Black Cohosh: Herbal Remedies

Black cohosh is used in herbal remedies for muscle pain and gynecologic conditions.

Related to the buttercup, larkspur, and peony, black cohosh is a wild plant found throughout the eastern United States and Canada. Native Americans used it to treat a wide range of ailments but most notably in herbal remedies for gynecologic conditions.

Uses of Black Cohosh

If you ache -- whether from menstrual cramps, an injury, or a condition such as arthritis -- black cohosh may be the herb you need. Black cohosh acts as an antispasmodic to muscles, nerves, and blood vessels and as a muscle anti-inflammatory. It contains the anti-inflammatory salicylic acid (the base for the active ingredient in aspirin), among several other constituents such as triterpene glycosides (for example, acetin and 27 deoxyactein), isoflavones (for example, formononetin), aromatic acids, tannins, resins, fatty acids, starches, and sugars, and has been used for an assortment of muscular, pelvic, and rheumatic pains.

Black cohosh seems particularly effective for uterine cramps and muscle pain caused by nervous tension, as well as pains accompanied by stiffness, soreness, and tight sensations or contractions. Native Americans used it for female and muscular conditions as well as fatigue, sore throat, arthritis, and rattlesnake bites. Early American physicians used black cohosh for female reproductive problems, including menstrual cramps and bleeding irregularities, as well as uterine and ovarian pain.

Black cohosh is used as an emmenagogue, an agent that promotes menstrual or uterine bleeding. Herbalists consider it a sedative emmenagogue, meaning it promotes menses when uterine tension, cramps, and congestion hinder flow. Black cohosh relaxes the uterus, especially when tension is caused by anxiety. Black cohosh is believed to act on the uterus by improving muscle tone, so it is useful for preventing miscarriage and premature labor. The herb also is recommended for women who have had difficult labors; in those cases it is administered in small doses in the last trimester of pregnancy to prepare the uterus for delivery. It decreases labor pain while at the same time promoting more efficient contractions. Black cohosh also can be helpful when contractions during labor are weak, or for severe after pains following labor.

The herb is thought to have an estrogenic effect because its constituents bind to estrogen receptors in the body. The binding of a plant constituent to an estrogen receptor can increase estrogen activity in the affected tissues. Women who take water extracts of black cohosh have not demonstrated the side effects usually associated with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), leading researchers to believe that this herb could be a safe alternative to traditional HRT. Black cohosh can improve many symptoms of menopause, including uterine problems, such as poor uterine tone, menstrual cramps, and postmenopausal vaginal dryness.

One recent study evaluated the effects of black cohosh and a placebo in 110 menopausal women. The women were given 8 milligrams of black cohosh or the placebo every day for eight weeks, and then blood levels of the hormones FSH and LH were checked. The results showed that black cohosh decreased the levels of LH -- an effect that could particularly benefit postmenopausal women. Several German clinical trials support the usefulness of black cohosh for relieving hot flashes in menopausal women. Other symptoms of menopause also improved after the women took black cohosh; they experienced decreased night sweats, improved sleep, and less nervous tension during the day.

Black cohosh is also a mild stomach tonic credited with alterative action. (An alterative is an agent capable of improving the absorption of nutrients and the elimination of wastes by the digestive tract.) Its sweet and bitter flavors stimulate digestion. Black cohosh has been shown to dilate peripheral blood vessels and sometimes improve elevated blood pressure. Early physicians also used black cohosh for serious infectious diseases, including whooping cough, scarlet fever, and smallpox.

In the next section, you will learn how to prepare black cohosh for herbal remedies and some of the potentially dangerous side effects.

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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.