Blue Cohosh Identification:
Blue Cohosh is a perennial which grows from 1 to 2 feet high. Smooth-stemmed; stem and leaves covered with a bluish film. The leaves are divided into 3 leaflets with 2 to 3 lobes. (Occasionally there will be 5 leaflets.) The flowers are greenish-yellow, in terminal clusters. The fruit is a pea-sized, dark blue berry, which is poisonous, especially to children.
Family: Berberidaceae (Barberry family)
Other Names: Papoose Root, Blue Berry, Squaw Root
Flowers: April – June
Parts Used: Root and rhizome
Habitat: Moist, rich woods. Eastern U.S. from Appalachians to the Mississippi.
The American Indians called blue cohosh “papoose root”, believing it triggered labor and hastened childbirth. They were right. Science has shown that an active substance found in blue cohosh can induce labor.
Blue Cohosh is not related to black cohosh—they belong to different botanical families. But the Indians used both as gynecological herbs and called them both cohosh.
In addition to inducing labor, menstruation, and abortion, the Indians used blue cohosh to treat sore throat, hiccups, infant colic, epilepsy, and arthritis. Some Indian women even drank a strong decoction as a contraceptive.
Constituents: Alkaloids, Caulophylline, Baptifoline, Anagyrine, Laburnine
Caulosaponin, Resins, Methylcytisine, and Glycosides.
Properties: Anthelmintic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, oxytocic.
Main Uses: Suppressed periods with cramping pain, labor pains, labor inducer, arthritis, and stomach cramps.
Research has discovered that the American Indians may have been on the right track in using blue cohosh as a contraceptive. In animal studies, the herb inhibits ovulation.
Researchers have discovered that the chemical (caulosaponin) in blue cohosh provokes strong uterine contractions, thus supporting its primary Indian use. However, caulosaponin also narrows the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Blue cohosh has produced heart damage in laboratory animals. On the other hand, blue cohosh does not appear to be significantly more hazardous than Pitocin, the standard drug used to induce labor, which may also cause heart damage and other serious side effects, including even maternal and fetal death.
Researchers have identified some antibiotic and anti-stimulating properties in blue cohosh, and anti-inflammatory activity, lending credence to its traditional use for arthritis.
Warning WARNING: This herb should only be used with medical supervision. It should not be used if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or history of stroke. The berries are poisonous and potentially fatal to children.