Herbs for Labor II: Black and Blue Labor Helpers

Mother Earth provides us with an extraordinary assortment of natural tools, such as plant medicines, to maintain the health of ourselves and one another. In this edition of the series called “Herbs for Labor” for Birth Institute Susun Weed gives an explanation of the properties and uses of Blue and Black Cohosh. Herbal knowledge, the “people’s medicine” is a welcome addition to any midwife’s birth bag, and an important part of midwife training.

Here we are, together again, connected by little plastic fibers and invisible beams of energy. Do you feel Spider Woman weaving her magic through us? There is magic, you know, in what we are doing. With her help, we are reweaving the healing cloak of the Ancients and reclaiming herbal medicine as people’s medicine, the medicine right outside your door.

Herbal medicine is simple and safe. Herbal medicine is complex, complicated, and dangerous. Yes. I agree. Furthermore, it takes seven lifetimes to become an herbalist. Be kind to yourself on your journey to understanding.

Plants and people are complex, unique beings and they can interact in complex, unique ways. Scientific studies of active ingredients only tell us about measurable aspects, not about the integrative, evocative, some might even say, spiritual aspects of using herbs for our health care, especially during labor and delivery.

My first article for this series set the tone and established us firmly on our journey of discovery. Let’s join hands now with Grandmother Growth and explore twenty important herbs used during labor.

Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

Let us begin with the herb most often cited and used as an aid to labor: the root of a shy, deep woods perennial called “blue cohosh.” “Blue” because it is covered in a bluish bloom as it emerges in the spring and because the berries are blue. And “cohosh” because the root is used.

“Cohosh,” like “wort,” and “dock” is herbal lingo. “Dock” means “big leaf,” as in burdock and yellow dock. “Wort” means “medicinal plant,” as in motherwort and St. Joan’s wort. “Cohosh” means, “root,” as in blue cohosh and black cohosh.

Blue cohosh and black cohosh are different plants with contradictory, but complementary, actions.

Blue cohosh, Caulophyllum, is one of the few plants containing Oxytocin, the natural form of pitocin, which stimulates uterine contractions. Caulophyllum was an official medicine –to induce and sustain labor – in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1883-1905 and in the National Formulary from 1916-1950.

The tincture of freshly-dug Caulophyllum root is taken by the dropperful every half-hour for no more than 8 hours. Overuse can cause vasoconstriction, tachycardia, hypotension, and respiratory distress in both mother and babe. Fetal heart monitoring is recommended when working with this plant medicine.

Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) (new name: Actea racemosa)

This tall, stately perennial is a favorite of landscapers. A tincture of the fresh roots, a dropperful hourly, but only as needed, sedates the uterus and eases pain. An excellent antispasmodic, it helps coordinate uterine contractions. Side effects – headache and liver distress – are more often seen with dried root tinctures.


These two roots, blue and black cohosh work well together, as in this recipe, adapted from Amanda McQuade. Combine tinctures: 1 blue cohosh, 1 black cohosh, 2 raspberry leaf. Take ½ teaspoonful of the mixture in warm water every 15-45 minutes, as needed.


Harvest time comes with the autumn, the ideal time to dig roots. The walk is an uphill battle, but you’re welcome to come. We’ll drive the first thousand feet of elevation, following the stream that created Silver Hollow.

Now we park and walk the next thousand feet up. This path used to be the main road, in the days when it was easier to go over the mountain than to build a bridge across the inevitable stream at the foot of the mountain.

There’s a great stand of horsetail. And look at the bountiful jewelweed. The first frost, just around the corner, will kill it. And violets, violets, violets, everywhere. Oh, right, they’ve past their flowering point; I’m enjoying my memories of them in spring.

Take a rest here, before the path gets steeper. See how young and small the trees are? This area was clear cut for farming two hundred years ago. This forest has only been growing for the past hundred years or so.

But as we turn and walk up this way, look, look at the size of those trees. You can almost see the invisible line where cultivation stopped and no more trees were cut. I call this area “The Land of the Fallen Giants.” We’ve seen several hurricanes here, which topple a lot of these old folks.

Yes, further. Now it gets really steep. And look around you. There is wild ginger. There is trillium. And right here is blue cohosh.

I give thanks for the medicine we will make. I am humbled by Nature’s gifts. Green blessings are everywhere.

Susun Weed has appeared on numerous national radio, television, and new-media venues, including National Public Radio, NBC News, CNN, and ABCNews.com. She has been quoted and interviewed in many major magazines, including Natural Health, Woman’s Day, First for Women, and Herbs for Health. She is a contributor to the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women’s Studies, and writes a regular column in Sagewoman and for Awakened Woman online. Visit her at www.susunweed.com or buy her books at www.wisewomanbookshop.com.


  • Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Aviva Romm, Elsevier
  • Herbal Remedies for Women, Amanda McQuade-Crawford, Three Rivers
  • “Midwifery Today,” Autumn 2013, Issue 107; labor induction by Sister Morningstar, Ashley Musil, Michel Odent, and Susun Weed.
  • Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, Susun Weed, Ash Tree
  • Women’s Herbs, Women’s Health, Chris Hobbs, Kathi Keville, Botanica Press

Image Source: Skidmore

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