Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), also known as papoose root or squawroot, is a medicinal herb that grows natively from eastern Canada south to the Appalachian regions of the United States. The herb’s preferred habitat comprises rich, moist, mountainous areas and the plant grows best under the shade of large hardwood trees. Blue cohosh emerges in early spring, as it unfurls from the ground as a dark blue stem bearing a single, folded, blue or bluish-gray leaf. A few days after this, the herb produces clusters of yellowish green to greenish purple flowers, which indicate the arrival of spring. At maturity, the blue cohosh plant stands 1 to 2 feet tall and produces no more than the single, smooth, lobed leaf. The entire plant has a bluish tint, hence the common name, and the mature plant produces deep blue terminal berries. Although blue cohosh shares a similar common name with black cohosh, the two plants are not botanically related.
Blue Cohosh Herb Benefits
Blue cohosh was once commonly used by Native American women to help facilitate an easier childbirth. It wasn’t uncommon for pregnant women to begin drinking blue cohosh tea several weeks before labor was expected. Blue cohosh was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1882 to 1905 as a substance used to induce labor, and was typically given to early American women during the last stages of pregnancy. It was also consumed by women prior to becoming pregnant to help condition the uterus. The herb was once known as the “birthing herb,” and is sometimes still referred to as the “woman’s herb” for its effect on the female reproductive system. Benefits of blue cohosh include:
- Inducing labor – Today, modern herbalists continue to recommend blue cohosh for inducing labor, but because it is a strong medicinal herb with active properties, it should only be used under the supervision of a qualified medical professional. Never take blue cohosh while pregnant without your doctor’s permission.
- Relieving menstrual cramps – One active ingredient in blue cohosh, caulophyllosaponin, stimulates uterine contractions and increases blood flow to the pelvic area. This makes the herb effective in natural remedies used relieve menstrual cramps and menstrual difficulties, but again, proceed with extreme caution. For the best results, always talk to your doctor before taking blue cohosh or any product containing blue cohosh.
- Treating urinary incontinence – Blue cohosh is also sometimes used to help tone the smooth muscle lining the urinary tract in cases of urinary incontinence. This helps to strengthen the urinary tract and makes it easier for an incontinent individual to control.
Preparation and Dosage
Blue cohosh root contains most of the herb’s active ingredients, and this is the part of the plant used for medicinal purposes. You can typically purchase dried roots from reputable herbal retailers, but keep in mind that the plant’s slow growth and shade requirements make it extremely vulnerable to over-harvesting. For the best results, only use blue cohosh when no other herb will work, and then try to combine it with other herbs that have similar properties. Almost 100 percent of blue cohosh on the market comes from wild sources, which means it can easily become threatened if people begin to abuse it. You can also purchase blue cohosh tincture or make your own using the recipe below (talk to your doctor before using). A standard blue cohosh dosage consists of 5 to 10 drops of tincture taken every 2 to 4 hours, or 1 cup of tea (made by steeping 1 tsp. of the dried root in 1 cup hot water for 20 minutes) taken every 2 to 4 hours.
Although blue cohosh has been used effectively for hundreds of years, there are still serious safety concerns associated with the herb. Caulophyllosaponin, one of the plant’s active ingredients, appears to constrict the coronary blood vessels, which can limit blood flow to the heart and reduce its ability to pump freely. One case report published in The Journal of Pediatrics in 1998 documents that a child born to a woman who used blue cohosh to induce labor experienced profound heart failure. However, researchers noted that this was the first documented case of human fetal effects from the maternal consumption of blue cohosh. In most cases, using the herb under the supervision of a doctor and taking a safe dosage should pose no threat.
Blue cohosh side effects include irritating mucous membranes (when the powdered root is used) and stimulating the uterus, which can be dangerous if used during pregnancy. Always, always, always have your doctor’s permission before taking blue cohosh and for added safety, take it only in the presence of a qualified herbalist familiar with the herb’s properties.
Blue Cohosh Tincture Recipe
If you decide to take blue cohosh (with your doctor’s permission, of course), you can make your own tincture at home using the dried root. This is also a good way to preserve the root if you don’t intend to use it frequently, which you most definitely should not. Herbal tinctures will keep indefinitely if you prepare and store them properly.
- ½ cup dried blue cohosh root
- 2 ½ cups 100-proof vodka
- Glass jar for steeping and glass bottle for storage
- Place the dried roots into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. A quart-sized Mason jar works splendidly for making herbal tinctures.
- Cover the roots with the 100-proof vodka, making sure they are entirely covered. Place the lid on the jar and shake well to release air bubbles. If the roots are no longer covered, add more vodka as needed.
- Label the jar with the name of the tincture, blue cohosh in this case, and the date. Place in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks, shaking the jar once daily.
- Strain the liquid into a dark-colored glass bottle and discard the spent roots after the two weeks have passed. To strain, pour the mixture through a piece of cheesecloth or use a fine-mesh strainer.
- Label the storage bottle with the name of the tincture and date, and store in a cool, dark place when not in use.
Note: I have specified ½ cup dried root to 2 ½ cups alcohol in the recipe above. However, you can make a larger or smaller batch of blue cohosh tincture, as long as you stick to a 1:5 ratio. This means you should use 1 part dried root to 5 parts alcohol.
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