The black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt. or Actaea racemosa L.) was traditionally used by native Americans as a remedy for menopausal symptoms. Numerous women both then and now value this medicinal plant. A woman's hormone balance changes during the menopause. Depending on their severity, the associated problems can be very stressful. While about a third of all menopausal women only notice the obvious changes in their menstrual cycle, another third suffer from mild physical and/or psychological symptoms. A further third has to contend with pronounced problems such as hot flushes. Learn more about the distribution, appearance and effect of the black cohosh in this article.
Occurrence and distribution of black cohosh
The black cohosh is most common on the North American continent. It grows wild in some regions of Canada and in many states of the USA where this eye-catching plant is found mainly in wooded regions at a maximum altitude of 1500 m above sea level. It prefers a semi-shady position and moist, nutrient-rich soil.
It is widely used as an ornamental plant - often also under the name “silver primrose” - and enriches native gardens with its striking, pleasantly fragrant flowers.
Appearance of the black cohosh
Cimicifuga racemosa is a herbaceous perennial. Its most striking feature is its size, which can exceed two metres under ideal growing conditions. It has a rhizome (rootstock) for overwintering. The rhizome is a part of the stem that survives the winter mainly underground. The roots grow downwards from the rhizome, and the stem with leaves, flowers and later fruits grow upwards.
History and tradition of black cohosh
Black cohosh has many names that indicate its long tradition and historical use. "Cimicifuga" means "bug repelling". The decoction from the boiled black cohosh root was once used as a remedy against bedbugs. This is why Cimicifuga was sometimes also called “bug herb”.
The indigenous people of North America used the root of the plant to treat, among other things, women's complaints and birth pains as well as liver diseases and kidney ailments. They also called the black cohosh “rattlesnake herb” because of its hard seed capsules that hang from the withered plant in late autumn. In the wind they produce a noise similar to the noise made by a rattlesnake. One can imagine that this still causes moments of alarm from time to time in regions where rattlesnakes often lurk.
Ingredients and effect of black cohosh
The parts of Cimicifuga racemosa used are the roots and the rhizome. These contain triterpene glycosides (cimicifugoside and actein) as well as tannins and phenolcarboxylic acids. The exact mode of action has not yet been clearly demonstrated. It was previously assumed that the triterpenes it contains have an effect similar to that of oestrogen. However, new studies show that there may be a different mode of action. The effect probably comes about via the neurotransmitter system and is communicated via dopamine, serotonin and opioid receptors.
Black cohosh as a medicinal product
The menopause is a transition between two phases of life. This time is associated with hormonal changes that affect the body physically and psychologically. Typical symptoms of hormone fluctuations are hot flushes, sweating, sleep disturbances, nervousness and moodiness. Treatment with herbal medicines can contribute to a smooth transition through this period of a woman’s life.
Black cohosh in the form of Cimicifuga extract is used medicinally for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. The constituents of the medicinal plant Cimicifuga racemosa help with neurovegetative complaints such as hot flushes, sweating and sleep disorders. They also alleviate many of the psychological effects of the menopause. These include irritability, mood swings, nervousness or anxiety.
This is general information. For individual advice, please contact a specialist.