Appendix F

Summary of the Conservation Status of Cimicifuga ssp. (Cimicifuga rubifolia, C. americana, and C. racemosa)

Julie Lyke

Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa, syn. Actaea racemosa) is a medicinal plant native to the eastern woodlands of North America. A member of the Ranunculaceae family, it is one of 15 species of this genus found worldwide (Fig. 1).

Text Box: Green = present; Yellow = rare; Brown = extirpated/historic Distribution map of Cimicifuga racemosa

Figure 1. Distribution of Cimicifuga racemosa (Source: Kartesz 1999).

The root of this plant has been used by native Americans for a variety of conditions for hundreds of years and in European phytotherapy for the treatment of menopausal symptoms for over 40 years. Numerous clinical trials indicate that black cohosh preparations offer an effective alternative to hormone replacement therapy in the treatment of menopause (Foster 1999).

Worldwide, this species outsells goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) (ABI 2001). Already popular in Europe where most of the harvest is shipped, black cohosh has recently experienced a dramatic increase in consumption, especially in the United States. Identified as one of the fastest growing herbal products in 1998, with a 511 percent increase over 1997 sales, black cohosh posted the largest percent increase in retail sales for any single herb in the first eight months of 1999, rising 477 percent over comparable 1998 figures (Brevoort 1998; Blumenthal 1999). Remifemin, a derivative of black cohosh, is now marketed in the United States by GlaxoSmithKline ( U.S. demand for this species is expected to continue increasing as American consumers age and their health concerns grow. Cimicifuga racemosa is also in demand in China and Korea (ABI 2001).

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) estimates that a total of over 1.1 million pounds (499,400 kgs) (dry) Cimicifuga racemosa were harvested in 1997-1999 (AHPA 2000). Though Cimicifuga racemosa is grown on a small scale for native herb gardening and landscaping purposes, commercial-scale cultivation is very limited. At present, only 10-20 acres (4-8 ha) are known to be cultivated for black cohosh (ABI 2001). Cultivated black cohosh accounted for little more than three percent of the total harvest during 1997-1999 (AHPA 2000). Research is underway to develop commercially feasible propagation techniques for this species (e.g.,, [both viewed: 6 April 2001]).

Data on the distribution and abundance of black cohosh in the wild is lacking. Several thousand populations of Cimicifuga racemosa are estimated to be extant rangewide, including 100 in Indiana, "hundreds" in Maryland, 750-1000 on Forest Service lands in North Carolina, thousands in New York, 20-30 in South Carolina, and "hundreds" in Tennessee (ABI 2001). In general, it is considered to be relatively more abundant in the southern portion of its range. Larger populations can consist of 250-500 individuals (ABI 2001). A standard rich cove forest in North Carolina may contain an estimated 2,000-5,000 individual plants, or approximately 400-600 individuals per acre (162-243 individuals per ha) (Kauffman, pers. comm., March 2001).

Figure 2. Cimicifuga racemosa harvest (1997-1999). Source: AHPA 2000.

Collection of Cimicifuga racemosa from the wild for the medicinal plant trade occurs rangewide, especially on Forest Service and National Park Service lands in North Carolina (ABI 2001). An average of 366,000 pounds (166,164 kgs) (dry) per year, almost 97 percent of the total collected, was gathered from the wild during 1997-1999 (AHPA 2000) (Fig. 2). At an estimated 25 roots per pound (11 roots per kg) (dry), this is the equivalent of about 9.2 million plants collected from the wild annually, or approximately 18,300 populations of 500 individuals each per year.

Populations of Cimicifuga racemosa have declined or disappeared in some states due to collection pressure (Mohlenbrock 1981; Robbins 1999). This species is suspected to be declining more precipitously where there are concentrations of public lands because these areas are favored by collectors for their large, intact forested areas (ABI 2001). From 1997-1999, the National Forests of North Carolina issued collection permits for less than two percent of the total amount of Cimicifuga racemosa reportedly collected from the wild in each of those years (Tab. 1). Information from other National Forests is unavailable. Collection from National Parks is not allowed.

