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  • Author or Editor: Besa E. Schweitzer x
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Black cohosh [Actaea racemosa L., Cimicifuga racemosa L. (Nutt)] is a perennial herb commonly used for treatment of menopausal symptoms in humans. The increasing demand for this plant is leading to serious over-harvesting from the wild and presents an opportunity for potentially profitable cultivation. The plant produces a large rhizome, the principal medicinal organ, which appears to be especially sensitive to heavy soil, and prone to fungal attack if soil water drainage is not adequate. After an earlier crop failure (attributed to a PhytophthoraPythium disease complex) in an established black cohosh nursery bed, two experiments were conducted in the same soil to determine if certain horticultural approaches could help to avert fungal infection under less-than-ideal conditions. Treatments included single postplanting applications of the fungicide mefenoxam, transplantation in fall versus spring, and shallow (0.5 cm) versus deep (6.5 cm) placement of rhizomes. Shallow placement significantly improved long-term rhizome survival, but was still not able to compensate adequately for a poorly-drained soil. The horticultural approaches we studied do not appear to be reliable alternatives to proper site selection in the cultivation of black cohosh.

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Black cohosh [Actaea racemosa L.; Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt.] is a perennial herb native to North America that is commonly used for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. The plant is almost exclusively harvested from the wild and is being threatened by overharvesting in some regions. As demand for this plant continues to increase, the potential for profitable cultivation of this species is becoming realistic. Little is known about the effect of various cultivation practices, soils, environments, and harvest times on the multitude of phytochemicals that occur in black cohosh. Furthermore, although the rhizome is the organ that is traditionally consumed, other tissues also contain various quantities of important phytochemicals, but this has not been well documented. The objectives of this study, therefore, were to ascertain any environmental effects on the production of two representative phytochemicals (23-epi-26-deoxyactein and cimiracemoside A) and to elucidate any season-long patterns or variations in the production of these compounds within five black cohosh tissues (leaf, rachis, rhizome, root, and inflorescence). All black cohosh tissues contained 23-epi-26-deoxyactein with substantially more, as a percentage of dry weight, detected in inflorescence (28,582 to 41,354 mg·kg−1) and leaf (8250 to 16,799 mg·kg−1) compared with rhizome (2688 to 4094 mg·kg−1), and all tissues experienced a linear season-long decrease in occurrence of this compound. Cimiracemoside A was not detected in leaf tissues. The highest levels were found in rhizome (677 to 1138 mg·kg−1) and root (598 to 1281 mg·kg−1), which likewise experienced a significant season-long decrease in this compound, whereas levels in the rachis (0 to 462 mg·kg−1) increased over time. In general, environmental factors did not affect production of either compound. Varying seasonal patterns in phytochemical production, combined with differences in phytochemical content among plant tissues, point to the potential for more targeted horticultural production of these and other medicinal compounds within black cohosh.

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