Blue cohosh: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information about blue cohosh

Blue cohosh is a flowering plant in the Berberidaceae (barberry) family. It should not be confused with Black cohosh, which is a plant in a different genus.

Blue cohosh is an erect plant with tall blue flower stem. It has a height of up to 3 feet and a width of 1 ½ feet. The flowers are 5 petaled, yellow-green, on the top of tall stalks. The leaves are thin, bluish green, oval shape with lobes from 1-4 inches long. It blooms from June to August.

The fruit is blue-black and ⅓ inch in diameter. The rhizome is knotty, branched, brownish gray with white inside. They taste bitter and acrid.

From the single stalk rising from the ground, there is a single, large, three-branched leaf plus a fruiting stalk. The bluish-green leaflets are tulip-shaped, entire at the base, but serrate at the tip. This plant's three-lobed, veined leaves are dark purple when they emerge and later turn green.

Greenish brown or yellowish brown flowers appear in mid and late spring, turning into waxy blue berries that dangle beneath the leaves. Berries split open to reveal berry-like seeds that turn from green to blue. Very slow to increase in size.

common names & nomenclature
The name Cohosh is an Algonquin name and was given to both blue and black because of their similarity in looks (roots) and actions. Blue refers to the bluish stem and berries. The name Caulophyllum describes the leaf habit. The species name, thalictroides, comes from the similarity between the large highly divided; multiple-compound leaves of Meadow-rue (Thalictrum) and those of Blue Cohosh.

Also known as:
papoose root, squaw root, beechdrops, blueberry root, blue ginseng, yellow ginseng

Blue Cohosh, the blueberry root
Blue cohosh: Where in the World
habitat and range for blue cohosh

Blue cohosh is found in hardwood forests of the eastern United States. It grows in eastern North America, from Manitoba and Oklahoma east to the Atlantic Ocean.

Blue cohosh: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting blue cohosh

Blue cohosh prefers to grow in hardwood forests, moist coves and hillsides, generally in shady locations.

Grows best in moist acidic soil that is rich in organic matter.

Divide Blue Cohosh plants in spring while dormant or after blooming. Grow by seed that has been stratified for 4 weeks, germination is within 2-4 weeks. It can also be propagated by root division. The seeds can be planted in midsummer as soon as the fruits ripen. Space 1 ½ to 2 feet apart in fairly rich, moist soil.

Plants grown from seed will have to be in the ground for up to five years before the root can be harvested. Harvest the rhizomes in late fall.

Dry the harvested rhizome until completely dried all the way through. The rhizome can then be cut into small pieces or powdered. Store in a cool, dry place in an airtight container.

In summer, the plant produces small yellowish flowers and dark blue berries, which are poisonous and potentially fatal to children. Make sure children do not eat the berries.

Blue cohosh: The Rest of the Story
blue cohosh history, folklore, literature & more

A chemical (caulosaponin) discovered in blue cohosh provokes strong uterine contractions. Caulosaponin, however, also narrows the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Blue cohosh has produced heart damage in laboratory animals and it is quite possible that it could cause damage in humans as well through an overdose.

Blue cohosh does not appear to be more hazardous than Pitocin, the standard drug to induce labor, which may also cause heart damage and other serious side effects. Pitocin requires constant professional monitoring.

Blue cohosh is not a garden herb, but it's easy to recognize in early spring in forests from the Appalachians to the Mississippi. Before other forest-floor plants have shown signs of new life, blue cohosh's blue-purple stem and single large leaf have risen 2 to 3 feet. As spring turns to summer, blue cohosh produces three branches with three compound leaves each.

Remember that berries are poisonous and potentially fatal to children.