The blue cohosh, also known as squaw root or papoose root, is amongst the oldest medicinal plants native to America. This herb comprises underground or concealed parts, which include the roots and rhizomes of Caulophyllum thalictroides - a perennially growing herb that has a purple color when young. Blue cohosh possesses a smooth stem growing up to a height of anything between one and three feet and at the terminals has a pyramid shaped cluster of yellowish green blossoms. When the herb becomes mature, it has a strange bluish green hue and produces deep blue fruits. Therefore, it is little surprising that the herb has derived its name - blue cohosh - from the color of its fruits. It may be noted here that the blue cohosh belongs to the family Berberidaceae.
In effect, the genus Caulophyllum comprises five species - two from the eastern region of North America and the remaining three from the north-eastern region of Asia. The North American species are C. giganteum and C. thalictroides. On the other hand, one of the Asian species is C. robustum, whose rhizome has been utilized in traditional medicine to cure menstrual problems.
An Indian herbal physician Peter Smith was the first to introduce blue cohosh to the medical world way back in 1813. It is said that this herb was used therapeutically by the Indians to treat a number of health conditions, including dropsy (edema), rheumatism, cramps, hiccough, sore throats, epilepsy, inflammation of the uterus, hysterics and many more. At the same time, blue cohosh earned a status for its diuretic, antispasmodic, expectorant, emmenagogue (encouraging menstrual discharge), parturifacient (making childbirth easier) as well as diaphoretic properties. Contemporary herbal physicians also suggest the use of blue cohosh to cure a variety of female health conditions, particularly in the form of an antispasmodic, stimulant of the uterus, and to induce menstruation.
Chemical analysis of blue cohosh has revealed that the herb encloses several alkaloids as well as glycosides; among these the alkaloid called methylcytisine and the glycoside called caulosaponin give the impression that they contribute the maximum of the physiological actions of the plants. Experiments conducted on animals have demonstrated that the actions of methylcytisine are similar to those of nicotine: but it is just about 1/40 times less toxic compared to nicotine. This chemical amalgam raises the blood pressure and also promotes respiration as well as intestinal motility. The oxytocic (facilitating childbirth) consequences of blue cohosh seem to be caused by the glycoside caulosaponin - which is derived from the triterpenoid saponin called hederagenin. It may be noted that caulosaponin works to narrow down the blood vessels, thereby applying a toxic action on the cardiac muscles and also results in intestinal seizures in comparatively smaller animals.
Considering the presence of these comparatively powerful principles in the medicine, it is impossible to set aside blue cohosh as an ineffective or safe herbal medication. Therefore, the debate over using or not using this herb in the form of a self-medication, especially to promote contractions of the uterus or to encourage menstruation, possibly depends on the prudence to use any self-medication for these reasons. It needs to be emphasized that there is no guarantee that the use of this type of self-medication would be safe.
The rhizome as well as the roots of blue cohosh are knotty and branched and several Native American tribes searched for them for their medicinal value. These indigenous tribes harvested the roots and rhizomes of the herb during the later part of fall, dried them and pulverized them into a powder that was employed as a medication for treating several conditions, including bronchitis, colic, menstrual cramps and rheumatism. It is worth mentioning here that these native people held the blue cohosh in high esteem for its parturient (facilitating childbirth) properties. Pregnant women were made to drink an infusion prepared from the root and rhizome powder about two weeks prior to the expected date of their child's birth. This infusion was prepared by mixing the root/ rhizome powder in warm water and it helped to bring on quick and comparatively unproblematic labor. However, this herb was never given to pregnant women earlier, since it may possibly have caused miscarriage owing to its aptitude to constrict the uterus. Even the early European settlers in North America learnt the remedial uses of this herb and employed it in the form of a parturient. In fact, these settlers named the herb as papoose root and squawroot.
Herbalists who collected blue cohosh as well as prepared various remedial formulations from the herb actually fond out that this plant ought to be used with caution, as they discovered that blue cohosh has a tendency to cause skin irritation as well as aggravate the mucous membranes, particularly when it is employed in the powdered form.
Akin to the leaves of raspberry and also black cohosh, the leaves of blue cohosh too possess invigorating as well as unwinding attributes, which actually help in problem-free and painless childbirth. Use of blue cohosh results in constrictions of the uterus that are regular as well as effectual, combined with an excellent period of relaxation.
