarlet fever, measles, scrofula, whooping cough, epilepsy, tinnitus, asthma, hysteria, arthritis, bronchitis, menopause, angina pectoris, sciatica, rheumatism, gonorrhea, sexual weakness, spermatorrhea, seminal emissions, female reproductive problems, intercostal myalgia, etc.

Black Cohosh contains salicyclic acid (a common component in willow and modern day aspirin) and cimicifugin which has been shown to be sedative and antispasmodic in nature (when using the fresh root).  In Chinese medicine it is known as 'sheng ma' and is used often for fevers, colds, asthma and a host of eruptive diseases (measles, etc).  It is used to tone the uterus and prepare one for childbirth.  It has been shown to be effective in reducing the levels of mucus in the bronchials and lungs as well as lowering the blood pressure and cholesterol.  As it is estrogenic it has also been proven to help with hot flashes, morning sickness, cramping and many menopausal complaints.  It is widely used for neuralgic type conditions.  It contains a component called anemonin which has been shown to depress the nervous system.  Thus it has been used for headaches, sciatica and tinnitus.  Dr. Felter (an early eclectic physician) said it was 'an ideal regulator of uterine contractions during labor'.  Jethro Kloss said it is a good remedy for spinal meningitis, poisonous snake and insect bites and delirium tremens (withdrawal from alcohol).  Dr. Christopher stated it had a strong effect on the muscular system and used it often for arthritis, rheumatism and neuralgia in combination with other herbs.  This herb is also commonly used in China to counter prolapse of the stomach, bladder, uterus and intestine and to raise one's chi.  Pregnant women are advised against using this herb unless it is in the last two weeks before delivery as it can stimulate uterine contractions.  It is also known to ease the delivery.  This is also an herb best taken in small amounts over brief periods of time.  Common signs of overdose are dizziness, nausea and vomiting.  As an interesting side note-black cohosh has a fair amount of B5 (pantothenic acid) which is also known as the 'happy vitamin) and as such has been found useful for depression.

As is customary with my posts I am including some links below for your perusal. Use them wisely....


Willow:  Salix Alba, Salix Nigra, Salix Geyeriana, Salix Discolor, Salix Purpurea, Salix Bebbiana, Salix Atrocinera, etc.

Also known as:  Willow Bark, Withe, White Willow, Black Willow, etc.

Parts Used:  leaves, bark

Meridians/Organs affected:  stomach, liver, kidneys, heart, structural, nervous, circulatory

Properties:  tonic, astringent, antiseptic, diaphoretic, anodyne, antiperiodic, diuretic, febrifuge, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, alterative, vermifuge

Willow is a member of the Selicaeae family.  (Incidentally so is Poplar which can also be used similarly to Willow).  It is a deciduous shrub/tree with round to lance like leaves with several trunks that branch off from the base.  The flowers are referred to as 'catkins' and appear along branches as a furry like pod in the early months of the year (February to March) when snow is still on the ground.  The bark ranges in color from gray to brown and should be gathered in the spring before new growth starts.  The more it smells 'skunk-like' the more potent it is as a medicine.  Cut 15-20, one inch strips to the cambium layer (the inner bark) and remove them from the shrub to dry or to be used fresh.

The Latin term for willow 'salix' comes from 'salio' which means 'to spring up'.  Salix itself actually comes from the Celtic word 'salis' which means 'near water' no doubt referring to where it is found most of the time.  References to willow and its uses go back several millenia.  It is mentioned quite often in Sumerian writings 4000 years ago and an Egyptian papyrus as well as Assyrian tablets.  Galen used it to help inflammatory eye conditions, Hippocrates for fevers and pain management and Dioscorides for gout, earaches and corns. The native american indians used it for rheumatic complaints, fevers, chills, sore muscles and headaches.  In the 1700's it was commonly used to treat malaria.  Then in 1827 a French chemist named LeRoux isolated the active component in willow which is salicin.  The rest is history-it was eventually synthesized (1890's) into acetylsalicyclic acid more commonly known as aspirin and a billion dollar business was born.

Willow was also used early on to stop diarrhea, help toothaches (it was chewed) and to stop bleeding.  It is interesting to note that willow doesn't typically irritate the stomach like aspirin can, nor does it thin the blood like aspirin.  Many cultures have used it to treat diarrhea, dysentery, dyspepsia, gonorrhea, edema, worms, ovarian pains, recurring fevers and gastrointestinal issues.  A tea made from the buds has been used for heartburn, stomach complaints, cancer, eczema, gangrene, nosebleeds, bleeding wounds and to increase urine flow.  In some studies it has been shown to delay cataract formation.  A tea from the bark was boiled and used topically for insect bites, ulcers, rashes, minor burns, warts, corns, cuts and skin cancers.  The Romans would burn willow branches and use the ash for skin conditions and the leaves were mashed and soaked in wine and then consumed to stay lustful behavior (it was thought that too much of said concoction would make one impotent as well).  The bark was chewed to prevent cavities (it is VERY bitter and tastes like skunk so be forewarned) and the leaves and twigs were boiled to make a hair rinse for dandruff. It is true that willow has an abundance of medicinal value but it is also a very practically used herb as well.  Willow is flexible and so has been used for fish and fox traps, back rests, pins and pegs, frames for sweat lodges, baskets, mattresses, walking sticks, snowshoes, meat racks, cradle boards, fishing nets, twine, etc.

It is one of the Bach flower essences used for people who are bitter, offended easily, feel slighted or are always disappointed.  Willow should not be taken if you have an allergy to aspirin.  Do not take if pregnant (use your own discretion or consult a physician).

As is customary with my posts I am including some links herein for your perusal.  Use them wisely and stay healthy!