Blue Cohosh Root
Blue cohosh, a North American native plant, has long been considered a women's herb. It was first used by Native Americans living in the woods of the eastern United States and later adopted by the women among the settlers.
Caulophyllum thalictroides (L.) Michx.
Botanical Family: Berberidaceae
Common name: blue cohosh
Synonyms: squaw root, papoose root
The Plant: Blue cohosh is a perennial plant, indigenous to North America, that was used extensively by Native Americans living in the regions where the plant thrived — the moist, deep, rich woods from Canada to Kentucky. The name cohosh, which is applied to several herbs including blue cohosh, black cohosh and white baneberry is an Algonquian word associated with pregancy. The common names of squaw root and papoose root were due to its association, among various Eastern forest-dwelling tribes with childbirth. Blue Cohosh's popularity among Native Americans, caused female settlers to quickly adopt it for their own use, which then brought it to the attention of early physicians. In 1882 it was added to the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, where it remained listed until 1905.
Blue Cohosh grows one- to three-feet tall, often in dense colonies, in deep woods where little or no sun penetrates. Flowers of greenish-yellow develop into small dark, purple berries that can cause severe stomach pains if ingested. The leaves have three lobes. The rhizomes are horizontal, wrinkled and branched with distinctive cup-like scars, remnants from stems from prior years. The dried rhizome and attached rootlets are harvested in the fall after the plants have finished fruiting. Blue cohosh root consists of both the dried roots and rhizomes.
Constituents of Note: Triterpene saponins (caulophyllogenin, hederagenin) and alkaloids (caulophylline, anagyrine, magnoflorine) are the most significant constituent groups in blue cohosh.
Quality: Blue cohosh root has an earthy aroma and a strong earthy, bitter flavor with an acrid note that sticks in the back of the throat. The dust of powdered blue cohosh roots irritates the nose and throat when inhaled. The rhizomes have a brown to black outer bark and are light brown to ivory inside. The tough, wiry roots which cover the underside of the rhizome can form a fibrous nest of matted long, brown rootlets. A common problem with the rhizomes in drying is the development of mold if the roots are not dried properly. Cleanliness is another potential quality control issue. Blue Cohosh roots and rhizomes should be free of dirt and rocks — these can easily be spotted in whole or cut roots. Blue cohosh powder should be tested for dirt using a chemical test called acid insoluable ash.
Regulatory Status: dietary supplement
Did you know? Blue cohosh and black cohosh are unrelated plants even though they have similar names derived some the same Alagonquian word. Blue cohosh is in the Berberidaceae family which makes it related to barberry and Oregon grape root. Black cohosh is from the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family, making it a relative of goldenseal. Both herbs use the same name, cohosh, because of the similar uses for the herbs among native Americans.
Directions: As a tea, make a decoction by simmering one teaspoon of blue cohosh root with one cup of water for 10 to 15 minutes. Adding marshmallow root or mullein to the tea will help allay the acridity.
Suggested Uses: Blue Cohosh is most often thought of as a female herb and as having an affinity for female organs. It is a potent herb that is used short term for specific situations rather than as a long-term tonic.
Class:2b Herbs not to be used during pregnancy.
*Michael McGuffin, ed., American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, (New York: CRC Press, 1997)
Origins: Our blue cohosh comes from the Eastern United States, where it is wild-harvested.