Native Medicinal Herbs

Black Cohosh: ( Cimicifuga racemosa)

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)

Other Names: Black snakeroot, bugbane, bugwort, rattlewort, faerie torches

Black cohosh is a perennial plant two to three feet tall. It is found on slopes on deeply shaded deciduous forests. Leaves are deeply divided, toothed leaflets, with three leaflets typically on each stem. There is a black mark on the stem where it forks into three branches. It flowers in early summer with a single flower stalk. The buds are evenly spaced and resemble peas along the upper portions of the flower stalk. They can remain unopened for a month or more. They bloom in late June or early July from the bottom to the top of the plant. The flower is delicate and white. For more information on identification, please see Peterson’s Eastern Medicinal Plants.

Key Actions: Nervine, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, emmenagogue, sedative.

The root is the part used conventionally in modern herbal medicine. Traditionally, American Indians soaked the roots in alcohol to make a remedy for rheumatic pain. It was also used to treat coughs and colds, bring on delayed menses, and to sooth fussy babies.

Today it is known as one of the most effective ways to herbally treat menstrual and menopausal discomfort. It relieves menstrual pain, cramping, irritability, and headache. It is also used in menopause to treat symptoms such as hot flashes, skin-crawling sensations, depression, nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia. It also aids uterine pain in endometriosis, and post partum depression. It relieves pain in arthritis and rheumatism, as well as the inflammation. It has also been used for fibromyalgia and spasmodic coughs, such as bronchitis, colds, and whooping coughs.

Harvesting: Gather in the late summer or early fall. Dig the roots after the flowers have faded. The foliage often seems to suddenly die back, so identification can often be difficult. Look for the dried, faded flower stalk covered in round, dry seed pods. Ideally, it should be harvested before the first frost. Be sure not to confuse with Doll’s Eyes or white baneberry (Actaea alba or A. pachypoda). The arraignment of the flowers and the color of the berries can prevent this. Black cohosh has dark purple berries and a slender raceme that can grow a foot or more. Doll’s Eyes has a short, ithgt raceme close to the leaves and the berries are white with a dark purple mark or “eye”. White baneberry is toxic and not safe for use.