Other Names blue ginseng, squaw root, or papoose root
Blue cohosh is a pretty, feathery wildflower that grows in North American woodlands. The plant reaches about 2 1/2 feet tall. It has trifoliate leaves, the middle, largest one is usually tri-lobed, while the outer leaves may or may not be. They are a lovely blue-green. Yellow-green flowers bloom in early spring and they later give way to blue berries. I have seen these listed as anything from mildly toxic to deadly poison and also seen it reported that they are roasted and used like coffee. I wouldn’t. The berries stay on after the leaves fall off in the fall, adding autumn interest.
History and Folklore
Native Americans and early settlers used blue cohosh tea for a wide range of complaints.
If you are going to plant Blue Cohosh, you will need a forest or a forest-like area. It needs shade, and rich, moist, humusy soil. You can grow it best from a rhizome or you may be able to find a potted plant somewhere. I got mine from a plant conservancy (they go in and rescue native wildflowers from sites where condos and the like are being built and sell them to the public) and planted it off the trail in my woods, and she has done quite well there. Seeds can be difficult to germinate. They require repeated cold stratification and may take up to three seasons to germinate. Once you get her going though, she’s a relatively easy plant to care for. All she needs is a lot of shade. Too much sun (even 25%) will kill her.
If you are going to make your own blue cohosh potions, please try to grow it yourself rather than collecting it in the wild. Surely there’s a spot under a big shade tree you can pile some shredded leaves to make a home for this elegant lady! She’ll dance well with hellebore, or lily of the valley (not that I recommend ever-growing lily of the valley) and will make a lovely companion for hosta and some ferns. Be careful when handling this plant as some people have problems with contact dermatitis from it.
Harvesting & Storage
Give the plant three years or so to get big and strong before digging up the roots in the fall.
Roots should be cut into small pieces and dried.
Blue Cohosh can be used to protect objects and places from evil. It can be added to washes to protective washes (like car rinse water, etc.) and it is also used in bundles to protect infants and children. Just don’t let the kids get ahold of it!
Blue Cohosh is described as a uterine tonic. It is said to improve uterine muscle tone. It is used to stimulate contractions during childbirth and also to bring on a late period. The use of blue cohosh to bring on contractions is not recommended because its toxicity could affect the newborn. Many midwives have reported increased fetal heart rate and fetal distress related to the use of blue cohosh. It also increases blood flow to the pelvic area, so it may cause extra problems if not used with great care. Alcohol extract is most often used.
Anyone who is pregnant and wishes to stay that way, should not use it! It is traditionally used in combination with black-cohosh and pennyroyal to terminate a pregnancy. It may also be used to help the uterus return to its normal size after childbirth, to help the uterus recover after a miscarriage, or to help expel the placenta after childbirth
Paradoxically, blue cohosh has been used to strengthen the uterus in women who are prone to miscarriage. It is used to this end for several months prior to conception and then discontinued before attempting conception. Using blue cohosh while attempting to get pregnant may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.
In addition to these, blue cohosh has been used for a number of women’s health issues, especially those related to the uterus. These include endometriosis, cervical dysplasia and many menstrual complaints, including weak, spotty periods, irregular menstruation and painful menstruation.
Blue Cohosh is an estrogenic plant, so people with estrogen-dependent tumors should not use it. Also, anyone who has been advised not to take birth control pills, or use any other sort of hormonal birth control, should not use this herb without consulting a physician. It is also quite hard on the heart and kidneys and should not be used by anyone who has any concerns about the health of theirs. Blue cohosh tends to lower blood pressure. If you already have a problem with this, you could have serious problems. Headache, pain in the limbs and vomiting can occur at toxic levels. If this happens, see a doctor immediately.
The entire plant is toxic and should not be eaten.