Black Cohosh: A Native American Answer To Menopause

Black cohosh is native to North America and can be found growing from Eastern Canada all the way down to Georgia in the United States. The herb was used by Native Americans for its medicinal benefits long before the European settlers’ arrival.

The Delaware tribe was one of the Native American communities that used black cohosh. They combined it with other herbs like stoneroot. It was used to treat symptoms of menopause and rheumatism and as a tonic. The Cherokee people are believed to have used it for those conditions as well, as did the Iroquois. The Iroquois name for black cohosh translates to smells like a horse. The Algonquins used it to treat kidney ailments.

Early settlers learned from Native Americans and began using black cohosh for its medicinal benefits.

Black cohosh was first described by botanists in the early 18th century and was shortly thereafter exported to Britain for flower gardens.

Despite its early use, the herb’s medicinal value would not be recognized among the wider American population until the 19th century. It was an official drug by the 1820s.

Black cohosh goes by many names including bugbane and bugwort, which have been given to it because of its insect-repellent properties. The early name for it in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia was black snakeroot. The genus name comes from the Latin words for bug and drive away, which indicates its effectiveness at driving away insects.

There are other plants called bugbane that are used as insect repellants. These plants typically have pungent odors, but the odor of black cohosh is not quite as strong.

The same eclectic Medical movement that popularized echinacea also promoted black cohosh. Dr. John King played a key role in that movement and praised black cohosh along with feverfew and other herbs. He used it to treat various inflammatory conditions including rheumatism.

The popularity of black cohosh, echinacea and saw palmetto would spread to Germany because of the Eclectic movement’s enthusiastic endorsement.

Today, black cohosh is still used among herbalists and its value as a treatment for menopause is becoming more widely known.

Black cohosh flavor profile

Black cohosh is bitter and slightly astringent. It does have an unpleasant but not overpowering smell.

Health benefits of black cohosh

Among the compounds that make black cohosh valuable for health are:

  • Formonentin: Chemical analyses of black cohosh show that it is a source of the isoflavone known as formononetin, which is believed to have antioxidant properties.
  • Glycosides: Powerful chemicals called glycosides are present in black cohosh. Glycosides are believed to be effective against numerous serious illnesses associated with inflammation.
  • Salicylic acid: Black cohosh is a source of salicylic acid, which has similar effects to aspirin.

You can use black cohosh to treat or prevent the following health issues:

  • Symptoms of menopause: While the studies on black cohosh are highly conflicted, there is some evidence that the herb does ease hot flashes as a result of phytoestrogens it contains. The phytoestrogens may also slow the loss of bone density.
  • Depression: Black cohosh is believed to have mild antidepressant effects.

Health concerns

Because the effects of black cohosh do appear similar to those of estrogen therapy, there are concerns that it could have the same risks. You should also avoid this herb if you have an allergy to aspirin.

Common uses

Black cohosh is typically consumed as a decoction. The root is covered in water and simmered for about 30 minutes after which it is removed and the water consumed.