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Cimicifuga refers to the genus of 18 species of flowering plants belonging to the family Ranunculaceae. These plants are collectively called bugbane owing to their insect-repellent properties. In fact, the word Cimicifuga comes from the words cimex, which is Latin for bug, and fugare, which means to drive away. Also known under the names snakeroot and cohosh, these plants are found in the temperate regions of North America, as well as eastern and sortheast Asia. They are divided into two natural groups: those with scaly seeds and those with seeds that have very little or no scales.
Bugbanes are flowering plants with upright stalks. The flowers, usually white or pink, are clustered along the stalk and bloom from mid-summer to early fall. While their insect-repellent attributes are due to the unpleasant smell of the flowers, not all species exhibit the same malodorous characteristics. For example, C. simplex is valued for its pleasantly scented white flowers. Depending on the species, the color of the leaves tend to be green, brown, or purple.
These plants are hardy perennials, making them ideal for cultivation as outdoor ornamental plants. Considered low-maintenance, they thrive in moist soil and in full or partial shade. They will tolerate direct sun exposure as long as water is supplied. Best left undisturbed after planting, Cimicifuga is typically slow growing but long-lived.
Aside from ornamental and insect-repelling uses, Cimicifuga has also been used for medicinal purposes for more than 100 years. Native Americans used the plants to treat snakebites, malaria, and rheumatism. They were also used as an ingredient in female tonics to treat menstrual cramps and aid in childbirth. The analgesic, antipyretic, and anti-inflammatory properties of these plants also underscore their importance in traditional Chinese medicine.
Modern use of Cimicifuga is mainly as an alternative treatment for women who exhibit contraindications to estrogen replacement therapy. Extracts from several Cimicifuga species, particularly C. racemosa or black cohosh, are sometimes used as the main ingredients in dietary supplements or herbal medicines to treat menopausal symptoms such as palpitations, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness. The extracts are taken from the roots, stalks, and rhizomes of the plants.
In the year 2000, the genus was reclassified based on deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequence data and the similarity between biochemical constituents with plants belonging to the genus Actaea. Under the National Vegetation Classification System, these plants are now listed under the genus Actaea. Use of the name Cimicifuga to refer to these plants persists, resulting in Cimicifuga and Actaea being used interchangeably when referring to bugbanes.