Question…Black Cohosh

Could you tell us about any lore regarding Black Cohash?

Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) is called…


…by the Cherokee. That phonetic transliteration comes from James Mooney’s work on the Swimmer Manuscript. The formula where it appears is used to help cure chills, but it’s had other uses as well. In Daniel Moerman’s “Native American Medicinal Plants” we see the Cherokee had many uses for the plant including to help stimulate menstruation, use as an anodyne, used for rheumatic pains, given for hives, external astringent, sedative, laxative, and a remedy for coughs.

Ozark folk knowledge confirms the use of the plant to help with menstruation. Vance Randolph has an entry about it in his “Ozark Magic and Folklore” where he says:

“A tea made of black snakeroot (Cimicifuga) is also used as a medicine for ‘female troubles’ which usually means amenorrhea.”

The plant is still used today, usually in supplement form, to help treat gynecological problems.

He also mentions the root with regards to male virility:

“A tea made from black snakeroot (Cimicifuga) is another powerful aphrodisiac, according to the wise men of the mountains, but it seems to upset the stomach if large doses are taken, and is best mixed with whiskey. There is a widespread belief that a man who ‘loses his manhood’ is doomed to die before the year is out; a gentleman ninety-three years old told me that he used to believe this himself but had finally been forced to the conclusion that ‘there ain’t nothing to it.’”

I haven’t been able to confirm where this belief came from, or if it’s actually very reliable at all. Black Cohosh is also called “black snakeroot” which leads me to believe there was probably some connection to snake lore, which is possibly where the virility cure comes in as snakes are often associated with male sexuality. The root was also so named because it was meant as not only a cure for snakebite but if you carry the root in your pocket it’s supposed to keep you from getting bit.

Black Snakeroot also has uses within Southern Rootwork and Conjure, as a protective and cleansing plant that helps “snake” out any evil or crossings someone might have put on you. The plant likely entered the materia medica of conjurers through contact with the Cherokee.


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