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Herbal Monograph

Herb: Blue Cohosh  (Caulophyllum thalictroides; Berberidaceae)

Other Names: Beechdrops, blueberry root, blue ginseng, papoose root, squaw root, yellow ginseng  (13)

Papoose root, squaw root.    (57)

Character/Energetics:  acrid, bitter, warm, mildly toxic (6)            

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  liver (6); uterus, nerves, joints and urinary tract  (14)         

Parts used:  the root (6) ;  rootstock  (13) ;  rhizome  (15)

Identification & Harvesting:    Plant is a leafy, 12-30 in. high erect perennial with a brownish-grey, branched rhizome.  Leaves are inserted in the middle of the shoot with a large, very short stemmed leaf which is tripinnate (feather-like) and resembles three foliage leaves.  Leaflets are stemmed , obovate, finely divided into 3 lobes, and wedge-shaped at base.  Inflorescence on the terminal leaf, 1-3 in. long;  flowers are yellowish-green to purple and 1 cm in diameter.  Six petals are markedly reduced, inconspicuous, and gland-like.  The six stamens are as long as the petals.  Contains 2 dark blue, 5-8 mm long, roundish seeds on solid stems;  resemble berries because of the fleshy seed-shell.  Taste is sweetish, then bitter, almost odorless.  Found in damp woods of the eastern North America.    (2)

Blue cohosh is a perennial plant found in eastern North America, near running streams, around swamps, and in other moist places. The round, simple, erect stem grows from a knotty rootstock and bears a large, sessile, tri-pinnate leaf whose leaflets are oval, petioled, and irregularly lobed. The 6-petaled, yellow-green flowers are borne in a raceme or panicle. The fruit is a pea-sized, dark blue berry borne on a fleshy stalk.  (13)

Rhizome is brownish grey, about 4 inches long and 1/4 inch thick, knotty with short branches, numerous crowded, concave stem-scars on the upper side; below, with long, pale brown tough rootlets about 1 mm thick;  internally whitish with narrow woody rays.  Tastes sweetish, then bitter and acrid.  Almost odorless.    (57)

Found in rich woodlands of eastern North America, from New Brunswick and Ontario south to South Carolina, Alabama and the Ozarks.  Two North American species now recognized, C. thalictroides and C. giganteum.  The two are not distinguished in the herb trade.  A third species, C. robustum, is found in Japan.    (61)

Active constituents:    Quinolizidine alkaloids, chiefly (-)-anagyrines, (-)-N-methyl-cytisines;  magnoflorine (an isoquinoline alkaloid);  triterpene saponins;  caulosapogenin (2)

gum, starch, salts, phosphoric acid, soluble resin, a substance similar to         saponin  (6)              

potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, silicon, phosphorus, and helps to alkalinize the blood (14)

gum, starch, salts, extractive, phosphoric acid, soluble resin, greenish-yellow coloring matter, and a body analogous to saponin   (34)                                    

Actions:  Presumed to have an oxytocic effect.  The weak estrogenic, spasmolytic effect is probably caused by, as of yet, unknown constituents.  The ensuing nicotine effect is possibly caused by N-methylcytisine.    (2)

emmenagogue, antispasmodic, diuretic, diaphoretic, anthelmintic (6)      

anthelmintic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, oxytocic   (13)

antispasmodic, emmenagogue, oxytocic; diuretic  (14)

stimulating relaxant for the female reproductive organs; tonic, antispasmodic, uterine         stimulant, diuretic, antirheumatic  (15)

Diuretic, antispasmodic, vermifuge, emmenagogue.    (57)

A study of rats shows it inhibits ovulation and implantation, suggesting potential for contraceptive research.  An alkaloid, methylcytisine, increases blood pressure, stimulates respiration and aids the function of the small intestine in much the same way as nicotine.    (61)

Conditions and Uses:

Known in India as a treatment for gynecological disorders.  Used in England and America since turn of 20th century, for worm infestation, dehydration, menstrual ailments, cramps, and mainly to stimulate contractions and act as an anti-spasmodic during labor.  However these have not yet been proven medically.    (2)

(Blue Cohosh) regulates the menses and relieves cramping pains. It is taken during the last month of pregnancy to facilitate labor. Native American women used it when delivering babies fathered by whites, because it helped dilute the uterus and vaginal canal to accomodate the larger heads. It also is used for rheumatic problems, edema and swelling, epilepsy, hysteria, and chronic cases of uterine inflammation. (6)           

Blue Cohosh is used to regulate menstrual flow, particularly for suppressed menstruation. The Indians used it to induce labor, also for children’s colic and for cramps.  (13)

Blue Cohosh is used as an antispasmodic in cough medicines and to treat lung problems and all female spasms.