The stimulating attributes of blue cohosh augment the slow labor pains and are extremely effective in the instance of any delay in childbirth owing to debility, exhaustion or absence of uterine strength. Likewise, the relaxing consequences of this herb have been proved to be helpful when tension results in tetchiness of the uterus, accompanied by false labor pains, intermittent pains and extremely strong Braxton-Hicks constrictions. This herb has been among the most preferred medication among the Native American women folks for alleviating false pains as well as after-pains. Pregnant women belonging to the indigenous tribes in America drank an infusion prepared from the powdered roots and rhizomes of blue cohosh just a couple of weeks prior to the expected date of childbirth with a view to have an effortless and quick labor.
Even today, blue cohosh is employed especially to help women unwind during childbirth as well as to alleviate labor pain. At the same time, this herb is also employed to soothe restiveness, anxiety and tenderness during the pregnancy, but only before labor. Blue cohosh possesses antispasmodic properties which assist in making certain that the uterus will be able to hold the developing fetus and, hence, it also helps to avert untimely or early delivery. The antispasmodic attributes of this herb are also employed for treating stomach as well as menstrual cramps. In effect, blue cohosh is reputed for assisting in avoiding miscarriage, especially when it is used in conjunction with cramp bark and black haw. This herb also simultaneously works in the form of a relaxant and stimulant for the nervous system.
You may use blue cohosh individually or together with different preparations, for about two weeks before the expected date of childbirth, thrice daily. Caution: Never use blue cohosh during pregnancy, except just for a couple of weeks before delivery.
Root and rhizome.
The word ‘cohosh' is basically an Algonquin (a North American language spoken in some parts of Canada) term and it needs to be mentioned here that a large number of indigenous American tribes had a great preference for the herb blue cohosh for remedial purposes. To a great extent, blue cohosh was regarded as an herb for use by women to facilitate childbirth, set right an anomalous or delayed menstruation as well as ease profuse hemorrhage and pain during menstruation.
The Native American tribes ingested the root of blue cohosh in the form of an oral contraceptive and individuals from both sexes used it to cure genitourinary problems.
Early settlers in North America from Europe learnt about the therapeutic worth of blue cohosh from the indigenous American tribes and eventually incorporated this herb in the Pharmacopoeia of the United States and it retained this status till 1905. It may be noted that the contemporary therapeutic utilities of blue cohosh are not fundamentally dissimilar from the traditional uses of this herb. Till today, blue cohosh is regarded as an herb, which is especially appropriate for treating health conditions endured by women and is mainly used in the form of a tonic for the uterus, providing respite from the ovarian and uterine pains and also to facilitate the discharge of menstrual blood. However, here is a word of caution: blue cohosh ought to be never used by pregnant women till the time of labor, as this herb is a uterine stimulant. However, it is extremely helpful during labor as it makes childbirth effortless and easier.
In addition, the herb blue cohosh also has the aptitude to lessen inflammation and is occasionally employed to treat arthritis as well as other rheumatic conditions.
Blue cohosh is an pungent, bitter and warming herb that acts as a tonic for the uterus, diminishes inflammation, helps to flush out intestinal worms and also possesses diuretic actions. The root of this herb possesses antispasmodic, diuretic, anthelmintic (any substance that helps to expel intestinal worms), oxytocic (facilitating childbirth), diaphoretic (inducing perspiration), and tranquilizing properties. An infusion prepared using the roots of blue cohosh in warm water is generally taken for approximately two weeks prior to the expected birth date with a view to make childbirth easier. In addition, the same infusion may also be employed in the form of an emmenagogue as well as a tonic for the uterus.
Therapeutic preparations from blue cohosh are also used internally to treat gout, rheumatism as well as pelvic inflammatory disease. However, this herb should never be recommended for patients enduring high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart ailments. People who use the powdered form of the root may often experience an irritation of the mucous membranes. Hence, it is advisable that this herb should ideally be used under the administration of a qualified and competent physician.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
Blue cohosh is found growing in the wild in many parts of eastern North America, ranging from Manitoba to Alabama. This herb has a preference for forestland valleys, slopes inclined to the north and moist banks of water bodies.
