- Family Ranunculaceae
- Cimicifuga racemosa
- Black Snake Root, Snakeroot, Rattleroot, Rattleweed, Squaw Root, Bugbane, Bugwort, Cimicifuga, Richweed
- Do not use during pregnancy.
- Do not exceed recommended doses, as large doses can cause dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
- Avoid using the herb if there is heart disease.
- It is not known the effects of long term use, but authorities suggest limiting consumption to no more than four to six months at a time.
Native to eastern Canada and the US, it grows as far south as Florida, preferring shady spots in woods and shrubby areas. It can also be found growing wild in Europe, having been self-seeded from cultivated plants. It is an herbaceous perennial, growing to eight feet with creamy white or yellow flower spikes. Gardeners prize it for its tall spires of fluffy flowers. For medicinal purposes, it is the dark, tough, knotty rhizomes, which is harvested in the fall, that contain the necessary compounds.
The root has long been a favoured remedy of Native Americans for female complaints, which is why one of its nicknames is “squawroot”. The Penobscot people used it for kidney troubles.
Its name is the Algonquin word for rough referring to the plants gnarled root structure.
Between 1820 and 1936, the US Pharmacopoeia listed black cohosh as an effective means to promote menstruation and as a sedative for rheumatism.
According to the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla in Oregon, “cohosh” means “breast”, indicating that it has long been used for female problems by Native Americans. In addition to its value in treating gynecological problems, black cohosh has been used by them as a sedative, diuretic, an anticonvulsive, a treatment for high blood pressure, as well as for a number of respiratory conditions, including pleurisy, pneumonia, asthma, and croup.
The Nanticoke Indians (from Delaware and eastern Maryland) used the root to make a tonic. The Winnebago drank a decoction made from the plant to relieve rheumatism. The Cherokee used it in many ways, including as a sedative, a tonic, and a diuretic, and to treat respiratory problems and rheumatism. The Iroquois used it as a blood purifier and to promote the flow of milk in nursing mothers. It was also used in steam baths as a treatment for rheumatism. Poultices were made by pounding the leaves and applying to sore backs.
Early settlers adopted the use of the black cohosh for treatments. By the 19th century, doctors were using it to treat various gynecological problems, diarrhea, arthritis, and insomnia.
By the early 20th century, black cohosh had been replaced by pharmaceutical products, but was “rediscovered” in the 1990s as a growing number of women who sought more natural and safer alternatives to estrogen replacement and other hormone preparations.
- promotes menstrual flow
- triterpene glycosides (actein, cimicifugoside)
- isoflavones (formononetin)
- isoferulic acid
- salicylic acid
- fatty acids
- very high in selenium, chromium, and iron
Formononetine is a flavonoid that has mild hormonal activity similar, but weaker, to estrogen. However, by binding to estrogen receptor sites, it can largely mimic the effects of human estrogen.
Research has confirmed the validity of traditional knowledge. The results of a German trial, published in 1995, showed that black cohosh, in combination with St. John’s Wort, was 78% effective in alleviating hot flashes and other menstrual problems. Modern research indicates that it is a safe and effective alternative to estrogen replacement therapy. When menopause begins, estrogen production starts to drop off causing numerous symptoms. In addition, menopause causes luteinizing hormone levels to rise, and a high concentration of LH fosters fluctuations in body temperature, resulting in hot flashes and night sweats. The triterpene glycosides in the herb counteracts hot flashes by suppressing the secretion of LH.
As for painful menstruation, the herb lessens discomfort by increasing blood flow to the uterus and decreasing severe contractions that cause the discomfort.
In lessening the irritation of premenstrual syndrome, the herb may be able to stand in for estrogen to provide a better hormone balance.
There are a number of Cimicifuga species used in traditional Chinese medicine, including C. dahurica and C. foetida which are thought to clear heat and relieve toxicity, as well as being used to treat asthma, headaches, and measles, among other conditions.
Black cohosh is used to promote menstration, relieve menstrual pain, as well as problems where progesterone production is too high. It is also used for depression.
Decoctions are used for inflammatory arthritis, especially if associated with menopause. The herb is also effective for rheumatic problems, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Its sedating effects makes it valuable for treating a variety of conditions, including high blood pressure, tinnitus, whooping cough, and asthma.
The tannins help in treating diarrhea.
When the herb is applied to the skin, it has an astringent effect that can ease the irritation of insect bites. It may also relieve the inflammation and itching of eczema and other types of dermatitits.