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Green Medicine > 2005 Virginia Inventory & Monitoring Project

2005 Medicinal Plant Working Group - Garden Club of America
Partners for Plants Proposal
Native Medicinal Plant Inventory & Monitoring

Title: Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa (Cimicifuga racemosa))
George Washington and Jefferson National Forest (Virginia)

Purpose: To utilize established partnerships between the Garden Club of America-Partners for Plants (GCA-PfP) and the Plant Conservation Alliance-Medicinal Plant Working Group (PCA-MPWG) to continue to inventory and monitor the effect of harvest on the native medicinal plant, black cohosh, Actaea racemosa. This marks the fourth year of collaborative research efforts. This project is part of a long-term data collection effort that will expand our understanding of the ecological status and sustainability of several species native to the Appalachian Mountain chain. The Appalachians, spanning twelve eastern U.S. States and extending into Canada, harbor the highest biodiversity in the temperate zone. Nearly 100% of black cohosh is wild-harvested.


  • Monitor established sites using field monitoring protocol.
  • Collate and assimilate data.
  • Analyze and discuss results with project leaders, other researchers and government agencies.
  • Summarize results for GCA and other partners at the end of the field season.

In the short-term, this information will provide important census and ecological data. In the long-term, it will assist the Forest Service, Natural Products Industry and other land management agencies to better determine the sustainable yields for this important medicinal plant species.

Target species: Black cohosh, Actaea racemosa, is a native Appalachian understory plant that has been traditionally harvested for its root to use as medicine, especially in treating menopausal symptoms. Harvest and trade data are insufficient to accurately determine the effect of the medicinals trade on black cohosh. Conservative industry estimates put black cohosh harvest at approximately 279,000 pounds of dried root/year. Between 1997 and 2001, harvest totaled approximately 1.4 million pounds - this equates to 4 million plants/year of black cohosh. Considering that large coves of black cohosh may consist of 250-500 individuals and cultivation is negligible, the harvest pressure on this species is enormous. With revelations last year that synthetic hormone replacement therapy poses more risks than benefits, black cohosh is at risk of experiencing heavier harvest pressure. We have very little information on the status of this species in the wild and the effect of harvest, making it difficult for land managers to properly manage the species.

Location and date of 2005 study: Three study sites will be undertaken on the George Washington / Jefferson National Forest (GW/JNF): Reddish Knob (near Harrisonburg, VA.) on June 26, 27, and 28; Mt. Rogers Recreation Area (near Marion, VA) August 21, 22, and 23; and Natural Bridge (near Roanoke), possibly in July. The third date will not be determined until site visits are undertaken in June.

2005 Field Days: There are three potential sites being explored - a northern site (near Harrisonburg), a southern site (located in the Mount Rogers Recreation Area) and a site in the Roanoke area. It is uncertain whether every site will go forward. Each of these sites would require a full a day of field work. Final selection of the sites will not occur until sufficient spring plants are leafed out. Volunteers will be notified as soon as final site selection and dates have been decided.

For each site, the night prior to the field data collection exercise, all volunteers will receive training in study protocol. Training will focus on plant identification, equipment usage, and data collection procedures. Volunteers will be allocated to field teams of 3-4 people. Each person will have a designated position with certain roles and responsibilities.

Volunteer Needs and Physical Requirements: We estimate that a minimum of 10-15 volunteers are needed for each of THREE field sites. Volunteers should indicate which site(s) they prefer to work at. Volunteers may work at more than one site.

Volunteers should be prepared for moderate off-trail hiking. In addition to the possibility of inclement weather, volunteers may encounter such wonders of nature as poison ivy, snakes and bugs. Be aware and be prepared.

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Last Updated: 10-Jun-2005