Usually, the roots of blue cohosh are unearthed during autumn, since they contain the maximum amount of the therapeutic properties during this time of the year. Following harvesting, the roots are dried up and stored for use when necessary. The roots are also harvested during the early part of spring when new growth starts and these roots are used to prepare homeopathic remedy. This homeopathic remedy is particularly used to facilitate childbirth as well as to treat specific types of rheumatism.
Blue cohosh may be grown without any difficulty in moist, light woodland soil that has high humus content. This herb has a preference for locations having complete shade. According to one report, blue cohosh grows and thrives best in a peat garden. Blue cohosh plant has the aptitude to endure as low temperatures as -20ºC. It is interesting to note that this herb bears just a solitary large leaf every year. The seeds of the plant explode the ovary prior to them becoming optimally ripe and carry on expanding uncovered. The blue cohosh fruits have a vivid blue color when completely ripened.
Primarily, blue cohosh is collected from the wild, but it is also possible to cultivate this plant. To cultivate blue cohosh, it needs to be propagated by its seeds, which are sown immediately when they are mature. Alternately, this plant may also be propagated by means of root division, preferably undertaken during autumn.
As mentioned above, it is best to sow the seeds soon after they ripen. The seeds need to be sown in a shady portion of a cold frame. In case you are using stored seeds to propagate blue cohosh, they need to be sown immediately when you receive them. The germination of the seeds of this species may often be unreliable/ unpredictable. The seedlings should be pricked out individually when they have grown sufficiently large to be handled and grown in the shady portion of a cold frame or a green house for the minimum period of their first winter of existence. The young plants may be transplanted in their permanent positions outdoors during the following autumn or early part of the next winter.
Blue cohosh may be propagated by the root division method ideally undertaken during spring or soon after the flowering season of this species. When propagated by root division, the new plant develops very sluggishly.
Till date, very few scientific researches have been undertaken with blue cohosh and, hence, there is definitely a need for more research on this subject. Blue cohosh enjoys an unfailing repute for being an herb that facilitates childbirth as well as treats several gynecological disorders. These therapeutic properties of the herb are to a certain extent attributed to the presence of steroidal saponins in blue cohosh. It is believed that the steroidal saponins are responsible for invigorating the uterus.
Blue cohosh contains:
The roots and rhizomes of blue cohosh possess several therapeutic properties and they are used in various forms, including infusion, powder, fluid extract, alcoholic tincture and caulophyllin.
Powder: The standard dose of using blue cohosh root or rhizome powder is 0.3 gram to 1.0 gram taken thrice every day. This powder may also be taken in the form of decoction. It has been established that the official roots and rhizome results in a therapeutic impact having a mean dosage of 0.5 gram.
Alcoholic tincture: The standard dosage of the alcoholic tincture prepared from the roots and rhizomes of blue cohosh in the ratio of 1:5 is taking 0.6 ml to 1.8 ml (about 120 mg to 360 mg) thrice or four times every day.
Infusion: The infusion prepared from blue cohosh in the ratio of 1:16 is taking 15 ml to 30 ml (0.95 gram to 1.90 grams) once in every two to four hours.
Fluid extract: The fluid extract from the herb's roots and rhizomes diluted in the ratio of 1:1 in 60 per cent alcohol is taken in dosage of 0.3 ml to 0.9 ml (310 mg to 920 mg) thrice every day. Alternately, you may also take the fluid extract (1:1) in 70 per cent alcohol in measures of 0.5 ml to 1.0 ml thrice every day.
Caulophyllin: The standard dosage of this is anything between 130 mg and 260 mg.
Side effects and cautions
People using various therapeutic preparations of blue cohosh or planning to use any of them, ought to be aware of the side effects caused by this herb and exercise necessary precautions. For instance, this herb should never be given to a pregnant woman before the start of the labor. In addition, taking preparations of this herb in large doses may result in high blood pressure (hypertension), in addition to other symptoms those are akin to poisoning by nicotine. Excessive dosage of this herb may also result in vomiting, queasiness, inability to have any control over the muscles (in-coordination) as well as constriction of the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart muscles. If you are taking the powdered form of blue cohosh root, it may produce an irritating outcome on the mucous membranes. It is inadvisable to give therapeutic preparations from blue cohosh to people enduring ischemic heart disease (including heart attacks and angina) as well as individuals who have high blood pressure.