Wednesday, August 8, 2018


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!



SOLOMON’S SEAL –Polygonatum Officinale, Polygonatum Biflorum, Smilacena Racemosa, etc.

Also known as: dropberry, seal root, sealwort, lady’s seal, St. Mary’s seal, King Solomon’s seal, sow’s teats,  etc.

Parts used: root

Systems/organs affected: lungs, stomach, musculoskeletal, kidneys, cardiac, reproductive (both sexes), skin, gastrointestinal

Properties: nutritive, diaphoretic, yin-chi tonic, expectorant, astringent, mucilaginous, anti-periodic, diuretic, sedative, analgesic, dermatological, vulnerary, adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, etc.

          Solomon’s Seal is a member of the Asparagaceae (Monocots-Asparagus) family.  There are about 74 varieties of this species.  This series of plants was once placed in the Lily family but has since been placed into a family of their own.  It is a single stem perennial that arcs slightly and has broad, ovately shaped leaves that run along the length of the stem.  The flowers are small and tubular and dangle from the leaf axils in clusters of two to seven.  The flowers are a yellow-green to white and bloom from April to June.  It has a creeping root stock that is twisted and knotty with circular scars left by the leaf stems former years (each year that passes a new one is formed-this is also how one can tell how old the plant is).  The stems can get up to 2 feet tall.  The flowers are replaced by blue black pea sized berries that are said to be poisonous.  It is native to North America, Europe and Asia.  It loves wooded areas, roadsides and shady places.  Its name is actually derived from the root as the broken stem resembles the Star of David (also known as Solomon’s Seal).  Polygonatum is actually Greek in origin and roughly translated means ‘many knees’, referring to the multiple joints in the root.

This plant is steeped in ancient history (literally).  While modern medicine would classify it as a poisonous and invasive weed (in some states it is on the invasive species list but it is also close to the endangered list which I find ironic), history paints an entirely different picture.  Taoist monks consumed the young shoots much like asparagus and it was considered a plant often looked to when the winters were harsh and famine was abundant.  Native Americans also consumed them in much the same way.  Several Asian countries consume the root, leaves and stem, both raw and cooked.  They also use the root to make tea and alcoholic beverages, the roots are fried with honey and sugar for a sweet treat and the root was also dried and ground into flour for food staples.  It is a valuable food to them as well, especially in times of famine.  Here in this country the root is eaten like potatoes and also made into flour for breads. 

Solomon’s Seal is believed to have magical/mystical attributes.  History speaks of it helping one to be more decisive and break bad habits.  It was often used in love potions to enhance a couples commitment to one another.  It was considered a ‘seal’ or promise of love and devotion.  Incense made from the plant was used to keep evil spirits away and to dispel negative thoughts and emotions.  Conversely it was used to summon elementals and/or helpful entities.  The root was worn to increase one’s wisdom and to keep bad spirits at bay.  It was used during rituals celebrating the Autumnal Equinox.

The medicinal applications are no less interesting.  In Galen’s time (130-200 AD) the infusion was used as a cosmetic.  This appears to have traversed the centuries as it is still used in that capacity today (also contains allatoin which is in comfrey and aloe).  Culpeper said that Solomon’s Seal is a plant of Saturn, ‘for he loves his bones well.’ He stated that:

Solomon’s Seal is found by experience to be available in wounds, hurts, and outward sores, to heal and close up the lips of those that are green, and to dry up and restrain the flux of humours to those that are old.  It is singularly good to stay vomitings and bleeding wheresoever, as also all fluxes in man or woman, also, to knit any joint, which by weakness uses to be often out of place, or will not stay in long when it is set; also to knit and join broken bones in any part of the body, the roots being bruised and applied to the places; yea, it hath been found by experience, and the decoction of the root in wine, or the bruised root put into wine or other drink, and after a nights infusion, strained forth hard and drank, hath helped both man and beast, whose bones hath been broken by any occasion, which is the most assured refuge of help to people of diverse countries of the land they can have.”  He went on to say: ”…the diluted water of the whole plant used to the face or other parts of the skin, cleanses it from freckles, spots or any marks whatsoever, leaving the place fresh, fair and lovely, for which purpose it is much used by the Italian ladies and is the principal ingredient of most of the cosmetics and beauty washes advertised by perfumers at high prices.” (1653)

Gerard stated that, “..there is not another herb to be found comparable to it for the purposes aforesaid…” (bone repair, bruises, hemorrhoids, tumors, black eyes, inflammations, etc.)  The Cherokee, Iroquois, Chippewa and Menominee tribes used it for skin, reproductive, gastrointestinal and pain management issues.  Dr. Hedwig Langecker found it useful for nutritional diabetes in 1930.  The Ayurvedics use it for pain, inflammation, weakness, allergies and as an aphrodisiac.  The Chinese call it ‘jade bamboo’ and used it for the flu, rheumatic conditions, respiratory problems, stomach complaints, malaria and a host of other issues.  It has been used for poison ivy, menstrual problems, indigestion, ulcers, internal bleeding, gum problems, bowel issues and as a tonic for the heart, kidneys and reproductive organs.  The oil has been employed for sprains and broken  bones and the tea and/or tinctures have been used for torn ligaments, dislocations and general issues with joints. (If one follows the Doctrine of Signatures then it would be obvious that this plant is good for all problems relating to the musculoskeletal system).  In some cultures it is believed to be restorative to an overworked and overstressed mind.  As it is mucilaginous in nature it is soothing to the mucus lining thus making it beneficial for the female reproductive system, the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract.  The Chinese class it as a yin tonic and say it lubricates the heart and lungs, builds the marrow, tones the abdomen and increase seminal production.  They use it for yin deficiencies (grey hair, dry throat/cough, diabetes, etc.).  More recent research has found that it can protect the liver, bring down blood pressure and reduce blood fat and blood sugar levels (Lu, 1994, 203).

Many modern references by alternative practitioners say how helpful it has been in healing slipped and/or herniated discs, bursitis, connective tissue (fascia) issues (possibly useful for Dupuytrens disorder), impaired immune systems and nervous system problems.  Some have even gone so far as to call it ‘Chiropractor in a bottle’.  Unfortunately there are few clinical studies on this plant although given its history is nothing short of criminal. 

WebMD says that one should avoid using this herb if they are pregnant and/or nursing or if one is taking blood pressure and/or blood sugar medications.  Some side effects of overdose are diarrhea, vomiting and mild nausea.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) suggests if one is suffering from excess phlegm conditions, spleen and/or stomach problems they should probably avoid this plant.  The berries are considered poisonous and should be avoided as well.  As always, consult a qualified physician before starting any herbal product or regimen.

As is customary for my posts I am leaving you with some links below.  Stay strong and healthy!