Black Cohosh

Common name: Black Cohosh

Latin name: Cimifuga racemosa


Description and ecology

Black cohosh consists of a tall stalk, growing up to 8 feet in height, with a lacy white raceme on top. It is native to western North America. 


Parts used

Preparations of this herb most commonly use the root and rhizome, fresh for the best effect.


System affinities

Black cohosh is most famously known as a women’s herb, with an affinity for the female reproductive system.


Energetics, characteristics, flower essence, and dosha

As a bitter herb, black cohosh is also very cooling. Therefore, it is ideal for hot, moist constitutions, such as pitta or kapha, and is not indicated for the vata dosha. Its main actions are as an emmenagogue and an estrogenic hormone regulator. Though it is less known for this, black cohosh is also a muscle relaxer, antirheumatic agent,  and slight nervine. It is also very good at stimulating the flow and movement of things that are “stuck”- whether that’s delayed menses, qi, or emotional clutter and rumination trapped in the mind. It is especially helpful for dark, brooding depression. A flower essence preparation of this herb is especially helpful with this last instance.


Taste and quality

Black cohosh is a very bitter, acrid herb.


Indications

This is most commonly known as an herb used for menopausal support because of its estrogenic nature. Many symptoms that come from low estrogen levels in the body, such as vaginal dryness and hot flashes, can also be alleviated by this herb. However, its powers are not limited to menopausal women; black cohosh can be extremely effective for menstruating women as well in bringing on delayed menses, regulating cycles, and easing menstrual cramps. It is also used sometimes during the last few weeks of pregnancy to tone and strengthen the uterine muscles before labor, and it can be used in cases of delayed labor.


 

History and lore

Black cohosh is native to North America and was used often by Native Americans, who called it “squaw root” because of its affinity for the female reproductive system. They also used it topically for snake bites.


In practice

I have used this herb extensively in my private practice as a naturopathic physician.  The typical patient that comes to see me normally has autoimmunity, but the second largest population is female gynecological complaints including menopausal discomfort.  I’d like to point out that menopause in itself is not a pathology.  In fact, that is why we named our menopause tonic 4th Femme, to highlight the fourth phase of life for the female leading to the wisdom years.  Names like meno-blend and the like, further categorize the natural transition of menopause into a disease state for which it is not.


I think of black cohosh specifically for the estrogen depletion and its side effects including depressed mood and irritability, along with being the uterine tonic as mentioned above.  For this reason I find it useful in cycling females, particularly before menstruation.  The energy of the plant reminds me of the imprint of Devil’s Club; slightly dangerous in appearance but not there to harm one, rather it can serve as a powerful protector of the sacred spaces we find deep within amid the chaos, inevitable changes, and unveiling of our sacred feminine.  This holds true for biological males as well.  Black cohosh energy holds space for the strong Athena archetype; master of knowledge, art, and war.  If you feel like your rage has an untapped potential of creative transformation then maybe black cohosh is for you (male or female).