Black cohosh – info, planting, care and tips

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) - by H. Zell

The majestic black cohosh is a very easy-to-care-for perennial and a very old medicinal plant that was already used by the native peoples of North America. Here are some tips on planting and caring for it.

Profile of black cohosh:

Scientific name: Actaea racemosa; syn. Cimicifuga racemosa

Plant family: buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Other names: black bugbane, black snakeroot, fairy candle

Sowing time: autumn

Planting time: spring

Flowering period: June to August

Harvest time: root in autumn

Location: partially shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, lime tolerant, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: flowerbeds, borders, apothecary garden, flower garden, natural garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 4 (-32 °C / -25 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of black cohosh

Plant order, origin and occurrence of black cohosh

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is native to eastern to central North America and eastern Canada, where it is widely distributed. Many gardeners will still know it by its old botanical name, Cimicifuga racemosa, under which the founder of botanical nomenclature, Carl von Linné, originally classified it. More recent studies of systematics made its classification in the genus bugbane or cohosh (Actaea) seem reasonable. The superordinate plant family is the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). Native American medicine already knew the black cohosh as a medicinal plant. The native peoples of North America used it as a remedy against snakebites and to facilitate childbirth.

Characteristics of black cohosh


With a growth height of up to two meters (6.5 ft), the black cohosh is a striking eye-catcher in beds and borders. Its erect, bare stems sprout from a long-lived rhizome, with which the perennial easily survives the winter. From the rootstock, active plant substances are extracted that are used in natural medicine.


The large pinnate foliage leaves of black bugbane provide a charming contrast to the long flower corollas. They are double to triple pinnate and grow up to 60 centimeters (24 in) long. They also give the perennial an attractive appearance outside the flowering season.


The flowers of black cohosh form dense, upright clusters at the end of the stems. The first flowers open as early as June, the main flowering is in July and lasts until August. The white round single flowers are about 5 millimeters (0.2 in) in size. Particularly striking are the numerous stamens that protrude far from the flower. They emit a fragrance that is not perceived as pleasant by everyone.


After pollination by bees, bumblebees or other insects, the black cohosh forms thick-walled follicle fruits that contain numerous seeds.

Black cohosh – cultivation and care


Black cohosh prefers to grow in the light shade of woody plants, although it will tolerate sunnier locations if its roots are adequately supplied with moisture. Locations that receive full midday sun should be avoided, as well as fully shaded areas. It often takes some time for the black bugbane to grow properly, but after two to three years it will have established itself in a suitable location. If it is allowed to grow undisturbed, it will become stronger and more beautiful over the years.


The soil for black cohosh should be nutrient-rich, humus and sufficiently fresh. Especially in summer, it should not dry out too quickly.


Since the black cohosh is sensitive to too close proximity, you should give it generous space: calculate about one to three plants per square meter (10 sq ft). The recommended planting distance is between 60 and 80 centimeters (24 to 32 in). If organic fertilizer such as compost or horn shavings is mixed into the soil at the time of planting, it will not be necessary to fertilize again until the following year. It is also recommended to apply a thin layer of mulch after planting, so that the soil does not dry out so quickly.


Black cohosh is quite easy to care for. It is enough to fertilize it with compost or leaf soil in the spring to provide nutrients. It is important that the soil does not dry out. If the plant shows signs of stunted growth, this is an indication that the soil is too dry. The only remedy is to transplant the perennials. During the flowering period, you should regularly remove any flowers that have faded. During the winter, the inflorescences can be left standing and only cut close to the ground in the spring, before budding.


Black cohosh is one of those long-lived perennials that, once established, can be left alone to grow. So there is no need to rejuvenate them by dividing the rootstock. Of course, you can get new plants by dividing in early spring. However, you should wait until the third year of growth, so that the plant does not take it badly when it is dug out and buried.


You can grow the black cohosh from seed or propagate it by cuttings or root division. Division of large rootstocks for propagation occurs in early summer. Propagation by sowing is possible, but the seeds need cold to germ and therefore need a distinct cold period to germinate. Therefore, you sow the seeds in moist soil in the fall and expose them to frost in the winter. If you are lucky, the small plants germinate in the spring. The stratification can also be done in a freezer at home. For propagation by cuttings, cut the cuttings in summer and place them either in water or in pots with moist soil until roots are formed.

Diseases and pests

In the appropriate location, black cohosh remains very healthy, so diseases and pests are unlikely to occur.


Black cohosh is very hardy, so there is no need for measures for the cold season.


To harvest the root, the plant should be at least three years old. After the fruit ripens in late autumn, you dig up the root.

If you want to keep the plant, take only part of the root and rhizome and put another part back into the ground so that the plant can grow again next year.

Thoroughly brush the roots clean and cut them into small pieces.

Either make a tincture directly with the fresh root pieces or dry them in a warm, dry place, for example in an open oven at a maximum of 40 °C / 104 °F.

