Blue Cohosh is a flowering perennial in the Berberidaceae family found throughout Eastern North America, but especially in the Appalachian mountains and South into Mississippi in hardwood forests, favoring moist coves, swamps, shady hillsides, and rich soils. It’s one of the first plants to appear in the forest in the early spring, recognizable by it’s 2-3ft round blueish-purple stem and single, large tri-pinnately compound blueish-green leaf. The leaflets are ovate, irregularly lobed and serrated at the tip. As the summer progresses, Blue Cohosh typically produces three branches, each bearing three compound leaves, and a panicle or raceme of small yellowish six-petaled flowers which mature into dark pea-sized blue berries. The berries are toxic, and potentially fatal if ingested by children. The roots are the parts medicinally, and should be collected in the early fall.
Blue Cohosh is a bitter, earthy, warming uterine tonic, oxytocic, uterine stimulant, and emmenagogue. It contains a chemical, caulosaponin, that triggers strong uterine contractions, making it useful for inducing labor, dilating the cervix, causing abortions, and stimulating delayed menses. Studies have shown that it reduces blood flow to the heart, and overdosing with this herb may lead to heart damage. Blue cohosh is a very strong herb, and while it makes a strong menstrual stimulant, it’s not recommended for this purpose, as there are many other suitable herbs to bring on menses such as pennyroyal, mugwort, and black cohosh, that are not as harsh on the system. Blue cohosh also has anti-inflammatory actions on the uterus and joints, making it useful for menstrual cramps and potentially in the treatment on arthritis. It also has diaphoretic and diuretic qualities.
Introduced to western herbalism from Native American herbalism, Blue Cohosh is often found called by other names such as Squaw Root and Papoose Root. Several Native American tribes used blue cohosh to stimulate menstruation, induce labor, and cause abortions. Early American physicians used blue cohosh for similar purposes, as well as a contraceptive and to treat menstrual cramps, kidney and bladder infections, breast pain, bronchitis, and nausea.
As a decoction, 1 teaspoon of dried root per cup of water, simmered for 10 minutes and drunk three times daily. As a tincture, 1-2 ml of the tincture, three times daily. To strengthen the uterus, it combines well with false unicorn root, motherwort, and yarrow.
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