Syn. Cohosh.


Black Snakeroot is the root or rhizome of Cimicifuga race-mosa (Actaea racemosa, Willd., Sp. Plant), an indigenous, perennial, herbaceous plant, with very much divided leaves, and an erect stem from four to eight feet high, often branching at top, and terminating in a beautiful, light, feathery raceme of small white flowers. it grows in the woods, or recently cleared grounds, through a large portion of the United States.


The root consists of a contorted irregular body or rhizome, less than an inch thick, and several inches long, marked by the remains of stems, and furnished with numerous slender radical fibres, externally of a dark-brown colour, approaching to black, internally whitish, with a rather feeble yet quite distinct and characteristic odour when recent, and of a bitter, herbaceous, somewhat astringent, and subacrid taste. it imparts its virtues to water and alcohol, though probably more readily to the latter. its active constituents have not been isolated; but, considering the smell of the root, and the fact that it deteriorates by time, the probability is that its virtues are, in some degree at least, connected with a volatile principle. Though frequently prescribed in decoction, and not without effect, it is yet deemed to be less energetic in this form than either in substance or tincture; and this corresponds with the view just given of the nature of its active constituent. The sooner after collection it can be used, the more active it will be.

Effects on the System

As the root was popularly employed in pectoral complaints, it was rather hastily concluded, when brought before the notice of the profession, to possess expectorant properties; and its bitterness led to the supposition that it was also tonic. But there is reason to doubt whether it has a decided influence over any of the secretions; and, from the result of recent observations and experiments, I am disposed to think that its proper position is among the nervous sedatives. Dr. Garden, of Virginia, found it to possess "in an eminent degree the power of lessening arterial action," and believed it to have a tonic influence on the system. Dr. Hildreth, of Ohio, also noticed the reduction of the circulation, and found it, in large doses, to produce vertigo, impaired vision, nausea, and vomiting; but never any proper narcotic effect. Dr. N. S. Davis, who has used it largely, never " knew it to produce a perceptible increase of secretion," or to exhibit "the slightest stimulant quality." He remarked the same diminution in the frequency and force of the pulse, and the same symptoms of nervous disorder, from large doses, as were observed by Dr. Hildreth. He found it additionally to allay pain, and relieve nervous irritability; proving that, though it does not derange the intellectual faculties, or produce stupor, it is yet capable of acting on the encephalon. According to Dr. Davis, the reduction in the pulse lasts for a considerable time. These facts seem to show that cimicifuga is a sedative to the nervous and arterial systems, while it may possibly be somewhat tonic to the stomach.

Therapeutic Application

Though long used as a domestic remedy in various disorders, cimicifuga was first brought to the notice of the profession by Dr. Thomas J. Garden, of Charlotte, Va., who employed it with much benefit in phthisis and similar pectoral affections, and, in his own case, found it to check hectic paroxysms, to diminish night-sweats, to improve the cough and expectoration, and to reduce his pulse from a very excited condition to the normal frequency. Dr. Garden's paper was published in the American Medical Recorder for October, 1823; and, in a letter written to the author in May, 1850, he states that thirty years' use of the medicine had fully confirmed his first favourable anticipations. The remedy was also beneficially used by Dr. Charles C. Hildreth, of Zanesville, Ohio, in connection with compound solution of iodine, in the early stage of phthisis. (Am. Journ. of Med. Sci., N. S., iv. 281.) it is, however, probably useful in pectoral complaints only by allaying irritation through its sedative properties.

In chorea black snakeroot has been found very serviceable, and has proved of itself adequate to the cure in a number of instances. As a remedy in this complaint, it was first made publicly known by Dr. Jesse Young, of Chester County, Pennsylvania, who was induced to employ it, from a successful instance of its use in domestic practice, which came under his notice. Having found it effectual upon trial, he published the results of his observation in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences (Feb. 1832, ix. 310); since which period the medicine has been much employed, so that it may be considered as among the standard remedies in that complaint. it is proper to state that Dr. Isaac Hays, editor of the journal just referred to, in an editorial paragraph appended to the paper of Dr. Young, states that, nearly ten years previously, Dr. Physick had informed him that he had known the same remedy, given in doses of ten grains every two hours, to prove successful in several instances of chorea. Dr. Young gave a teaspoonful of the powdered root three times a day to an adult patient. I have myself frequently used it, and, with so much success, that, in combination with sulphate of zinc and occasional purging, it is the remedy upon which I have mainly relied.

In a case of convulsions resembling epilepsy, occurring monthly in a young woman about the catamenial period, the paroxysms ceased under the use of this root, which I was induced to try from its effects in chorea. But, though I have since employed it in other epileptic cases, I cannot say that I have known it to be of material service in any other instance.

In acute rheumatism, it has been used with extraordinary success by Dr. F. N. Johnson, of New York, who gave it in more than twenty of the worst cases, in all of which "the results were satisfactory in the highest degree; every vestige of the disease disappearing in from two to eight or ten days, without inducing any sensible evacuation, or leaving behind a single bad symptom;" and Dr. N. S. Davis, now of Chicago, who makes this statement, observes in addition; "these trials have been repeated by Dr. Johnson, myself, and others, until we have no more doubt of the efficacy of cimicifuga, in the early stage of acute rheumatism, than we have of the power of vaccination as a preventive of variola." (Trans, of the Am. Med. Assoc, i. 352.) I have had no experience with the remedy in this disease.

Besides the affections above mentioned, cimicifuga has been used with advantage in hysteria and nervous headache.

Dr. D. A. Morse, of Alliance, Ohio, in a communication to the Medical and Surgical Reporter (Feb. 9, 1867, p. 104), states that he has used cimicifuga with advantage in chorea, epilepsy, hysteria, certain conditions of dyspepsia, rheumatism, dysmenorrhoea, neuralgia, and diphtheria.


The medicine should be used preferably in substance or tincture. The method of decoction has also been frequently employed; but there is reason to think that the virtues of the root are somewhat impaired in the process. The dose of the powder is from a scruple to a drachm, and may be increased, if thought desirable, until it nauseates or produces vertiginous sensations. it may be given in syrup, or suspended in water. Of the decoction, made by boiling an ounce of the bruised root for ten or fifteen minutes in a pint of water, two fluidounces may be given for a dose; and from half a pint to a pint may be taken during the twenty-four hours. Of a tincture, made with four ounces of the bruised root and a pint of diluted alcohol, the dose, equivalent to that above mentioned of the powder, is from about one fluidrachm to half a fluidounce. These doses may be repeated three or four times a day in chronic cases. They must be proportionably reduced for children. Dr. Davis states that twenty grains of the powder, or from thirty to sixty drops of the tincture, should be given, in acute rheumatism, every two hours until its effects are observable. (ibid., p. 356.) if the root is without smell, and of little or no taste, it should be rejected. I have been in the habit of considering the retention of the characteristic odour, as a sufficient test of its activity.

A Fluid Extract (Extractum CimicifuGaE Fluidum, U. S.) was introduced into the U. S. Pharmacopoeia at the recent revision. it is a very concentrated tincture, of which a fluidounce represents a troyounce of the root. The dose is from twenty minims to a fluidrachm.