Cimicifuga Racemosa. Black Cohosh, Rattleroot.

Botanical name: 

Black Snakeroot, Squawroot; Bugbane.


Description: Natural Order, Ranunculaceae. Genus CIMICIFUGA: Perennial and herbaceous. Leaves ternately decompound. Flowers white, in a long, slender, terminal, leafless raceme; sepals four or five, caducous; petals like stamens, small, clawed; stamens numerous, with white filaments. Fruit dry, dehiscent capsules. C. RACEMOSA: This species of cohosh is a stately-looking plant, with a smooth stem two to four feet high. Leaflets ovate-oblong, incisely serrate; the tripartate leaves spreading out broadly, and giving the plant an open and yet neat appearance. Stamens about one hundred to each flower, giving to the long raceme a plume-like aspect. The flowers appear in June and July, have a disagreeable odor, and are followed by ovate capsules containing numerous flat seeds.

The root is the medicinal portion of this plant. This is an inch, or more in diameter near the collum, dividing into several contorted branches from which spring numerous radicles; blackish on the outside and whitish within; very dense and wood-like, furnishing a gray powder. It has a decided and rather nauseating odor when fresh; and a faint, peculiar, and not pleasant odor when dry. Age decidedly impairs its virtues; and it contains a volatile principle which is easily dissipated by heat. Its taste is rather bitter, and leaves a slightly acrid sensation upon the root of the tongue and the fauces. Lukewarm water and diluted alcohol extract its properties readily; boiling water volatilizes its best qualities; alcohol dissolves a resinous substance it contains.

Properties and Uses: The root of cimicifuga has long been known to American physicians as a remedy of decided and peculiar value; yet its true action has been enshrouded in so much uncertainty that the proper places to employ it have not been well defined. After much experience and careful observation in its use, I offer the following account of it, which I believe to be correct, though in many respects different from the descriptions usually given: It is moderately prompt and diffusive, but requires some hours to manifest its full action through the system. It is almost purely relaxant, leaving behind only a trifling astringent impression on mucous membranes. Its power is expended chiefly upon the nervous structures, beginning at the peripheries and extending to the brain, including the ganglionic system; through the sensory nerves influencing the heart and pulse, and through the sympathetic nerves making a decided impression upon the uterus. It manifests a distinct action upon the whole class of serous tissues, and a milder action on the kidneys, lungs, and skin. Upon this large range of organs its impression is always relaxant; and that relaxation is not the same in kind as from lobelia, boneset, camomile, or any other agent, but is peculiar to this article alone.

On the nerves it acts gradually, yet in the end with decided power–soothing them, relieving pain dependent on local irritation, and proving a good antispasmodic. It thus proves of service in general nervous excitement and agitation; is of decided benefit in hooping-cough and spasmodic asthma; and in periodical convulsions, whether of hysteria or epilepsy, or even puerperal convulsions, it is of peculiar value. Extending its influence to the very brain, it is of importance (combined with stimuli) in delirium tremens, and exerts a power over chorea such as probably is not exercised by any other remedy. It quiets mental excitement, and calms both body and mind, disposing to a placid sleep, with a sense of relief about the head. At the same time it softens and slowly lowers the pulse, and causes fullness of the capillary circulation, and a gentle increase of perspiration. From these effects it has been pronounced a narcotic; but there is not a shade of narcotic action about it. Large doses, repeated at short intervals, are usually followed by a peculiar feeling of dizziness, which seems to be owing entirely to a too sudden relaxation of the nerve centers, before the other tissues have time to respond to the impression, This feeling will pass away in a few hours: pretty full doses of the powder or infusion may often be given regularly, without causing it at all, and the tincture is the most liable to produce it.

On serous tissues it allays irritation, soothes excitement, and relieves sub-acute and chronic inflammation. Its excellent qualities here are seen in the great relief it gives to all forms of articular and neuralgic rheumatism; for which it is one of the most useful of agents. It is also an excellent adjunct to other remedies in the treatment of dropsy, phlegmasia dolens, neuralgia, and irritation of the meninges. Its action in cerebral and cerebro-spinal meningitis is at once peculiar and important–small doses at considerable intervals allaying the great tenderness of the membranes, and also relieving the tendency to spasms; and in the meningeal tenderness that so often proves annoying during convalescence from these maladies, as also in other chronic and periodical suffering in these structures, it is a remedy that deserves the first attention. I think it also deserves attention in puerperal mania.

Its action on the uterus is well marked-relieving neuralgia and rheumatism of this organ, proving efficient in painful menstruation accompanied by tardiness, and decidedly and powerfully expediting delivery when the uterine action becomes weary and irritable. In several instances I have found a rigid os uteri relaxing under its influence, and An irritable vagina becoming moist and less sensitive–the labor pains at the same time becoming more regular and effective. It is believed incapable of interfering with gestation; but I have more than once seen its free use, in cases of general erethism, followed by strong premonitions of abortion. Such cases, however, are exceptions; though the article will distinctly increase the menstrual flow. A small portion combined with trillium and cypripedium, is useful for after pains and to maintain the lochia.

