Black Cohosh

Black cohosh is a classic remedy for women's health issues. The popularity of this plant native to the United States has spread around the world.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Black cohosh, black bugbane, black snakeroot, baneberry, bug root, fairy candle
  • Scientific nameActaea racemosa (syn. Cimicifuga racemosa)
  • Geographic distributionNorth America
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Native regionNorth America
  • Main producer(s)United States of America
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
  • Plant Life CyclePerennial
  • Main Consumed PartRoot
  • OLD Main Economic UseMedicinal
  • Main Economic ProducerU.S.
  • Native RegionU.S.
  • Growing HabitatSubtropical Regions
Black Cohosh

Black cohosh, also known as black bugbane and black snakeroot, among other names, has been a popular medicinal herb in North America for centuries, and it is still valued to this day. Black cohosh modern applications are focused on treating the symptoms of menopause and menstrual complaints.

Black Cohosh Medicinal Properties

Quick Facts (Medicinal Properties)
  • Medicinal actionEstrogenic
  • Key constituentsphytoestrogenic lignans
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Tincture
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingUse with caution
Black Cohosh Benefits and Properties

Health Benefits of Black Cohosh

Black cohosh properties have been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of conditions. However, modern scientific research suggest that black cohosh health benefits may be primarily useful for the following purposes:

  • Relieving PMS and menopause symptoms. Due to its estrogenic benefits, black cohosh is arguably the most popular natural medicine to treat the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause.

Additionally, black cohosh properties may be effective for: 

  • Preventing osteoporosis. Black cohosh estrogenic effects are thought  to prevent bone loss and the onset of osteoporosis, however more research is necessary to corroborate this claim.

  • Treating arthritis. Some research suggests that black cohosh may help relieve the inflammation caused by arthritis when used in combination with other herbs.

How It Works

The main active ingredients in black cohosh are phytoestrogenic lignans, some of which (most notably, actaealactone) are unique to this plant.

The phytoestrogenic lignans in black cohosh are chemically similar to human estrogen and stimulate estrogen receptors around the body, which means they can help relieve symptoms related to estrogen deficiency, usually caused by hormonal imbalances during menstrual periods and menopause.

BLACK COHOSH CONTAINS PHYTOESTROGENS, WHICH MAY ACT LIKE ESTROGEN IN A WOMAN'S BODY.

Other herbs with estrogenic properties are alfalfa, dong quai and soy, all of which can help restore hormonal health in women. Although it lacks estrogenic properties, maca root contains active compounds that stimulate the endocrine system, regulating the production of hormones and relieving menopause symptoms.

Black Cohosh Side Effects

The compounds found in black cohosh may cause some adverse effects, such as stomach discomfort, headaches, weight gain, or breast tenderness. Reports show that excessive consumption of black cohosh may cause liver damage.

Cautions

It is important to note that black cohosh should not be taken for more than six months, since there is some evidence that long-term use may cause a slight increase in the risk of diseases associated with the breasts and uterus. Because more long-term studies need to be done on black cohosh, it is not advised to mix it with other medication.

In addition, black cohosh has a few major contraindications: women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as those who have a past history of hormone-related cancers or liver disorders should not take black cohosh.

How to Consume Black Cohosh

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsRoot
  • TasteBitter
How to Use Black Cohosh

Black cohosh is not regarded as an edible herb, so its consumption is usually done through infusions or supplements.

Among herbal medicine practitioners, the most prized part of this plant are its rhizomes, or underground thick roots, which provide all black cohosh health benefits in high concentrations.

Natural Forms

  • Infusions. The roots and rhizomes of the plant can brewed. This slightly bitter infusion can help relieve pain and promote hormonal balance in women.  

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Tincture. This is a concentrated preparation that needs to be diluted in water in order to reap the benefits of herb. The general guideline for black cohosh dosage is from 20 - 80 mg, once or twice a day.

