Black cohosh is a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It has several other common names, including black snakeroot, bugwort, rattleweed, and others.
The botanical name for black cohosh is Cimicifuga racemosa or Actaea racemosa. North American Indians used black cohosh as a remedy for a variety of disorders, including depression, menstrual disorders, kidney problems, malaria, rheumatism, and sore throats.
It was used in America in the 1800s as a fever reducer, as a diuretic, and to bring on menstruation. It was an extremely popular treatment for reproductive disorders, and alternative practitioners used it to treat a range of conditions associated with the female reproductive system. It was often used as a treatment for infertility, to prevent miscarriage, and to relieve labor pains.
More recently, black cohosh has gained popularity as a treatment for symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, anxiety, and depression. It has also been found to effectively relieve headaches, vertigo, heart palpitations, and sleeplessness associated with menopause.
Black cohosh supplements are derived from the roots and underground stems (called rhizomes) of the black cohosh plant. The herb contains several active compounds, including triterpene sponins. The roots and stems of black cohosh are extracted with alcohol.
Though not proven, black cohosh is believed to have possible estrogenic effects that make it a popular remedy for symptoms of menopause. When a woman enters menopause, estrogen production decreases due to less efficient communication between the brain and the pituitary gland.
In addition, the production of luteinizing hormone (LH) increases during menopause. Hot flashes result from these changes in hormonal production. Several clinical trials conducted in Europe found black cohosh to be a safe and effective remedy for hot flashes, as well as other symptoms of menopause such as anxiety, night sweats, fatigue, and insomnia.
Black Cohosh Side Effects
There are no known drug interactions with black cohosh, and side effects have rarely been reported. At very large doses, the herb may cause gastrointestinal complaints (nausea and vomiting), dizziness, or headaches. Though black cohosh was oncek used to prevent miscarriage, pregnant women should not take it since modern studies have not been performed to determine its safety during gestation.
In addition, women with breast cancer may want to avoid using black cohosh until its effects on estrogen levels and breast tissue can be studied conclusively.