Winterberry Farm Primitives

This blog is now devoted to gardening with native plants with a focus on those species native to the east coast of the United States. With an MS in Agricultural Science from the University of Delaware and my love of native plants, I hope to help folks see the beauty and necessity of using native plants in your garden instead of exotic plants. Did you know that our native song birds and native insects are disappearing as our local environments continue to change?
For those who come to this page to see my 'Winterberry Farm Primitives' blog can now be found at where I will post new additions to my online antiques shop at and discuss various subjects about primitive antiques.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Actaea racemosa - A Native Medicinal Plant!

Hi everyone! It's been a good week for research! My advisor and I went over the BIG hydroponics experiment on Tuesday and have decided that it has been a success and my hypothesis has been proven! The native wildflower, Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) does grow faster and better in a hydroponic system; but, this is just the beginning. It's funny how experiments seems to multiply during an ongoing research project! I am setting up a new set of experiments - not yet in the dissertation - on Tuesday, where I will be seeing how quickly we can get rhizomes that are the size and weight of 10 year old plants. Even though I am not finished analyzing the present data, it looks like I have been able to develop 4-5 year old rhizomes (in size and weight) in just 2 months! Wow! It is amazing and very satisfying to possibly be on the edge of a break-through in the cultivation of this important native medicinal plant. With this information in hand, commercial growers should be able to grow these important plants in a greenhouse setting without decimating wild populations. They should also be able to grow them year-round, not just in the spring and summer. As the research continues, I will be doing generational studies to confirm the ability of commercial growers to grow these plants continually in hydroponics without the need to harvest from wild populations.
Actaea racemosa is a wonderful native medicinal that has long been thought to reduce the symptoms of menopause by reducing the severity and number of hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. Several studies in the past few years have tended to refute this attribute of black cohosh when using just the ground up rhizome, usually in pill form. Recently, however, new studies are showing that an extractable compound referred to as BNO 1055 actually does reduce the symptoms of menopause because of molecules in the compound that act like human estrogen without the bad effects of human hormone replacement therapy. BNO 1055 is also being studied as a cure for breast and prostate cancer due to initial studies that have shown good results in killing cancer cells in the laboratory. If you google: BNO 1055, you will find several good articles on this subject.
Black cohosh is not only an important medicinal plant, it is also a great addition to your native garden. It is definitely a back of the border plant and does best in a partial shade environment. Other names for this great plant are Fairy Candles, Bugbane and Black Snakeroot. Black cohosh is native to the United States east of the Mississippi with a few exceptions (MN, VT, NH, LA, FL and ME), and to the eastern portion of Canada. It is now endangered in Massachusetts and Illinois due to loss of habitat and harvesting of the plant for its rhizome. Black cohosh can reach up to 5 foot tall when in flower and has wonderful long racemes of white, 'fuzzy' flowers. It does best in a shady woodland setting and likes a moist, well-drained environment. It can grow under your backyard trees or in a shady flower border. It is an outstanding plant and is very stately in its appearance. It has been called a large 'astilbe-like' plant, but I think that takes away from its beauty and charm by comparing it to the common astilbe (an exotic plant from China and Japan). As for culture, again, if planted in the correct area of your garden, you can forget the use of fertilizers and pesticides as this plant is pest-free and should not need any additional watering or fertilizer once established. Grow this beauty among your native lilies, Jacob's Ladder and other native shade-loving plants.There are no true cultivars or varieties of this native beauty but the species is easily found in the trade. This is a must-have for anyone who wants a spectacular tall, graceful plant for your native garden!

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