  • Capsules. In its supplementary form, black cohosh can be taken daily, in fixed doses to relief specific conditions, such as premenstrual syndrome or menopause symptoms.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores

Natural Forms

Both black cohosh seeds and seedlings can be found in plant nurseries and are also available for purchase online.

The raw root – or rhizome - of black cohosh can be found online and be ground at home to brew an herbal tea. However, dried black cohosh can also be bought in the form of teabags from specialized health stores and online retailers.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Black cohosh supplements are mainly found in specialized health stores. There is a wide variety of black cohosh supplements available through online retailers, although the most common form is in tablet form.

Each brand of black cohosh supplement may come with different concentrations, It is a good idea to seek the advise of a health professional before start taking black cohosh.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsRoots, Rhizome
  • Light requirementsPartial shade
  • SoilPeaty
  • Soil pH5.1 – 5.5 (Strongly acidic), 5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic)
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions, Woodlands
  • Propagation techniquesRoot cuttings
  • Potential insect pestsBeetles, Slugs, Cutworms, Snails
  • Potential diseasesFungi, Damping-off

The black cohosh plant can be found growing naturally in rich woodlands from as far north as Maine and Ontario, south to Georgia, and west to Missouri and Indiana. This herbaceous perennial can reach eight feet (2.4 m) tall when mature.

Growing Guidelines

  • Black coshoh herb can be reproduced by seeds, but the germination rate is very low, so the preferred methods of propagation are root divisions or rhizome cuttings.

  • The optimal range of temperatures for growing a black cohosh plant is 66 - 77°F (20 - 25°C)

  • Black cohosh grows best in moisturized, rich, heavy soils which are preferably partially shaded, with a pH of 5.1 - 6.0.

  • This plant needs generous amounts of water to thrive. The soil must be kept most at all times; however, over-watering should be avoided.

  • This is a slow-growing plant. It may take over a year for the first shoots to emerge.

  • The black cohosh herb is susceptible to be attacked by cutworms, blister beetles, slugs, and snails.

  • Black cohosh can also be affected by fungal diseases, such as damping off.

More detailed information about growing black cohosh can be found in the herb garden section.

Additional Information

Plan Biology

The black cohosh plant, also known as black bugbane, black snakerrot, bug root, and fairy candle, is an herbaceous perennial that forms long leaves of up to three feet (1 m) in length and possesses a thick rhizome, or bulbous root, that can reach 24 inches (60 cm) deep.

  • Classification

    Black cohosh, or Actaea racemosa, also known as Cimicifuga racemosa, is a member of the Ranunculaceae  family, which contains around 1,700 species spread worldwide over 60 genera. This large group often goes by the name of buttercup or crowfoot family, and predominately contains flowering plants, including healing herbs like goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and hepatica (Hepatica americana).

  • Related Species

    Actaea racemosa (syn. Cimicifuga racemosa) is one of the 20 recognized species within the Actaea genus (former Cimicifuga genus). Close relatives of the black cohosh herb are baneberry (Actaea spicata), white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), and red baneberry (Actaea rubra).

Historical information

The black cohosh plant was originally domesticated by the native peoples of North America before records began, and it was used primarily against menstrual problems, coughs, and muscle pain. When the first settlers arrived to American lands, they quickly adopted this traditional remedy, and European physicians started prescribing black cohosh around the mid-19th century to treat nervous disorders.

Economic Data

The main economic importance of black cohosh is as an herbal medicine used to treat disorders related to menstruation and menopause. In 1998, black cohosh root consumption was approximately 700,000 lbs (317,515 kg), but in 1999, only 183,000 lbs (83,000 kg) were consumed worldwide, although the market sharply increased again to 420,000 lbs (190,000 kg) by 2001. In that year alone, the black cohosh industry was worth around $2.25 million USD, and it is predicted to keep rising.

Other uses

Black cohosh has gained some popularity in recent years as an ornamental plant.

Bibliography

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