Blue Cohosh: An Herbal Labor Inducer

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Blue cohosh is an herb native to the Appalachian Mountains in North America. It is unrelated to black cohosh despite the word cohosh being in their respective names and the fact that they are both used to treat female medical issues. Blue cohosh belongs to the Berberidaceae family, not the Ranunculaceae family like black cohosh.

The cohosh name that is applied to blue, black, and white cohosh plants is believed to be Algonquin in origin. According to some sources, it is derived from the Algonquin name for pine tree. The blue part of the name comes from the color of the fruit. Other names used for blue cohosh include squaw root and blue ginseng.

Blue cohosh has a similar history to that of black cohosh in that it played a major role in Native American medicine before the arrival of Europeans. The historical medicinal use of blue cohosh was mainly for inducing childbirth. Supposedly, expectant Native American women drank tea made with the herb two weeks before the time their child was supposed to be born. They used it for slowing heavy menstrual flows and for relieving cramps. The Iroquois tribe used it as an arthritis treatment.

Blue cohosh was listed as a labor inducer in the US Pharmacopoeia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was one of the ingredients in Mother’s Cordial, a medicine used by physicians in the Eclectic Medicine movement in the early 20th century. The product is still being made and sold but no longer contains blue cohosh due to the health risks associated with it.

Some blue cohosh applications are specific to certain tribes. For example, the Omaha people used it as a febrifuge while the Meskwaki used it to treat ailments of the genital tract.

Today, the most common way to use the herb is still to induce labor. Blue cohosh is still prescribed by some midwives and herbalists for this purpose.

Blue cohosh flavor profile

Blue cohosh is known to have an extremely bitter flavor, which is why it is not a common culinary herb. Blue cohosh has been described as being so bitter that it is basically unpalatable.

Health benefits of blue cohosh

Blue cohosh has long been valued as a medicinal herb because of constituents like:

  • Glycosides: Two glycosides in blue cohosh are believed to stimulate oxytocin, a hormone that causes the uterus to contract during childbirth.
  • Alkaloids: Blue cohosh has multiple alkaloids that are responsible for some of its effects. These include sparteine and taspine.

Compounds like those above make blue cohosh an excellent treatment and preventive supplement for a host of conditions like:

  • Difficult childbirth: Blue cohosh has long been believed to make labor less painful. This benefit is due to sparteine which is known to help induce labor.
  • Spasms: Some research suggests that blue cohosh is effective for treating spasms and preventing convulsions.
  • Inflammatory conditions: You can use blue cohosh to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis and other joint pains. For best results combine it with another herb like turmeric or Solomon’s seal root.

Health concerns

Blue cohosh is known to cause abortions when taken in excess. Avoid overusing it. Herbalists advise exercising caution when taking blue cohosh. Overdosing may result in nausea and vomiting or cardiac problems in some cases.

Common uses

Blue cohosh is usually taken as a tea. The tea is made with the roots, just like black cohosh.