I can't seem to resist walking past a patch of Cimicifuga racemosa in flower without tickling my nose with the delicate feel and fragrance. I've always found it hard to accept the common name "Bugbane", as the fragrance is quite pleasing, at least to humans. But the genus name tells you otherwise. Cimex means bug in Latin and fugare, to drive away. The other common name, "Black Cohosh" is a Native American term.
It seems that recently the Horticultural Taxonomic Community has deemed it necessary to change the classification of this plant to Actaea racemosa. I think it will be a long time until the gardening public accepts this change, so until I delve more deeply into their reasoning, I'll stick with Cimicifuga racemosa. I have to admit though, it's difficult, without close inspection to tell the difference between the foliage of Cimicifuga racemosa and Actaea pachypoda when the plants are in early stages of growth. Once flowering commences however, there is no question.
There is a related native species, Cimicifuga americana. Their foliage is somewhat similar, but this plant is much smaller in stature.
Cimicifuga racemosa is currently in great demand as a medicinal herb. It's been long used in pregnancy and childbirth and as always, I'll call on Steven Foster to tell you more about the medicinal uses - http://www.stevenfoster.com/education/monograph/bkcohosh.html
There's also GREAT website with copious amounts of data on Medicinal Herbs called Herbmed. Herbmed, http://www.herbmed.org/ is an interactive, electronic herbal database that provides hyperlinked access to the scientific data underlying the use of herbs for health. It is an evidence-based information resource for professionals, researchers, and general public. It's a project of the Alternative Medicine Foundation and is provided as a freely available, public resource. What I like most about Herbmed is that it's non-commercial and they're not trying to sell you anything.
Cimicifuga racemosa is a great plant to use as a focal point in your shade garden, as its imposing height and architectural stature stands out high above most other plants.
There are a couple of very gardenworthy cultivars of the European counterpart Cimicifuga ramosa. 'Brunette' http://www.shared-visions.com/explore/gardens/Perennials/Perennials%20-C-.htm been around for about 10 years and Cimicifuga ramosa 'Hillside Black Beauty' http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/aug01.jpg has the darkest foliage yet.
Propagation is easy by the copious amounts of seeds set, but seed grown plants take several years to reach maturity. A mature rhizome can be divided easily into several pieces, make sure that each piece has a bud, they will reestablish quickly and usually flower the following year.
Kingdom - Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom - Tracheobionta - Vascular plants
Superdivision - Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division - Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class - Magnoliopsida -dicotyledons
Subclass - Magnoliidae
Order - Ranunculales
Family - Ranunculaceae
Genus - Cimicifuga
Species - racemosa
Common name - genus - "Cohosh"
Common name - species - "Black Cohosh", "Bugbane"
Synonyms - Actaea racemosa
Native range - Eastern United States.
USDA Hardiness Zone - 5, maybe 4
Light preference - Full shade to dappled sunlight
Soil fertility preference - Rich
Soil moisture preference - Moist to average
Bloom time - Early Summer
Bloom color - White, fragrant
Foliage - Dark green
Spread - 18" - 36"
Height - 48" - 96"
Landscape uses - Medicinal plant garden, Wild shade garden or shady border
Related species - Cimicifuga americana, Cimicifuga ramosa, Cimicifuga japonica
Medicinal uses - See - http://www.stevenfoster.com/education/monograph/bkcohosh.html and http://www.herbmed.org/herbs/herb7.htm