Black cohosh, the root of a member of the buttercup family, is found in rich woods of the eastern deciduous forest from southern Ontario south to Georgia, west to Arkansas, and north to Wisconsin. Most of the root is wild-harvested, while some is grown commercially in Europe.
Among Native Americans and early settlers in North America, black cohosh root was an important folk medicine for menstrual irregularities and as an aid in childbirth. Adopted in medical practice in the early nineteenth century, it had a great reputation as an anti- inflammatory for arthritis and rheumatism; for normalizing suppressed or painful menses; and for relieving pain after childbirth. It was also used for nervous disorders. The root was an official drug in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1926.
Black cohosh is approved for use in Germany for the treatment of premenstrual symptoms, painful or difficult menstruation, and for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. A number of studies have confirmed its mild sedative and anti- inflammatory activity. An isoflavone in the root binds to estrogen receptors, producing estrogenlike activity. As ovarian function declines during menopause, estrogen production also declines and luteinizing hormone (LH) increases. These changes are associated with hot flashes. In one study an alcohol extract of black cohosh lowered LH in both animals and women, reducing hot flashes. Three as yet unidentified compounds are believed to work in concert to produce the benefits (Duker).
Another study compared the effects of conventional estrogen replacement therapy with black cohosh in sixty women less than forty years old who had complete hysterectomies and were experiencing menopauselike symptoms. In all groups, a reduction in LH was observed. Black cohosh treatment was comparable to conventional treatment. Despite these successes and the long tradition of use, more clinical research is necessary.
In the American market, tablets, capsules and tinctures are generally available, as well as the dried root.
Some women have experienced upset stomach from use of black cohosh preparations.
A study by Susan G. Komen advised that women with breast cancer should avoid black cohosh. Often called the "women's remedy," black cohosh is commonly used in Europe to relieve menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms . Unfortunately, at this time, there is not enough scientific evidence to conclude whether black cohosh is safe for cancer patients . Several reviews of research have concluded that it may be effective in reducing many of the discomforts of menopause. However, a recent randomized trial found that breast cancer survivors who took black cohosh actually experienced the same number and intensity of hot flashes as those who did not take the herb . Further complicating matters, the root of this plant appears to behave like estrogen in the human body, and some studies have shown that estrogen-like plant substances, or phytoestrogens, can stimulate the growth of breast tumors [101, 173]. Therefore, it is often advised that women with breast cancer avoid black cohosh.
As always consult your Physician before using any herbal remedies.