Internal–  Blood purifier: Tincture*, Fluid Extract*, Powder*;   Childbirth  (oxytocic):  Tincture, Fluid Extract;    Colic: Tincture*, Fluid Extract*;   Convulsions: Tincture, Fluid Extract; 

Cramps: Tincture, Fluid Extract;   Edema: Tincture*, Fluid Extract*;  Epilepsy: Tincture, Fluid Extract;  Heart weakness: Tincture*, Fluid Extract*, Powder*;   Nervous exhaustion: Tincture, Fluid Extract;  Painful menstruation: Tincture, Fluid Extract;  Rheumatic pains: Tincture, Fluid Extract;  Spasmodic muscular pains: Tincture, Fluid Extract;  Whooping cough: : Tincture, Fluid Extract

* Usually used  in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem. (14)

For menstraul pain:  Antispasmodic with steroidal component that stimulates the uterus; good for pain due to blood stagnation/ Use a tincture or decoction; best used in combinations/Add 1-2 ml skullcap, motherwort, yarrow, false unicorn root, mu dan pi, or chi shao yaotinctures per dose.   (15)

Very effective in rheumatic affections and female complaints.  Native American women used it largely to expedite parturition and induce menstruation.    (57)

Long used by Native Americans as a childbirth aid.  Modern herbalists recommend it to stimulate the uterus, promote menstruation and reduce spasms.  Experienced midwives familiar with the herb’s actions often use it to help pass the placenta.  Generally used only after labor has begun.    (61)

Combinations: Normally, it should be given in combination with other herbs indicated for the condition involved.  (13)   

It is sometimes combined with mitchella repens (partridge berry) and eupatoria aromatica (?).   (34)   

Tincturing Process: Solvent percentage of absolute alcohol–40-70%    (10)

                    1 oz herb: 5 oz alcohol;  60% alcohol   (11)

Dosage & Applications:    Avg single dose is .3-1 g of herb or .5-1 ml of fluid extract.    (2)

standard dose or 3-9 grams (6)

Infusion:  Use 1 oz. rootstock with 1 pint boiling water; steep for half hour. Take 2 tbsp. every 2 to 3 hours, in hot water.

Tincture:  Take 5 to 10 drops at a time.  (13)

BLUE COHOSH (Caulophyllum thalictroides; Berberidaceae)

Dosage & Applications (cont):

  Infusion:  3 oz. three to four times daily

  Decoction:  simmer 5-15 minutes. 1 to 2 oz. three to four times daily.

  Tincture:  1/2  to 1 tsp. three to four times daily

              Fluid Extract:  10 to 30 drops (1/6 to 1/2  tsp.) three to four times daily. 

  Powder:  1 to 5 #0 capsules (5 to 30 grains) three to four times daily.  (14)

5-30 grains powdered root.    (57)

Tincture 1:5, 60% alcohol, 5-20 drops up to 4 x daily.    (61)

Precautions:    Do not administer during first trimester, due to its estrogenic effect and possible teratogenic action of the anagyrines.    (2)

Blue cohosh can be very irritating to mucous surfaces and can cause dermatitis on contact. Children have been poisoned by the berries. 

Blue cohosh should be used with medical supervision.  (13)

It is not to be used by pregnant women except during the last month of pregnancy.  (14)

Avoid in early pregnancy.  (15)

Avoid during pregnancy except under medical supervision.  Generally used only after labor has begun.  Use with caution.    (61)


General Notes:  A member of the barberry family.  Discrepancies between traditional use and current research underscore the need for further research.    (61)



 (2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), p. 725

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 281-282

(10) Herbal Preparations and Natural Therapies by Debra Nuzzi St. Claire, M.H., pg.127 

(11) Herbal Materia Medica (5th edition) by Michael Moore,  pg. 9

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust,  pg. 129

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 87-88

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 21, 166-167, 180

(34) A Modern Herbal (Vol. 1 A-H) by Mrs. M. Grieve, pg. 212

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 99

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 34-35