White Cohosh

Scientific Name(s): Actaea alba (L.) Mill. (also known as A. pachypoda Ell.) and A. rubra (Ait.) Willd. Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercups)

Common Name(s): White Cohosh , baneberry , snakeberry , coralberry , doll's eye

Uses

White cohosh has been used historically to treat women's disorders. Homeopaths have used white cohosh to treat arthritis and rheumatism.

Dosing

There are no recent clinical studies of white cohosh that provide a basis for dosage recommendations.

Contraindications

No longer considered safe.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Documented adverse effects. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

The protoanemonin-like compound can inflame and blister the skin.

Toxicology

Ingestion of white cohosh results in stomach cramping, headache, increased pulse rate, vomiting, delirium, and circulatory failure. All parts of the plant are toxic, especially the roots and berries, which contain the toxic glycosides and an essential oil. Gastric lavage, emesis, and supportive treatment are recommended if ingested.

Botany

White cohosh is a bushy, herbaceous perennial, that can grow to 3 feet tall. Its wide leaves have 6 or more sharp leaflets. The small flowers are white and grow in clusters. The berries of the plant can be red or white. 1 The plant is found from Alaska to California and east to the mid-United States. 1 Anatomical structure has been investigated. 2

History

The plant has been used in a manner similar to that of black and blue cohosh to stimulate menstruation and to treat other “female disorders.” Certain tribes, such as Cherokee and Cheyenne, used the root to cure itching, colds and cough, urogenital disorders, stomach disorders, and to revive those near death. It also has been used as a purgative and in childbirth. 3

Chemistry

The chemistry of the plant is poorly defined. Protoanemonin or a congener is believed to be responsible for the irritant effect. In addition, the plant contains an essential oil. Fruits and seeds contain trans-aconitic acid. 3

Uses and Pharmacology

Little is known about its pharmacologic effects. There are no studies confirming its effects in the treatment of women's disorders. Homeopaths have used the roots for arthritis and rheumatism. 3

Animal Data

Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of white cohosh for any condition.

Clinical Data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of white cohosh for any condition.

Dosage

There are no recent clinical studies of white cohosh that provide a basis for dosage recommendations.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Documented adverse effects. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

The protoanemonin-like compound can inflame and blister the skin. 3

Toxicology

All parts of the plant are toxic, especially the roots and berries, which contain the toxic glycosides and an essential oil. Ingestion of these parts results in acute stomach cramping, headache, increased pulse rate, vomiting, delirium, and circulatory failure. As few as 6 berries can cause severe symptoms, persisting for hours. 4 The protoanemonin-like compound can inflame and blister the skin. 3 Gastric lavage, emesis, and supportive treatment are recommended if ingested. 1 , 3

Bibliography

1. Turner N, et al. Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms . Portland, OR: Timber Press. 1991;99–100.
2. Bukowiecki H, et al. Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica 1972;29(4):425–30.
3. Duke J. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs . Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Inc. 1985;16.
4. Hardin JW, Arena JM. Human Poisoning from Native and Cultivated Plants . Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 1974.

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