Table 1.Cimicifuga racemosa harvest from the wild





Estimated total harvest (lbs. dry)
(Source: AHPA 2000)

(103,059 kg)

(329,597 kg)

(65,997 kg)

National Forests of North Carolina collection permits issued (lbs. dry)
(Source: ABI 2001)

(999 kg)

(5,448 kg)

(976 kg)

Proportion of estimated total harvest allowed on Forest Service lands (%)




As with other medicinal herbs, the amount of collection pressure appears to be highly dependent upon wholesale prices, which dropped last year from a peak of $12-17 per pound ($5.45-7.72 per kg) (dry) to a current level of approximately $3 per pound ($1.36 per kg) (dry) (ABI 2001). However, the number of requests for permits to collect this species from Forest Service lands has increased over the long term (Robbins 1999; ABI 2001).

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) ranks Cimicifuga racemosa among the top species of concern in a list of 184 medicinal plants native to the United States arranged in order of the degree to which they are threatened by medicinal plant collection (Nielsen 2000). It is also listed as "At Risk" by United Plant Savers and the National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs, their highest category of concern (; [both viewed: 6 April 2001]).

Cimicifuga racemosa has been recommended for inclusion in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an action that would require black cohosh traded internationally to be legally acquired and sustainably harvested (University of Maryland Graduate Program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology in litt. to USFWS Office of Scientific Authority, Oct. 25, 1999). This recommendation is currently under consideration by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Division of Scientific Authority.

The Plant Conservation Alliance Medicinal Plant Working Group, a consortium of U.S. government agencies and non-governmental organizations, has initiated a study of Cimicifuga racemosa on Forest Service lands near Asheville, North Carolina. In September 2000, volunteers from the Garden Clubs of America, working with the Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Strategic Sourcing, Inc., initiated a pilot project to collect black cohosh population data on the Pisgah National Forest. This study will continue and expand to other parts of the range in subsequent years.

Though collection of Cimicifuga rubifolia and C. americana has not specifically been documented, these species are probably also subject to significant collection pressure as they are present in areas where the most intense collection of C. racemosa from the wild occurs (Nielsen 2000). Both are also listed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) among their top species of concern (Nielsen 2000). Cimicifuga rubifolia, number one on the TNC list, is known from seven states, five of which list it as rare (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia). It is also present in Pennsylvania and extirpated in Alabama (Kartesz 1999). It is listed as Rare in the 1997 IUCN Red Book of Threatened Plants: Endangered in Alabama, Indiana, and Virginia; Rare in Tennessee; and Vulnerable in Illinois and Kentucky (Walter and Gillett 1998). Cimicifuga americana, known from ten states, is rare in Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina (Kartesz 1999).

Limited quantitative data are available to support assessments of the status of these species and the impact of wild harvesting on them. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Division of Scientific Authority is currently seeking information on the status of these three species throughout their range and the nature and extent of collection pressures on them for both foreign and domestic medicinals markets. Please forward comments to Julie Lyke.


The Association for Biodiversity Information, in association with the Network of Natural Heritage Programs and Conservation Data Centers. March, 2001. Element Global Ranking Report. Arlington, Virginia.

American Herbal Products Association. September, 2000. 1999 Tonnage Survey Results. Prepared for: American Herbal Products Association. Survey Tabulated and Results Compiled by Arthur Andersen LLP. 14 pp.

Blumenthal, M. 1999. "Herb Market Levels after Five Years of Boom: 1999 Sales in Mainstream Market Up Only 11% in First Half of 1999 After 55% Increase in 1998," HerbalGram, 47, pp.64-65.

Brevoort, P. 1998. "The Booming U.S. Botanical Market: A New Overview," HerbalGram, 44, pp.33-46.

Foster, S. 1999. "Black Cohosh: Cimicifuga racemosa: A Literature Review," HerbalGram, 45, pp.36-49.

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A Synonymized Checklist and Atlas with Biological Attributes for the Vascular Flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First Edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, NC.

Kauffman, G. March 30, 2001. Personal communication.

Mohlenbrock, R. 1981. Flowering Plants, Magnolias to Pitcher Plants. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, IL, p.125.

Nielsen, E. 2000. Prioritization of Medicinal Species at Risk due to Wild-Collection. The Nature Conservancy. 3 pp. (unpublished).

Robbins, C. 1999. Medicine from U.S. Wildlands: An Assessment of Native Plant Species Harvested in the United States for Medicinal Use and Trade and Evaluation of the Conservation and Management Implications: A report from TRAFFIC North America prepared for The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy. 28 pp.

Walter, K.S. and Gillett, H.J., eds. 1998. 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. Compiled by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Lxiv + 862pp.

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