Black Cohosh (Sheng Ma)
Botanical Name: Western – Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa. Eastern – Cimicifuga foetida.
Black cohosh is best known for its ability to treat menopausal symptoms, including excessive sweating, night sweats, osteoporosis, restlessness, vaginal dryness, and heart palpitations. It is also used to treat premenstrual syndromes, including menstrual cramping. In Oriental medicine the species used (Cimicifuga foetida) has similar properties and is additionally used for treating early stages of measles, chills and fever, and prolapse of the uterus and anus. Black cohosh has become an endangered species. Please use products created from cultivated sources.
Below is an overview of Black Cohosh (Sheng Ma), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Black Cohosh (Sheng Ma).
Western Name: Black Cohosh
Also Known As: Black Snakeroot, Macrotys, Bugbane, Bugwort, Rattleroot, Rattleweed, Rheumatism Weed
Organs/Systems: Uterus, Nervous System, Endocrine System
Key Actions: Antispasmodic, Emmenagogue, Expectorant, Alterative, Nervine, Parturient, Uterine Tonic, Diaphoretic, Antirheumatic, Antibacterial, Antipyretic, Anti-inflammatory, Analgesic
Medicinal Uses: Hot flashes, night sweats, osteoporosis, restlessness, vaginal dryness, heart palpitations, mood swings, infertility, menstrual cramping, sore throats, prolapsed uterus, hemorrhoids, fever, lower cholesterol.
Pin Yin: Sheng Ma (Translates as “Ascending Hemp”)
Also Known As: N/A
Meridians: Lung, Spleen, Stomach, Large Intestines
Key Actions: Disperses Wind Heat, Clears Heat, Clears Toxins, Raises Yang Qi, Tonifies the Kidney
Medicinal Uses: Vents measles (early stages of measles), sore throat, headaches, clears toxins in the upper part of the body (toothache, ulcerated lips or gums, canker sores), chills and fever, diarrhea due to Spleen Qi deficiency, fatigue, shortness of breath, prolapse, guide herb to upper regions of the body, adrenal tonic, asthma, stimulates uterus in the late stages of pregnancy to aid childbirth.
Black cohosh is a member of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. It is herbaceous perennial plant producing large, compound leaves from underground rhizomes. Its basal leaves are up to 3 ft long and broad, forming repeated sets of three leaflets with coarsely serrated margins. It flowers in late spring and early summer. It bears tall tapering racemes of white flowers that are white without petals or sepals and grow in tight clusters. They have a distinctly sweet, fetid smell that attracts flies, gnats, and beetles and also repels insects.
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa) is native to North America. It grows in a variety of woodland habitats, and is often found in small woodland openings from southern Ontario, Canada to central Georgia, U.S. Cimicifuga foetida is native to Europe and Siberia.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Root, Rhizome
Flavors/Temps: Acrid, Slightly Sweet, Slightly Bitter, Cool
Caution: Generally considered safe, black cohosh is not recommended for pregnant women, especially in the first trimester as the herb is a uterine stimulant and may stimulate contractions. Overdose could lead to headaches or tremors. While used to help vent measles in the early stages it is not used to treat cases of fully erupted measles.
History/Folklore: Black cohosh is best known for its ability to treat gynecological disorders, including menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramping, and inducing labor. The herb is also used to treat menopausal symptoms of vaginal dryness, heart palpitations, foggy brain, tinnitus, vertigo, insomnia, osteoporosis, and restlessness.
Black cohosh has been used by Native Americans and the Chinese for centuries to treat a wide variety of ailments. Native Americans have used the herb to treat gynecological disorders, musculoskeletal pain, fever, coughs, pneumonia, and sluggish labor. Early European settlers were taught how to use the herb by the Native Americans and began to use it as a tonic to support women’s reproductive health.
Native Anericans, including the Algonquin, Iroquois, and Cherokee used the plant as an alcohol extract to support the immune system, improve energy, and treat bronchial disorders.
In Oriental medicine the species Cimicifuga foetida is used. It has similar properties to the western variety Cimicifuga racemosa, but it also has its own unique applications. In China, Cimicifuga foetida is commonly used to help vent the early stages of measles and can be toasted with honey to help treat uterine, anus, or stomach prolapses. The typical recommended dose is 1.5 to 9g. For clearing Heat and Toxins 15g of raw root or rhizomes is recommended. For headaches, sore throat, chills and fever, and Yang-ascending ailments 3 to 6g is recommended.
The Chinese name, Sheng Ma, which translates as “Ascending Hemp”, refers to the leaves looking similar to hemp leaves and the herbs ability to treat Yang-ascending conditions. The herb is considered one of the top herbs in the Shen Nong Herbal Classic and is mentioned in Li Dong Yuan’s famous work on the Spleen and Stomach. His combination of astragalus and cohosh (Cimicifuga foetida) based recipes account for almost half of all his prescriptions.
In Oriental medicine, sheng ma is considered a messenger herb that can guide other herbs to the upper part of the body, such as the head and sinuses. It is often used to treat toothaches and gum diseases.
The herb fell out of use in the west but became popular again in the 1950s for treating women’s health issues. Since then the herbs healing properties have also been used to treat coughs, anxiety, warts, and sore throats, all ailments that the herb had once been used to treat.
Black cohosh is being studied for its ability to both raise and lower estrogen levels in various parts of the body. At this time, further study is needed to confirm the herbs active ingredients and potential properties.
The plant’s phyto-estrogenic properties seem to be related to the hormones impact on the brain, bones, and nervous system, and not the uterus. The herb is known for effectively toning the uterus and countering prolapse of the uterus and anus.
Black cohosh has been used by some women with breast cancer to reduce the menopause-like symptoms caused by their cancer treatments. It has also been shown to be effective in treating women who have had hysterectomies, but this requires using the herb for 2 to 6 months for best results.
The dried roots and rhizomes can be taken in 300 to 2,000mg per day. Powdered extracts are generally recommended at a dose of 250mg taken three times a day. The Chinese variety, sheng ma (Cimicifuga foetida), is recommended to be taken in doses of 1.5 – 9 grams. In Oriental medicine the roots will also be toasted with honey to help treat prolapse of the stomach.
The plant’s common name, bugbane, refers to the plants use as an insect repellent.
Remifemin, a commercial black cohosh extract is standardized to provide at least 1mg triterpene glycoside per dose. It is this product that has been used in several studies confirming the herbs ability to reduce menopausal symptoms. It currently contains 40mg black cohosh root/rhizome per daily dose of two tablets.
Want Black Cohosh (Sheng Ma)?
Here are some options…
Polyphenols, Estrogen-like compounds, Triterpene glycosides (including Actein) Resins, Caffeic acid, Isoferulic acid, Fukinolic acid, Glycosides, Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, C, and K, Calcium, IRon, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Tannins.
Black cohosh can be used as an effective insect repellent.
Some commercial black cohosh products have been found to contain the wrong herb or mixtures of black cohosh and other herbs. Be sure to read product labels so you are clear about what you are taking.
Not Blue Cohosh!
Don’t confuse black cohosh with blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) which has different properties and may not be safe. The two herbs have sometimes been used together to induce labour, but this mixture has been linked to severe adverse effects in at least one newborn.
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