Use in the garden

Because of its stately height of growth, black cohosh is best placed in the background of the bed. Its tall, delicate inflorescences create beautiful points of light in shadier parts of the garden. Pretty partners are ferns, hostas, grasses and aconites. Since they sprout very late in the spring, they can be combined well with early bulb flowers.


Actaea racemosa var. cordifolia is a variety of black cohosh that is considered much more drought tolerant than the pure species.

Black cohosh as a medicinal herb

Ingredients from the rootstock of black cohosh possess estrogen-like properties. For this reason, Actaea racemosa is used in naturopathy for menopausal complaints and other female disorders. But also many other complaints can be relieved by the black bugbane, for example asthma, cough, inflammation, rheumatic pain and cramps. A weak heart finds strengthening and tense nerves are calmed.

Caution: The preparations are often still labeled with the old botanical name Cimicifuga racemosa. However, self-medication is strongly not advised. In addition, long-term studies have shown that the active ingredients can cause liver damage if taken for too long.


For a black cohosh tea, pour one to two teaspoons of black cohosh root over a cup of boiling water and let it steep for 15 minutes. Then strain and drink in small sips.

Drink one to three cups of this tea daily.

As with all highly effective medicinal herbs, after six weeks of continuous use, one should take a break and temporarily drink another tea with similar effects. After that, one can drink black cohosh tea again for six weeks. The break prevents possible undesirable long-term effects and the desired effect of black bugbane is maintained and does not diminish due to habituation.


To make your own black cohosh tincture, pour double grain or spirit of wine over black bugbane roots in a screw-top jar until all parts of the plant are covered, and let the mixture steep, sealed, for 2 to 6 weeks. Then strain and pour into a dark bottle.

Take 10-50 drops of this tincture one to three times a day. If the tincture is too concentrated, it can be diluted with water.

Black cohosh against menopausal symptoms

The main use of black cohosh is menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, cycle fluctuations, depressive mood and sleep disorders, to name just a few particularly common ones.

Black bugbane has the reputation of being a phytohormone, that is, a plant hormone similar to estrogen.

However, the active ingredients in black cohosh are chemically quite different from estrogen. However, they act somewhat similarly to female hormones in some cases, and as a result, they can alleviate numerous female complaints.

Among other things, the so-called LHRH pulse generator in the hypothalamus is dampened, which, for example, dampens excessive reactions of temperature control. This provides relief from the hot flashes that are so typical of menopause.

Black cohosh also helps against muscle and joint pain because it has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. Furthermore, black cohosh relieves insomnia and dry skin. Even the annoying weight gain, which often occurs during menopause, can be reduced by the black bugbane.

Other areas of application

Black cohosh can be used not only against menopausal symptoms.

It helps against all women’s complaints that are triggered by hormonal fluctuations, i.e. also against menstrual complaints in younger years.

Even childbirth can be facilitated by black cohosh, because cramps are relieved and labor is regulated, so that the birth progresses well, but is not too painful.

Important: Because of the labor-promoting effect, black cohosh should not be used at the beginning and in the middle of pregnancy. One should start taking black bugbane only shortly before the due date.

Besides, black cohosh helps against numerous other complaints that have nothing to do with gynecological diseases.

Above all, it is the antispasmodic and analgesic properties that determine the areas of application, but also the anti-inflammatory ability of black cohosh.

The application possibilities run through all organ systems of the body. Whenever something has to do with cramps, pain or inflammation, black cohosh can be used, for example stomach cramps, biliousness, nervous heart complaints, back pain and migraine.

Black cohosh can even be used as an adjunctive treatment for diabetes, because it can lower blood sugar levels.

Black cohosh can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Chest inflammation
  • Intestinal cramps
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Ovary inflammation
  • Epilepsy
  • Fever
  • Gallstones
  • Sore throat
  • Heart cramps
  • Palpitations
  • cardiac insufficiency
  • Lumbago
  • hot flushes
  • Cough
  • Cervical spine syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • spasmodic cough
  • Low back pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Melancholy
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Migraine
  • Muscular rheumatism
  • Muscle pain
  • Myalgia
  • Nervousness
  • Nervous heart complaints
  • Neuralgia
  • Earache
  • Osteoporosis
  • Period cramps
  • Period pains
  • PMS
  • Irritability
  • Rheumatism
  • Back pain
  • Insomnia
  • Pain
  • Restlessness
  • Diabetes
  • Cycle fluctuations
  • Estrogen dominance
  • Overweight

Medicinal properties

  • astringent
  • soothing
  • blood sugar lowering
  • anti-inflammatory
  • facilitates childbirth
  • diuretic
  • antispasmodic
  • menstrual
  • expectorant
  • analgesic
  • diaphoretic
  • labor relief

Side effects

Long-term studies have shown that the active ingredients can cause liver damage if taken for too long.

Because of the labor-promoting effect, black cohosh should not be used at the beginning and in the middle of pregnancy. One should start taking black cohosh only shortly before the due date.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

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