Cotton root from the cotton plant (Gossyoium herbaceum) has significant medicinal properties, especially for women.
Cotton root contains an oil which is about 2% gossypol (a sesquiterpene). This chemical causes infertility in men, and was once employed in China as a male contraceptive. Cotton root is also a safer substitute for ergot when inducing labor and childbirth.
The herb stimulates uterine contractions and hastens birth. It is useful for difficult or delayed births. It also induces labor.
Cotton root also strongly induces menstruation for late or absent periods. It reduces menstrual flow, and is effective in relieving symptoms of endometriosis.
In the 19th century, cotton root bark was used to promote abortion in early, unwanted pregnancies. This method, although effective, was often unsafe.
Because of its potential toxicity, this herb is not widely used today in herbal medicine. This herb should be used only under professional supervision and should not be taken during pregnancy.
Less harmful herbs, such as rue (Ruta graveolens) and raspberry are often used in place of cotton.