Black cohosh is a North American native, originally found in southern Ontario and the northeastern United States.
Black cohosh is a North American native, originally found in southern Ontario and the northeastern United States.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

William S. Justice
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Smithsonian Institution, Dept. of Systematic Biology, Botany.

©William S. Justice


First Nations used Black cohosh rhizomes and roots primarily to treat "women's complaints" such as painful menstruation or difficult childbirth. It was also used for rheumatism, sore throat, and several other conditions.

European settlers quickly adopted the plant as a valuable - and readily available - addition to their supply of drugs and used it for conditions such as high blood pressure, migraine, and neuralgia. Black cohosh became a popular ingredient in 19th-century patent medicines, especially those aimed at women. It was also tried, probably in desperation, as a remedy for many infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, and measles.

First Nations used Black cohosh rhizomes and roots primarily to treat "women's complaints" such as painful menstruation or difficult childbirth. It was also used for rheumatism, sore throat, and several other conditions.

European settlers quickly adopted the plant as a valuable - and readily available - addition to their supply of drugs and used it for conditions such as high blood pressure, migraine, and neuralgia. Black cohosh became a popular ingredient in 19th-century patent medicines, especially those aimed at women. It was also tried, probably in desperation, as a remedy for many infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, and measles.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Black cohosh is a popular over-the-counter herbal remedy. There is some evidence that it is effective in reducing some of the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, although large-scale studies of its effectiveness and possible side effects have not yet been done.

Its potential for alleviating painful menstruation and PMS, and slowing development of osteoporosis, is also being investigated, although there is as yet no firm evidence for these uses.

Black cohosh is a popular over-the-counter herbal remedy. There is some evidence that it is effective in reducing some of the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, although large-scale studies of its effectiveness and possible side effects have not yet been done.

Its potential for alleviating painful menstruation and PMS, and slowing development of osteoporosis, is also being investigated, although there is as yet no firm evidence for these uses.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Black cohosh is a popular garden perennial, now grown far outside its original range for its handsome foliage and dramatic flower stalks which can reach more than 2 metres in height. It prefers partial shade and moist soil.
Black cohosh is a popular garden perennial, now grown far outside its original range for its handsome foliage and dramatic flower stalks which can reach more than 2 metres in height. It prefers partial shade and moist soil.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Over 95% of the black cohosh used in medicines is gathered in the wild. Like ginseng and goldenseal, black cohosh is a slow-growing forest perennial harvested for its roots, and is therefore very vulnerable to over-collecting. It has been declared "threatened" in several US states.

If the demand for black cohosh continues to increase, it may become a more significant commercially farmed crop.

Over 95% of the black cohosh used in medicines is gathered in the wild. Like ginseng and goldenseal, black cohosh is a slow-growing forest perennial harvested for its roots, and is therefore very vulnerable to over-collecting. It has been declared "threatened" in several US states.

If the demand for black cohosh continues to increase, it may become a more significant commercially farmed crop.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Black cohosh was one of the "vegetables" in Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, perhaps the most famous of all North American patent medicines for "women's problems."

Museum of Health Care at Kingston

© Museum of Health Care at Kingston


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • describe the plant Black Cohosh;
  • explain why Black Cohosh is interesting as a plant remedy.

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