Black cohosh

Black cohosh | Cimicifuga racemosa/Actaea racemosa

general characteristics

general characteristics

Common names include black cohosh, bugbane, black snakeroot, rattleroot, squaw root (Native American tribes).

A member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) black cohosh is a tough perennial plant with tall flower stems. The creamy white flowers are arranged at the top of the flowering stalk. Its leaves spread up to around 3 feet and the flowering stems can reach up to 8 feet!.
It grows best in semi shady woodland in rich slightly moist soil and is native to the woodlands of the eastern side of North America and Canada but will grow happily in the UK given the right conditions. It can grow on the edges of woodland in full sun but will struggle to put out any seedlings in this sort of situation. In dappled rich woodland it will seed readily.
Its flowers are pollinated by flies and gnats that are attracted to the scent of the flowers which is often described as foetid (personally, I love the smell!).


Black cohosh dried root and tincture are available to buy in our herbal shop.






harvesting and preparation

harvesting and preparation

The black, gnarly roots and accompanying rhizomes of black cohosh are dug in the Autumn when the plant is at least 3 years old as the roots are considered mature and ready for medicinal use at this stage. Some herbalists prefer to use the fresh root for tincture making as they consider these the most potent medicinally.
If collecting the root for drying, wash carefully and chop into samllish pieces before spreading thinly on newspaper or similar in a warm but airy place to dry. Check regularly for mould or spoilage and discard any affected pieces. make sure the root is completely dry before storing in an airtight container, away from light.
Black cohosh is on the verge of becoming endangered in the wild from over harvesting due to its growing popularity and the very nature of requiring the root of mature plants, so grow in your garden or buy it in from a reputable supplier. Responsible herbalists and suppliers consider it 'at risk' in the wild but it makes such a handsome plant that it is well worth trying in the garden if you have a site with semi shade.



Black cohosh dried root and tincture are available to buy in our herbal shop.

therapeutic actions and uses

therapeutic actions and uses

Native Americans have used the roots of black cohosh as a medicine for many years for a wide variety of health conditions such as female reproductive disorders, snakebites, malaria,  labour pains in childbirth, to promote lactation (breast milk production) and rheumatism.
Black cohosh has gained a recent reputation as the females friend due to its ability to regulate and balance the female hormonal system. Although its exact mechanisms are mostly unknown, it has been shown to be useful in cases of oestrogen deficiency. Despite its reputation as a 'female herb', black cohosh has so much more to offer.
Black cohosh root has a profound action on the nervous system, muscles, ligaments and tendons where it loosens and eases tension. It is a relaxing nervine useful in spasms, muscular contractions and nervous tension generally, nervous excitability and anxiety, headaches, hysteria, seizures, insomnia, convulsions, dizziness and nerve pain. Works on both smooth muscle (blood vessel/organ linings etc) and skeletal muscle. It also helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system, soothing or uplifting usually unconscious functions such as digestion, hormone release and bladder control. The tincture could also be useful for reducing inflammation in conditions such as meningitis.
Hearing loss (deafness) could also be improved with the use of black cohosh especially when nerve damage or nerve dysfunction is the cause. Tinnitus may also improve over time.
Due to the effects on the autonomic nervous system black cohosh can be used in cases of bladder dysfunction both over active bladder or bladder 'weakness', bedwetting and urinary incontinence.
 Cough and whooping cough can be soothed due to the sedative and antispasmodic actions of black cohosh. It can prove useful in bronchitis too.

Is a vasodilator (widens blood vessels) and encourages blood flow and therefore lowers high blood pressure and can be used as part of a formula in hypertension. The heart beat is slowed yet made more powerful and efficient.


Black cohosh is also anti-inflammatory and has been used to to relieve pain in arthritis and rheumatism and also has a use in inflammatory conditions such as bursitis.


Has considerable analgesic properties due to its aspirin like compounds making it suitable for easing the pain of sciatica, fibrositis, neuralgia, headache, menstrual pains, lumbago, backache, in fact almost any type of pain can benefit from a dose of black cohosh.


Black cohosh root is rich in substances that act like hormones which can bind to oestrogen receptors in the body and both mimic and block the action of oestrogen. This  makes it suitable for many conditions where a lack of or excess of oestrogen is a primary cause of symptoms such as menopausal complaints, hot flushes, menstrual pain, to bring on delayed or absent menstruation, osteoporosis (certain compounds in black cohosh root promote new bone formation), to induce labour in full term women, for pain after birth, for speed and force of the uterine muscles during labour, to encourage and regulate ovulation, shows promise as a treatment for prostate cancer, may act as an effective alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) due to its selective effect on oestrogen receptors, shows promise as a breast cancer treatment and breast cancer prevention and it enhances the action of chemotherapy in breast cancer yet reduces the effects of others (please see 'dosage and cautions').


It was once known as 'a baby in a bottle' due to the presumed fertility enhancing properties when taken by many American women in the late 1800's and early 1900's.


Urinary tract infections and enlarged prostate.


Snake bite, insect repellent.



Click the highlighted text for a detailed monograph on black cohosh root, including references to trials and reviews.



dosage and cautions

dosage and cautions

Black cohosh is generally a safe herb when used in the correct dose. However side effects such as headaches, dizziness, stomach upset, nausea, vomiting and lowered heart rate have been reported in cases of overdose. Discontinue immediately if any of these side effects appear.
*Can cause headaches in sensitive individuals, even at correct dose. If this happens, discontinue use.
* Do not take black cohosh with medications for high blood pressure and only under expert supervision for breast cancers.
*Most women take black cohosh for a maximum of 6 months at a time before having a break for a month then resuming if needed (again for up to 6 months) when using it for hormonal balancing.
*Avoid during pregnancy (apart from the last few weeks or during labour) and whilst breast feeding (apart from to encourage lactation if it is absent). Safer herbs to promote lactation and successful breast feeding include fennel seed, fenugreek seed, holy thistle etc.
*Black cohosh and the breast cancer issue is quite complex. Some evidence of historical use suggests that it can help both prevent and treat breast cancer. However many conventional medicine sources urge caution with black cohosh if there is a history of breast cancer with you or in the female members of your family. Another example of conventional medicine contradicting herbal tradition. Do your own research is my honest advice but also read this from CamCancer.
*Black cohosh has been implicated with liver damage in recent years following a very few cases of women taking the herb reported to have either liver inflammation or liver failure. This prompted further trials specifically targeted at concluding if black cohosh caused damage or toxicity to the liver. All the trials concluded that it did not. However, if you know that your liver is weakened or vulnerable it is probably best to avoid black cohosh until the liver is strengthened. If you develop any symptoms of liver distress such as dark urine, pain in the abdomen around the lower edge of the ribs (right hand side), discontinue use immediately and tell your doctor.


Tincture: 2-4 ml in a little water, 3 times daily.

Dried root in tea form: 0.3-2g root (1/2 to 1 teaspoon) 3 times daily. Simmer the root in a cupful of water for 15 minutes, strain off the liquid and drink up to 3 cups daily


Add 12 to the child’s age. Divide the child’s age by the total.
E.g. dosage for a 4 year old...... 4 {age} divided by 16 {age + 12} = . 25  or 1/4 of the adult dosage.
*I personally would not prescribe black cohosh to children.






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