How does it feel?
What can I use it for?
Used for sluggish digestion resulting in constipation and to improve liver function.
Signs the digestion may be functioning under par might include a pale or coated tongue, intolerance to fatty foods, headaches, constipation or nausea, although it should be noted that these symptoms can also be indicators of other issues.
Culver’s root is often combined with other hepatics (herbs with a beneficial action on liver function) such as dandelion root or barberry. It can also be combined with carminative herbs such as fennel seed, peppermint or ginger for assisted easing of bloating and spasm in the gut.
Care needs to be taken with the dose as it has potential to cause diarrhoea and possibly vomiting if the doses are too high for the individual.
Into the heart of Black Root
The active constituents within black root are bitter-tasting and cholagogue, thus they increase the flow of bile from the liver and assist with a sluggish bowel. The dried root can be described as a bitter tonic, helping with congestion in the bile ducts and gall bladder.
Some historical accounts are conflicting and this may be down to the differences in action between the dried and fresh root. Use of the dried root if stored for a sufficiently long period before use and prescribed within an appropriate dosage range should not have drastic purgative actions, rather it should promote the secretion of bile without causing any negative effects on the digestive tract, having a gently toning effect on activity and easing constipation by its laxative effects.
On the other hand the fresh root has deliberately been used in the past as a purging agent and as such was used to bring about a violent catharsis.
Veronicastrum, or Black root played a significant role in certain Native American rituals. The root of the plant has powerful purgative and emetic actions when used fresh and was used to induce vomiting as part of purification rituals.
The Menomini used the plant for purification after being ‘defiled’ by being touched by a bereaved person.
It was believed that the root cured typhus and ‘bilious fevers’, in part by inducing sweating.
The mashed root was used to clean scrofula (tuberculous) sores by the Seneca and Ojibwa whilst the Cherokee chewed the plant to relieve the symptoms of colic and it was used to assist women in labour by the Meskwaki.
A couple of the plant’s common names come from a Dr Culver, an eighteenth-century physician who promoted the use of the plant amongst settlers as a remedy for chronic constipation and ‘liverish’ conditions, hence Culver’s root and Culver’s physic.
It was once included in the United States Pharmacopoeia, however it isn’t in such common use these days, possibly due to its reputation as a powerful cathartic when used fresh.
Antispasmodic plants reduce or relieve smooth muscle spasm. They can be helpful for an array of issues including menstrual cramps. Also known as spasmolytics, these plants include aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), blue cohosh (caulophyllum thalictroides), cramp bark (viburnum opulus) and lavender (Lavandula angustofolia).Cholagogues and choleretics
Cholagogues promote the production of bile in the liver. A cholereticis a type of cholagogue that promotes the release of bile from the gall bladder into the duodenum. Cholagogues have an alterative and laxative effect. Cholagogues are contra-indicated if there is acute liver failure, obstructive jaundice, painful gallstones or cholecystitis. Examples include Celandine leaf (Chelidonium majus), Barberry root (Berberis vulgaris), Dandelion root and leaf (Taraxacum officinalis root), and Blue Flag root (Iris versicolor).Diaphoretics
Diaphoretics are herbs that cause sweating by increasing circulation in the periphery of the body. Usually used to help to relieve fevers, some examples are Yarrow aerial parts (Achillea millefolium), Elder flowers (Sambucus niger), Ginger root (Zingiber officinalis).Laxatives
Laxative herbs are those that stimulate or promote bowel movements. There are different types of herbs; gentle aperients, like dandelion root (taraxacum officinalis), that have a mild effect; bulk-forming laxatives, like Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum), that increase the water and bulk of the stool; stimulant laxatives is Senna leaf (Senna alexandria) that invigorate the muscles of the lower bowel to create a stronger motion.
What practitioners say
Black root is indicated for chronic constipation. It is a cholagogue and thus promotes the flow of bile from the gall bladder into the duodenum, increasing digestive activity such as motility and appetite and causing a dose-dependent laxative effect.
In standard doses the dried root can strengthen the functional activity of the organs associated with digestion such as the liver and pancreas and can be of benefit in gallbladder and bile disorders such as cholecystitis (inflammation of the gall bladder).
Skin and musculoskeletal: Herbalists will often use medicinal plants which have an action on the liver and digestion to promote elimination along with other herbal protocols in the treatment of chronic skin and joint conditions. Black root can be included here as one such herb.
Evidence-based research on the medicinal properties of Black root is extremely scant. One preliminary study has been carried out on the anti-acne and antioxidant effects of this herb along with Yarrow (Achillea millfolium).
Extracts of whole herb powder of Yarrow and root powder extracts of Black root were used. Minimum Inhibitory Concentration (MIC) was established for anti-microbial activity against two acne causing bacteria: Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidemidis. An ethanolic extract for both plants demonstrated the highest free radical scavenging activity.
Further research, especially into the effects of Black root on the liver and digestion are certainly required.
Did you know?
Early Anglo-settlers in America adopted the use of Black root for purgative use as prior to this one of the principle purgatives was mercury!
It is said that the early settlers would put the root into ‘war bundles’, used to purify people, animals, medicines and weapons.
This single species of hardy perennial belonging to the genus
Veronicastrum occurs in eastern North America. A graceful upright
perennial with whorls of finely-toothed slender leaves and horizontal black rhizomes.
The small, delicate tubular flowers are borne in clusters of dense spikes during summer and early autumn. Their colour ranges from white, blue or pink to purple. The plant can grow to a height of 2 metres with a spread of around a metre.
Introduced into European gardens in 1714 it proved very popular planted along the back of a border due to the tall and elegant spires of flowers. It prefers a sunny spot but will tolerate a bit of shade, and tolerates most soils providing they hold a bit of moisture. Both long and short-tongued bees greatly enjoy the nectar provided by the flowers.
The roots and rhizomes are the parts used medicinally and are harvested in the autumn. The dried roots should be stored for a year before use to lessen their laxative potency.
- Black root
- Culver’s root
- Culver’s physic
- Tall speedwell
- Bowman’s root
- Beaumont’s root
Black root stimulates the flow of bile (which aids in digestion, absorption and excretion) but if the fresh root is taken, then the effect can be ‘violently purgative’, inducing vomiting and diarrhoea, sometimes with bloody stools.
These drastic actions are far less of a risk when the root is dried and are further reduced by storing for one year before processing into medicines. It should be taken in small doses, working up over a period of time only if required.
Contraindicated in children, during pregnancy and lactation.
5–10g dried rhizome as a decoction up to three times daily. Start with low doses.
- A bitter compound: Leptandrin
- Volatile oils
- Cinnamic acid derivatives
- A glycoside resembling Senegin