Out in the woods – the Blue Cohosh

A short hike revealed quite a change of the woodland floor with a few ‘faces’ familiar to everyone, like the trout lily (Erythronium americanum), spring beauties (Claytonia spp.), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) and Trillium ready to flower but also forgotten woodland treasures such as the Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides).

Spring woodland flowers


 Caulophyllum thalictroides – Blue Cohosh, papoose root, squawroot

Blue cohosh is an impressive plant, easy to recognize in early spring by the strikingly beautiful purple, almost back shoots. The foliage will change later to green and resemble the meadow rue (Thalictrum), hence the epithet ‘thalictroides’.

‘Cohosh’ is believed to derive from an Algonquian word meaning ‘rough’, referring to the texture of the plant’s rhizome, while ‘blue’ comes from the unusually blue seeds. Also the stem and leaves are covered with a bluish film early in the summer.

Caulophyllum thalictroides shoot in early spring

Caulophyllum thalictroides shoot in early spring

The small purplish or yellowish green flowers would not qualify for a beauty contest but not the same goes for the blue seeds adorning the stems in the fall. For combinations in the garden, only imagination is the limit: a mix palette with early spring flowering native species (Claytonia, Erytronium, Sanguinaria) or for an European decor combined with: Corydalis solida, early primroses, Anemone nemorosa, Ranunculus, so on…For part-shade to shade locations, in rich humus soil.

 Other uses:

Blue cohosh was used medicinally (powder rhizomes) by various native American tribes, mainly to promote childbirth (‘squawroot’) but also for: anxiety, rheumatism, stomach cramps and genito-urinary dysfunctions. It contains a number of active compounds among which caulosaponin is a powerful stimulator of uterine contractions (under medical attention it is still used in modern herbal medicine as a natural labour-inducing stimulant).

10 replies
  1. Amy Olmsted
    Amy Olmsted says:

    An awesome plant! I have only found it in one place in Vermont…so far. Now I need to get into the woods and see what I can find in bloom now!

    • diversifolius
      diversifolius says:

      I will keep an eye for seeds this year – hard to germinate but definitely worth the effort. You shouldn’t wait too much – here the Trilliums are almost in full bloom! I cannot wait to take more pictures…

  2. mrsdaffodil
    mrsdaffodil says:

    The trilliums are beautiful! The cohosh is amazing! Please do show the foliage later on–I’m a big fan of meadow rue. I have one called Thalictrum aquilegifolium–the foliage is like the Columbine’s.

    • diversifolius
      diversifolius says:

      I will;it changes to green-like and looks like a rough version of Thalictrum.
      I almost bought a T. aquilegifolium last year (before I remembered I don’t have where to plant it).

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