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, fairy candle
  • Scientific nameActaea 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, a plant originating in North America, has been a popular medicinal herb for centuries. It was originally domesticated by the native peoples of this region before records began, and it was used primarily against menstrual problems, coughs, and muscle pain. When European settlers arrived in North America, they quickly adopted this traditional remedy, and European physicians started prescribing it around the mid-19th century to treat nervous disorders. Black cohosh's value as a medicinal herb continues to this day, as it is still used to treat a range of health problems. Modern medicinal uses for black cohosh are focused on treating the symptoms of menopause and menstrual complaints.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Estrogenic
  • Key constituentsphytoestrogenic lignans
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Liquid extracts, Tincture
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingUse with caution
Black Cohosh

Health Benefits of Black Cohosh

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

  • Relieving menstrual problems. Research also shows that black cohosh may help relieve some of the symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome.

  • Treating the symptoms of menopause. Many research studies have been done on whether black cohosh treats menopausal symptoms and black cohosh is the most popular natural medicine to treat these symptoms. However, research is conflicting and it is recommended to not take black cohosh for more than six months because more long-term studies need to be done on the plant.

Additionally, black cohosh may be effective for: 

  • Preventing osteoporosis. Black cohosh contains phytoestrogens, which may act like estrogen in a woman's body. This compound may also prevent the loss of bone density and the onset of osteoporosis, however more research needs to be done.

  • Treating arthritis. Some research shows 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 the phytoestrogenic lignans contained within, some of which (most notably, actaealactone) are unique to these plant. Black cohosh also contains isoferulic acids, polyphenols, and glycosides, in addition to coumarin, caffeic acid, and fukinolic acid.

The phytoestrogenic lignans, which are chemically similar to human estrogen, have the ability to stimulate estrogen receptors around the body. For women experiencing symptoms related to estrogen deficiency, this means they will help replace the estrogen they are not producing on their own.

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

The compounds found in black cohosh can cause some adverse effects, such as stomach discomfort, headaches, weight gain, or breast tenderness. It is important to note that black cohosh should be taken for the short- or mid-term only, since there is some evidence that long-term use of black cohosh may cause a slight increase in the likelihood of getting diseases associated with the breasts and uterus. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a personal history of breast cancer, and individuals with liver disorders should not take black cohosh.

Other herbs with strong anti-inflammatory properties are turmeric and cat's claw, while dong quai and soy are examples of estrogenic herbs that can benefit hormonal health when imbalances occur.

Black Cohosh Side Effects

Black cohosh has been known to occasionally cause headaches and problems with weight. Reports show black cohosh may also cause liver damage, however millions of people use the herb with no adverse side effects.

Cautions

Due to the fact that black cohosh has not been rigorously reviewed, it is advised that the herb is not mixed with other medication, and it is recommended people only take it for one year at a time.

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, should not take black cohosh.

How to Consume Black Cohosh

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsRoot
  • Edible usesBeverage
  • TasteMildly bitter, Earthy

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 is the rhizome, or its underground thick roots, which contain most of its active compounds.

Supplements

Main preparations: capsules, infusions, tincture

  • 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.

  • Infusions. A warm tea, made primarily from the roots and rhizomes of the plant, has a slightly bitter taste but it is easy to prepare to relieve pain and promote hormonal balance in women.  

  • 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.

Buying

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

Black Cohosh Plant and Seeds

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

Raw and Dried Black Cohosh

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.

Black Cohosh 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
  • SoilWell-drained
  • Soil pH5.1 – 5.5 (Strongly acidic), 5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic)
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions, Temperate mountain regions
  • Pre-germination seed treatmentScarification
  • Propagation techniquesRoot cuttings, Divisions
  • Potential insect pestsBeetles, Slugs, Cutworms, Snails
  • Potential diseasesFungi, Damping-off

Black cohosh 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 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 black cohosh 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.

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

  • The plant 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

Black cohosh 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, 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 is one of the 20 recognized species within the Actaea genus. Some herbs related to black cohosh are baneberry (Actaea spicata), white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), and red baneberry (Actaea rubra).

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 herb.

Bibliography