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....


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