Black cohosh (cimicifuga racemosa) is a famous menopausal herb and is a best-selling herb. It is reputed to stop hot flashes and calm irritation in menopausal women. Irritability and moodiness is black cohosh’s keynote.
In 1876, Lydia Pinkham, a herbalist homesteader in Massachusetts, introduced Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound.
This herbal formula was marketed as a remedy for “female weakness.” Many women were relieved from the burden of dramatic hormonal swings taking Pinkham’s formula.
The remedy contained several herbs, but black cohosh was the principal ingredient.
Critics of Pinkham suggested that the high alcohol content in the herbal compound was the real reason for its popularity. In the 1800s, few women drank openly.
The critics felt the formula relieved a woman’s “thirst” for alcohol.
Today, clinical studies conducted in Germany have shown black cohosh regulates female hormones via the pituitary gland. Herbalists offer black cohosh not only to menopausal women, but to women of every age who succumb to the darkness of hormonal swings.
Black cohosh is an elegant perennial with wine-coloured, feathered leaves and graces many Central Albertan gardens under the name of bug bane.
This particular common name refers to the unpleasant odour its long spike of fairy-like white flowers emit.
Bugs don’t like the smell. Black cohosh’s insect repellent qualities is reflected in its Latin name, cimicifuga. Cimi in Latin means bug, and fugare means to take flight. The name also suggests the needs of women who do well on this plant, they say, “Don’t bug me” to everyone!
Black cohosh is not native to Central Alberta.
Its natural home is the moist woodlands of Eastern Canada and the US. It is a thirsty plant and requires daily watering in prairie gardens to bloom.
Black Cohosh entered western herbal medicine via the First Nations of the east. The word cohosh comes from the Algonquin word for labour. Black cohosh was used to induce and shorten labour. For this reason, pregnant women should not use black cohosh during early pregnancy. It will bring on a miscarriage.
Besides bringing on labour and calming hormonal swings, black cohosh is a valuable remedy for relieving dull aching pain anywhere in the body. This is particularly true for pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, neuralgia and fibromyalgia.
Black cohosh relieves pain in three ways…
l First, it’s anti-inflammatory effects supports the body in cleaning up the debris caused by inflammatory processes.
l Secondly, it is calming to the nervous system, reducing spasms that cause of the pain. For this reason, black cohosh is also frequently added to formulas for bronchitis and other spasmodic coughs.
l Finally, black cohosh alters perception of pain in the brain. It calms the mind. A calm mind does not feel pain as intensely as an anxious mind.
Black cohosh’s root contains the medicine. Some herbalists swear by a fresh root tincture of black cohosh. However, I advise against herbal dabblers going out in the backyard and digging some up.
Black cohosh belongs to the ranunculacea family, commonly called the buttercup family.
The plants in this family have very strong medicine and most are too toxic to be of medicinal value. To help the medicine settle, the black cohosh’s root is dried before use. In the drying process, the root loses some of its toxicity, making it good medicine.
Prolonged use, over six months, of large doses of black cohosh is still not advised. Large doses of this plant can cause nausea and headache.
In any case, like most plants with strong medicine, black cohosh has a very repugnant flavour. The taste will limit the amount of black cohosh any one person can take at any given time.
To learn more about how plants can balance a woman’s hormones while supporting the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, join me on Jan. 29 at 6:30 at the Snell Auditorium of the Red Deer Public Library. The cost of the talk is $25.00 and all proceeds will go to the woman’s shelter.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached www.abraherbs.com.