Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), is a North American herb that is part of the buttercup family. Traditionally, Native American herbalists used it extensively for treating all kinds of conditions, including coughs, colds, kidney problems and women’s hormonal issues. Today, it is used – especially in Europe – for hot flushes and other symptoms of menopause. It can also be useful for younger women who experience low hormone levels after having their uterus or ovaries surgically removed.
Scientists have conducted several studies into Black Cohosh and how it works on the various symptoms of menopause. While not all studies show a significant result for all symptoms, many show improvements in hot flushes, night sweats, sleeping difficulties and mood imbalances.
Researchers are uncertain about exactly how Black Cohosh works (its “mechanism of action”). It would be logical to assume, since menopause is due to changing hormone levels, that Black Cohosh helps to balance hormone levels somehow. However, research investigating this has turned up conflicting results, and scientists cannot draw a firm conclusion about the mechanism either way.
Most of the research around Black Cohosh suggests that it is safe to take short-term for menopause symptom relief. However, most studies up until now have only looked at the effects over a period of less than six months. This means that naturopaths will generally not recommend taking it long-term.
Additionally, there is some evidence that Black Cohosh may not be suitable for women who have (or have had) liver problems, breast cancer, or any oestrogen-dependent tumours. And of course, as with all herbs, if you’re taking any kind of prescription medication, speak to your doctor before taking Black Cohosh.
Altern Ther Health Med 2001 May-Jun;7(3):93-100. Black cohosh: efficacy, safety, and use in clinical and preclinical applications. McKenna DJ, Jones K, Humphrey S, Hughes K. Institute for Natural Products Research in Marine, St. Croix, Minn., USA.