This agent also increases the flow of urine a little, and relieves the kidneys somewhat; is spoken of in consumption as a valuable agent to soothe the cough and impart tone to the lungs; and some have gone so far as to pronounce it a distinct diaphoretic in fevers, and an antiperiodic in gastric intermittents. Much reliance should not be placed on it in these connections; though its valuable action on the nervous system may render it a good adjuvant in certain forms of all these maladies. Dr. Horton Howard says a rather free use of a decoction, taken for a day or more before the appearance of the small-pox, will so gently dissipate the virus through the pores as to prevent or greatly modify the eruption. Several physicians of judgment have assured me that this observation is correct. The same careful writer says a poultice of the fresh roots was used successfully by the Indians for snake-bites and other poisoned wounds; and there is reason for believing that this also is correct. For neuralgia and ovarian irritation, it no doubt deserves more attention than it has yet received; but it is not an agent suitable for any malady where the pulse is depressed, the skin cold, the tissues relaxed, and the general sensibilities of the frame reduced.

One advantage connected with this agent, is the fact that it leaves behind a gently toned impression, rather than a relaxed one. While it soothes, it also gently strengthens. Acidity of the stomach will almost wholly prevent its action. The combinations into which it may suitably enter are numerous, according to the end sought; as with aralia hispida and fraxinus for dropsy, with cypripedium and scutellaria for neuralgic affections, with xanthoxylum or jeffersonia or the berries of phytollacca for rheumatism, with liriodendron and caulophyllum in hysteria and other general spasms, etc. The cimicifuga should usually be in less quantity than the associated agents.

The dose of the powder is from five to ten grains, repeated at intervals of six or four hours. It is common to give this agent in too large quantities, and at too short intervals; yet from ten to twenty grains have been successfully given every three hours, in severe attacks of chorea. The recent powder is more effective than any other form of the agent; though infusion and tincture are good, and infusion is most generally employed. From five to ten grains, in any mucilage, make a valuable nervine enema.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Infusion. Bruised or powdered cimicifuga, four drachms; tepid water, eight ounces. Macerate in a covered vessel for half an hour. The usual direction for preparing this infusion, is to boil the root; but boiling, or even the use of boiling water, damages it greatly. Nothing above a lukewarm temperature should be employed. The infusion represents most fully the nervine qualities of the article. Dose, two to four fluid drachms every two or three hours; or two fluid drachms every hour, during parturition or for the urgency of a rheumatic attack.

II. Tincture. Bruised cimicifuga, four ounces; diluted alcohol, one pint. Macerate for ten days; express and filter. This preparation makes a distinct impression on the brain, and also upon the throat; and is best suited for hooping-cough, asthma, and other spasmodic bronchial affections. It has been commended as the best form in which to use the cimicifuga for chronic rheumatism and dropsy; and may be added to a sirup of other suitable articles, both for its medicinal and preservative effects. Dose from fifteen drops to half a fluid drachm every three or two hours, or even every hour. Twenty drops in an infusion of caulophyllum, is an excellent parturient.

III. Sirup. Eight ounces of the above tincture added to twelve ounces of simple sirup, and the whole carefully evaporated to a pint, make a pleasant sirup that may be used in coughs, and other pectoral affections. The addition of an ounce of tincture of lobelia to a pint of this sirup, makes a superior expectorant and antispasmodic preparation for dry coughs, difficult breathing, irritable contractions of the diaphragm, etc.

IV. Fluid Extract. Of several formulae for preparing this, I think that of Dr. J. Proctor deserves the preference. It is substantially as follows: Finely crushed cimicifuga, one pound; ether, half a pint; alcohol, one pint. Treat in a percolator suitable for volatile liquids, causing it to pass only by slow dropping, till the menstruum disappears above. Immediately add diluted alcohol, till a pint and a half of tincture has passed. Set this in an open vessel in a warm place, and there evaporate it slowly down to half a pint. Meanwhile continue the percolation with diluted alcohol till two pints have passed; evaporate this on a water-bath to eight fluid ounces; and mix it gradually with the first product. Let it stand twelve hours; filter through muslin; and dissolve the resin on the strainer with a couple of ounces of alcohol, and add to the filtered liquid. This is a powerful and convenient preparation, and may be used for the ordinary purposes of the root. Dose from five to fifteen drops.

V. Extract. A solid hydro-alcoholic extract may be prepared in the method usual for extracts of this class, observing to evaporate on a water-bath at a moderate temperature. Thus made with care, it is a good antispasmodic and nervine, to incorporate in pill masses. Associated with quinine, it decidedly favors an antiperiodic result. Dose, from two to four grains, three times a day. An extract prepared according to the common direction of raising the liquids to the boiling point, is nearly inert. Another, and a still better extract, and the one adopted in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia, is made by mixing the two classes of tinctures obtained in the above process for preparing the Fluid Extract, and evaporating these on a low water-bath, with constant stirring. The combined use of ether, alcohol, and water, as menstrua, obtains all the virtues of the plant.

VI. Cimicifugin-Macrotin. This is a resinoid, prepared after the same manner as leptandrin. Its powder is a faint yellow. It represents the plant only in part; and though it is in the main a fair preparation, I do not esteem it as highly as many do. It is mainly used in combination with tonic resinoids for its influence on the uterine organs, toward which it seems to act freely. I have used it to some advantage in sub-acute and chronic meningeal irritation. It may be exhibited as powder, or in pill mass. Dose one-fourth to half a grain every six or four hours.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at