Actaea racemosa , Photo: Michael Lahanas
Actaea racemosa (black cohosh, black bugbane or black snakeroot or fairy candle; syn. Cimicifuga racemosa) is a plant of the family Ranunculaceae. It is native to eastern North America from the extreme south of Ontario south to central Georgia, and west to Missouri and Arkansas. The plant grows in a variety of woodland habitats, and is often found in small woodland openings. The roots and rhizomes of black cohosh have long been used medicinally by Native Americans. Extracts from these plant materials are thought to possess analgesic, sedative, and anti-inflammatory properties. Today, black cohosh preparations (tinctures or tablets of dried materials) are used chiefly to treat symptoms associated with menopause.
General features and taxonomy
The plant species has a history of taxonomic uncertainty dating back to Carl Linnaeus, who—based on morphological characteristics of the inflorescence and seeds—had placed the species into the genus, Actaea. This designation was later revised by Thomas Nuttall reclassifying the species to the genus, Cimicifuga. Nuttall's classification was based solely on the dry follicles produced by black cohosh, which are typical of species in Cimicifuga. However, recent data from morphological and gene phylogeny analyses demonstrate that black cohosh is more closely related to species of the genus Actaea than to other Cimicifuga species. This has prompted the revision to Actaea racemosa as originally proposed by Linnaeus. Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), despite its similar common name, is a plant of another genus and not closely related to black cohosh.
Native Americans used black cohosh to treat gynecological and other disorders, including sore throats, kidney problems, and depression.
Black cohosh is used as dietary supplement marketed to women as remedies for the symptoms of premenstrual tension, menopause and other gynecological problems. However, its usage for treating these ailments is controversial, with some studies casting doubt on its efficacy.  Study design and dosage of black cohosh preparations play a role in clinical outcome, and recent investigations with pure compounds found in black cohosh have identified some beneficial effects of these compounds on physiological pathways underlying age-related disorders like osteoporosis.
Because of some physiological effects of black cohosh extracts, it was originally thought these extracts contained estrogenic compounds. Recent research, however, suggests that these physiological effects may be due to black cohosh compounds that bind and activate serotonin receptors,  and a derivative of serotonin with high affinity to serotonin receptors, Nω-methylserotonin, has been identified in black cohosh.
Like most plants, black cohosh contains many organic compounds with biological activity. Complex biological molecules, such as triterpene glycosides (e.g. cycloartanes), have been shown to reduce cytokine-induced bone loss (osteoporosis) by blocking osteoclastogenesis in in vitro and in vivo models.
Studies on human subjects who were administered two commercially available black cohosh preparations did not detect estrogenic effects on the breast.
No studies exist on long-term safety of black cohosh use in humans. In a transgenic mouse model of cancer, black cohosh did not increase incidence of primary breast cancer, but increased metastasis of pre-existing breast cancer to the lungs. .
Liver damage has been reported in a few individuals using black cohosh, but many women have taken the herb without reporting adverse health effects. While studies of black cohosh have not conclusively shown the herb causes liver damage, Australia has added a warning to the label of all products containing black cohosh, stating that it may cause harm to the liver in some individuals and should not be used without medical supervision.
Reported direct side-effects also include dizziness, headaches, and seizures; diarrhea; nausea and vomiting; sweating; constipation; low blood pressure and slow heartbeats; and weight problems.
Because the vast majority of black cohosh materials are harvested from plants growing in the wild, a recurring concern regarding the safety of black cohosh-containing dietary supplements is mis-identification of plants causing unintentional mixing-in (adulteration) of potentially harmful materials from other plant sources.
Actaea racemosa grows in dependably moist, fairly heavy soil. It bears tall tapering racemes of white midsummer flowers on wiry black-purple stems, whose mildly unpleasant, medicinal smell at close range gives it the common name "Bugbane". The drying seed heads stay handsome in the garden for many weeks. Its deeply cut leaves, burgundy colored in the variety atropurpurea, add interest to American gardens, wherever summer heat and drought do not make it die back, which make it a popular garden perennial.
1. ^ a b Richo Cech (2002). Growing at-risk medicinal herbs. Horizon Herbs. pp. 10–27. ISBN 0970031211.
Source: Wikispecies:, Wikipedia All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License